Picture this: A woman storms into a room with a man, who holds and kisses her passionately, both taking their clothes off as they proceed to the bed. They fall effortlessly on it, caressing each other’s body, moaning and clawing! They have a night of sizzling, blissful sex until they fall asleep in exhaustion.
In most movies, this would seem a pretty straightforward scene, right? The man is just being ‘the man’, because he has ‘needs’ and all this is so ‘normal’! But if I tell you that this is not a film about marriage or love-leading-to-marriage, would your prejudices start kicking in then? And if I told you that she is an independent woman, who has one-night stands with consenting adults because she wants to have sex, I can almost imagine the veins popping on your face!
Most audiences are only too willing to cheer raucously when a hero “scores” a woman, the euphemism for sex later that night, sometimes with all too blurry lines of consent. And when there is a woman put on screen (by a male director) who is all too willing to perform sexual favours because the hero has charmed her, there is nothing you can find wrong about it. But when a woman wants to ride the horse whenever she wants (the pun is definitely intended), it somehow threatens most men’s masculinity.
Allow me to diagnose this critical condition that you are in: You have been detected to have a fragile ego that dwells on the strength of your machismo and the length of a certain body part. You live in a manbox that is conditioned to make you believe you are superior, while in reality, superiority is a myth and you are just a victim of this imposition. It is also fairly accurate to say that a woman’s body that is not objectified is the most potent weapon to defeat patriarchy, and those who are the biggest beneficiaries of the system.
Recently, a highly privileged male actor who has been making a living by spewing lines that berate women and dehumanise them, suddenly realised that he’s been wrong all along. Does it have to take a “co-star's "incredible courage" to get back to films after an assault, to realise this? Is it so hard to discern that respecting a fellow human being is common sense? I agree, a major actor coming clean and vowing never to make films that are sexist is definite progress. But what about all the women who continue to silently suffer abuse, and even worse, the men who still haven’t realised it so far?
While it is not fair to say that films on women’s sexuality are entirely absent, because we have had gems like Rihaee, Paroma, Paromitar Ek Din, Aval Appadithan, Antarjali Jatra and so on, there are many many more such films that have been denied certification or worse, banned for good. And yet, we have so many films made by and about women with blatant misogyny, oppression and objectification. And examples abound that show that the world, as much as the film industry, doesn’t think women are intelligent, independent or capable enough to do just about anything.
Take the example of this Tamil film director who thought he could make his actresses wear skimpy clothes against their will because he can. Or the innumerable films that show women with unattainable body types and accentuated breasts serving the purpose of male fetish and pleasure, without an iota of concern for the woman’s autonomy. How are these films able to pass through the otherwise sharp-sighted film certification board? Assuming that the ones that passed the test are problem free, would it be okay to change the plot to make the film about women’s fetishes instead of men’s? After all, the film would still be about nudity, pornography, Masti, Grand Masti and Great Grand Masti, right?
The fact that films like Lipstick Under My Burkha, Ka Bodyscapes (and many others before) were denied certification is hardly a surprise. Liberals were quick to condemn Pahlaj Nihalani for this, but is he really the problem here? He is but a barricade—an irrational, obsequious barricade that simply follows orders from on high. A barricade that plays exactly to the patriarchal formula, as you can see with his own “creative” efforts from the past.
So should we stop making films about women and topics focused on women? No, quite the contrary. We must actually be making more such films, as we owe it to ourselves. Despite the difficult times we are in, female filmmakers must grit our teeth and push harder to make our stories heard. The more such films get stuck at the barricade, the more we know that we are doing something right; we are disrupting the power politics and intimidating patriarchy. But that alone won’t do.
What we need is a radical transformation with the way we view sex, to be able to talk about it openly, without feeling either awkward or making another person uncomfortable. But what we certainly must not do is clamp down, especially on the voices of the marginalised. In a world where stalking, abuse and assault is normalised and glorified by the power of cinema, pretending that women do not have desires or fantasies about sex or sexuality is not solving the problem as much as it is catalysing abuse.
With presidents the world over that “grab p***y” and decriminalise domestic violence, regressive politics in India isn’t a surprise, and we have been fighting this war of dissent for a while now. But a question begs to be answered: if portraying a woman wanting to have sex can threaten the foundations of our existence, what does it say about the people leading us? Just where are we being led?
Note: Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.