Indian cinema is not quite in the same league when it comes to critique.

Will anyone call out misogyny in Indian films as Daniel Craig did with James Bond
Features Cinema Monday, October 26, 2015 - 20:46

After all these years, an actor who has played the suave British spy has said it: James Bond is a misogynist.

Daniel Craig, who has played 007 in four films, said in an interview that Bond is a misogynist, and also added that Bond would finally be romancing someone his age. 

Indian cinema is not quite in the same league when it comes to critique. (No one has the guts to ask why senior male actors (sometimes elderly too) are routinely romancing women half their age. It’s not as if the role requires it. The older-man-younger-woman scenario would be cool if someone were doing a biopic on Woody Allen. But here, in all the Indian movies, male actors don't really age beyond the late 20s, but when their grey beards and sagging cheeks can no longer be hidden with make-up, they suddenly jump to the late 50s and 60s and continue with roles for older men. Until then, it’s all kosher.

This is for the really popular actors. The ones who don’t make it and sink without a trace.

In the meanwhile, this is what they’ve been doing all these years.

Taming the shrew

No comments on Shakespeare’s play, but this is what countless male actors have done in a number of films. There’s a stereotype of an arrogant, rich, posh woman, while the hero is from a humble background and often lives with his widowed mother. Self-made man.

In the absence of a father who would have shown him exactly how to be an MCP (Male Chauvinist Pig), the self-made man has learned it all by himself. No wonder the mother is so proud and always teary-eyed about it. Well, this is the sum of Anil Kapoor’s famous Hindi film Laadla, which was a remake of a Kannada film starring Rajkumar. The film was also remade in Tamil, starring Rajinikanth.

The lyrics of several songs in which Dhanush acts could be read as well, we leave it to you. One such song is Kadhal en Kadhal in the film Mayakkam Enna in which the hero sings 'adida avala udhada avala' roughly meaning ‘hit her man, don’t leave her man.’ Dhanush is incidentally, Rajinikanth's son-in-law.

A variation of this, is the story in which stalker-like behaviour is ‘used’ to woo the woman. The list of such films is yet to be compiled.

The prodigal daughters

This is the type of film made to show the westernized Indian woman how amazing India and Indian culture are. In 2007, there was Namastey London in which Katrina Kaif played the role of Jazz (actually Jasmeet), a girl born to an indian couple, settled in Britain. Jazz is ‘westernised’ etc and was initially in love with a white man. Never mind that she was forced to marry Arjun played by Akshay Kumar. But naturally, she falls in love with Arjun because her white love interest turns out to be racist. What a surprise.

Meanwhile, Imran, Jazz’ father’s friend’s son, has fallen in love with a white woman. Her family, of course, is not racist but demands that Imran convert to Christianity and also declare that he has no links with terrorists. This time, the white people come around, and accept him as he is. Quite admirable actually.

A lot of this is borrowed from the Manoj Kumar starrer (very subtly) called Purab Aur Paschim. Read the story on Wikipedia.

In Tamil, you have actor Satyaraj who at least makes things easy for his love interest. He teaches her what she needs to know in this song:

 

A variation of this film is the use-and-throw-girlfriend story. This appears to be the latest fad in well, a lot of Indian language films. Three young men are chasing girls (often, many girls at the same time), are struggling to meet their girlfriends’ expectations or are too purely in love to see that they are being used.

Womaning-up

Now, practically all Indian films (with exceptions like Lunch Box) are telling Indian women what to do. Malayalam film Kaliveedu is a study on this. Lead actor Jayaram has to teach his woman how to be Superwoman. She must do all the house work and then go tackle the dodos in her office, all in a single day! (Will there be time? How will she finish the ironing before doing the tadka? Watch the film to find out.) Naturally, all the money she earns goes to the family piggy bank.

Rajinikanth does everything bigger, better, and before everyone else. In the 1999 film Padayappa, someone came up with Misogyny Re-loaded. It may or may not have been written with Rajinikanth in mind. Padayappa (Rajinikanth) had to shoulder the major burden of being ‘the man’ who has to put the vamp in her place all the time. It was difficult to categorise this film as it sort of qualifies for all three categories in bits and pieces. But going by these lines, it was decided to place it here:

"A woman must have patience, should not hurry up. She should be subdued, should not get angry. Must be peaceful and not be authoritative. Should be mindful of rules and should not shout. Should live with fear and devotion. In summary, a woman should be a woman"

You may now outrage. 

By now, the reader would have had time to figure out that these big stars have worked in other films which did not do so badly on the misogyny scale. Of course they did. Some of them were even excellent films. So why the long article, you ask?

Here’s the thing. A lot of the misogyny in films simply goes unnoticed. It is like the white walls of buildings, whose colour no one really notices, but it is very much present. 

That’s why this gem from Laadla is considered funny instead of puke-inducing. “Sharm to ladkiyon ka gehana hai. Is gehene ko ladke kyu pehne?” Shame / embarrassment is the jewellery of women. Why should men wear this jewellery?

Men simply do not know the anger induced by certain kinds of shame which should not be felt in the first place. A way to change that is by telling stories of girls, women and people of varied genders and sexual orientations.

There are sooooooo many stories of men and boys doing things, going places, travelling, falling in love, falling out of love, being super heroes, being villains etc. They are seen and heard going about their lives.

But there are no real women on the big screen. All you have is varied shades of stereotype - damsel in distress, the sex toy, the love interest, the villain, the shrew. In the absence of real, everyday women – who are struggling to find jobs, dealing with a terrible mother-in-law, or juggling both house work and husband soon to be followed by kids, dreaming of a day’s laziness, building friendships and going on road trips – the stereotype does unimaginable damage.

Doesn’t help anybody, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

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