Why can't filmmakers enrich their films with better women characters as opposed to 'bubbly' ones?

A lot of romance in Telugu cinema is criminal and Im tired of it a viewer writesScreenshot/YouTube
Flix Opinion Wednesday, July 04, 2018 - 17:28

‘Cinema is for entertainment, why take it seriously?’

This seems to be the go-to defense people use when you venture to say something even remotely negative about women characters in Telugu films. ‘Films don’t matter. People don’t get affected by them in real life,' says another man whose Twitter handle is his favourite actor’s name or his recent film. Irony seems to escape him, but not all of us are lucky enough.

When Annapurna Sunkara tried to discuss the pitiful condition of the Telugu industry and its women using Baahubali as an example, she was ruthlessly abused online. A stranger throwing a venomous snake to distract you, so he can paint your arm without your say isn’t so romantic, no matter the time period.

I’m not trying to blame any one person or film in this article, mostly because this isn’t a problem created by a single person, it is ingrained and systemic. That said, the filmmakers who continue to yield to this regressive thought process will only further the damage.

Look away, suggested a helpful gentleman, but a problem as big as patriarchy isn’t going to go away just because I stopped paying attention. I tried it while watching Sukumar’s films. I tried not to concentrate on their problematic portrayal of women, but it didn’t go away. Instead, people started calling him the Telugu film industry’s Nolan.

Silence isn’t the answer either. If anything it gives male filmmakers permission to dictate how women should be perceived and treated by other men. And yes, it is as harmful and oppressive as it sounds, if not more. So, if naming and shaming is the only way to get these people to listen, then so be it.

Allu Arjun’s character in Sarrainodu stalks a sitting MLA, who is accompanied by bodyguards, just because she is good-looking. Even an elected representative isn’t safe from the unwanted passes of a Telugu film hero, and I’m told by countless men that I’m overreacting when I question this. The fact that songs like 'MLA, I Wanna Follow', 'Disturb' were chartbusters when they first came out, signals something.

Nani’s character in Nenu Local kidnaps the heroine and the context doesn’t matter. It’s abduction when you put a chloroform doused kerchief across a woman’s face. The hero’s character from Govindhudu Andharivade blackmails the heroine with pictures of hers and gets her to kiss him. How is this any different from the plot of Drishyam? It isn’t. The only difference is that one film tells us that it’s wrong and another tells us it’s cute. The fact that two different films can show the same situation in two different lights should tell us how persuasive films can be.

We as a society, of which the film industry is a loud, but a tiny part, have a problem with hearing ‘No’ if a woman is saying it. Most of the times, men in films don’t hear it and when they do, they dutifully write it off. She doesn’t know better. She doesn’t know how good I am. She doesn’t know how bad every other guy is compared to me. Not once do they stop to say, maybe she doesn’t care. Maybe, I don’t matter. Maybe, the world does revolve around the sun and not me.

In an ever-evolving world, it’s baffling to see our men not change. None of this is to say that there aren’t good women characters in Telugu cinema. It’s a rarity to have a fully developed woman character, but they do exist. Directors like Shekar Kammula, Mohan Krishna Indraganti, and Krish have been consistent in giving us women of substance and that didn’t stop their films from being entertaining and engaging.

This only begs the question, why can’t the other filmmakers take some time and do the same? Why not educate yourself about women and their issues? Why not enrich your films with better characters as opposed to ”bubbly” ones? Once you realise that there is more to life than writing a story where you have to justify stalking in a fresh way, you’ll never want to go back.

If for nothing, it’s the profitable thing to do. After all, women make half of your audience. We do recognise patterns and we do try to steer clear of movies from Puri Jagannath, Ravi Teja, and the likes. But it isn't always as clear. Things get trickier when the film is actually good. Take Arjun Reddy for example. An otherwise superior film with great production values, editing, and directions, catches you off guard when the macho guy who lectures his father about personal space decides not to respect the heroine, Preethi’s. I know that the film doesn’t resort to hero worship, but the fact that his friends are smiling in disbelief as he kisses the woman suggests that it isn’t being critical either.

What good is your art, if it isn’t lifting up the voices of the marginalised and oppressed? And I’m tired of having to always be on the lookout for sexism and inequality. I should be able to trust a filmmaker to be politically and culturally responsible.

So, to answer the question, ‘Films are for entertainment, why take them seriously?’ Yes, films are for entertainment. Some of them manage to enrich us too, but not all of them have to. When I, a woman, buy a ticket and sit in my seat with a bucket of expensive popcorn, I expect entertainment, too. I expect to laugh, cry and, feel good about my existence, too. Instead, I get subjected to misogyny. I’m asked to sing along to the catchy, yet creepy tune of a man who is committing a punishable offence. How is this okay? Why do I have to exercise my ability to compartmentalise for the sake of a movie? If everyone else gets to relax, so should I. Life outside a movie theatre is hard enough as it is.

Also read: Young male stars just want to sit back and watch: Revathy speaks to TNM on AMMA

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