How the Heroine was Robbed of Heroism : WOMEN DESERVE A BETTER PLACE IN INDIAN CINEMA

women-deserve-a-better-placThe findings from a recent study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism came as a surprise to me. The study, which set out to see how women are treated in films, looked at the top 100 Hollywood movies at the domestic box office for 2012 and came up with some dismal numbers: female characters only accounted for 28.4 per cent of speaking parts in those films, down from 32.8 per cent three years earlier. The study also found that of the women who do show up on screen, 31.6 per cent were wearing revealing clothing. Worse, 56.6 per cent of female teens in the movies wore sexy clothing, an increase of 20 per cent since 2009.
This isn’t to be dismissed as a bit of nitpicking by a bunch of prudish academics. Pop culture and mass media are a telling index of the way society functions. So the findings are disturbing and point to the fact that equality for women, even on screen, is not easily achieved. But this is Hollywood and there are still a large number of women there, working behind the camera and pushing the boundaries for others.
Imagine then how the statistics would look for our mainstream cinema. What is the last film you saw with a solid role for a woman character? As far as Bollywood films go I can only think of Kahaani in which Vidya Balan played a woman with a mission. The rest, which I see go by in a blur, mostly have women showing off their bodies  superbly toned and fit, I concede  cavorting in some exotic locale and popping up occasionally to adorn the hero, as it were. Even more damaging to the dignity of women are the egregious ‘item numbers’. These cast women as objects to be leered at. They are not erotic; simply vulgar and demeaning to all women.
In Tamil cinema, of which I watch rather more, women of substance or strength are a dying breed. Few on-screen women are middle-class, working or average looking. The current lot are all very beautiful, perfectly groomed, wear clothes which reveal more than they cover, prance about the ruins of Damascus and the beaches of Phuket, and pout and simper in their inconsequential parts. Most are quite dispensable to the plot as the stories are all macho themes, written and directed by men to serve as vehicles for the star power of the male leads.
What this does then is to reduce the women who represent half the audience to mere objects on screen. They are, as Kollywood producers are prone to describe the inclusion, glamour subjects. It makes men objectify women in real life too, for that is the insidious effect of a powerful and influential medium such as cinema.
This is regressive art. For in the past, directors such as the magnificent K Balachander, Mahendran and Balu Mahendra wrote roles for women that showed them as strong and resilient as they surmounted life’s challenges. Even in the preceding black and white era of romances and family dramas, the women were central to the plot, even if they wept profusely and made sacrifices. They were at least part of the conflict and the resolution. Now they are merely objects to be viewed, and either admired or leered at, depending on the disposition of those watching them. Surely women deserve a better place in the mega entertainment machinery that is Indian cinema?
– Msn


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