Of course the cinematography was going to be 'virile'; anything else is not an option

Why this reviewers comment on Airlifts cinematographer is sexist
Blog Sexism Sunday, January 24, 2016 - 18:52

Two days ago, a film critic who reviewed Airlift made startling discovery: the cinematographer of a film he reviewed was a woman.

Writing for Firstpost, Subhash K Jha mostly showered praise on Airlift. However, while commenting on the cinematography, he said:

“It comes as a surprise that the film is shot by female cinematographer Priya Seth. The images her camera captures are rugged virile and predominantly masculine.”

It appears that what Jha was essentially saying is that the film’s imagery was very masculine in nature, and that a woman could capture it so well.

So is this sexist or not, and why is Jha surprised?

Let’s get some things straight. First, Airlift is an out and out Bollywood film, made from an industry that is rarely gender sensitive (and not just sensitive to women). Second, it is a war film. Third, regardless of fact that it is a fictionalised account of true events, it is “one man’s story”.

With these ingredients, if anybody thought it was going to be anything but a “masculine” film, their optimism is laudable.

Films on conflict as a genre, are not just overly nationalistic, but are also odes to violence. This glorification of violence has little to do with the plot of the film. Rather, it is a reflection of the popular values of the society it comes from.

Even though their number has increased in the last few years, films on conflict are still few and far in between. The bulk of violence in Indian films comes from, not the villain, but the hero, who beats the crap out of everyone. When the hero is violent, it’s fine, because he’s always rescuing the girl or his parents or saving the world or both. The bulk of popular cinema has rarely come up with more imaginative stories to tell in films.

“Rugged virile” and “predominantly masculine” describe the bulk of cinema not just in India, but the world over. Airlift is no exception. Sample this: “One man will risk his family and his life to do the right thing,” the trailer of the film says. A man’s story. Didn’t even make it to the Bechdel test, forget about failing it. (But the Bechdel test too has its flaws.)


For any film, let alone a testosterone packed film like Airlift, male, man and masculine are the norm. So why is Jha surprised?

We don’t know why Jha is surprised, but we do know why we are annoyed by his surprise. To understand why, read the following sentence:

“It comes as a surprise that the film is shot by male cinematographer Priyan Seth. The images his camera captures are rugged virile and predominantly masculine.”

Notice anything unusual?

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