Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Woman Positive Woman on Women's Issues in Film

[Will Kareena escape Heroine unscathed?]

One of the comments I got on my post on the launch of the Heroine trailer wondered how I could think Madhur Bhandarkar was a misogynist when he had a history of making women-centered films. It’s a fair question. A lot of fuss is made in certain corners about how there are no heroine-centered films, so shouldn’t a heroine-centered film automatically count as woman-positive? In the case of Madhur Bhandarkar, the answer is an unequivocal no.

To be fair, I haven’t seen Chandini Bar but I have seen Page 3 and Fashion. Going back to read my review of Fashion I’m actually kind of embarrassed that I seem to have been impressed with it at the time. I can only chalk it up to a) the Stockholm Syndrome that emerges when watching a film at the theater and wanting to enjoy something because you paid for it and b) my massive crush on Kangana Ranaut. Being a much more experienced film viewer and reviewer than I was in 2008, I can safely say that Madhur Bhandarkar writes women characters who are essentially like Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider- male fantasies of “strong” women.

The Madhur Bhandarkar heroine is one who is put through endless humiliations - sexual and otherwise - for the viewer’s pleasure. Sleeping with a black dude? SHOCK! Walking in on her boyfriend getting a blowjob from her gay best friend?! MEGA SHOCK! Having her tits exposed to the world while walking the ramps?!!! WOW SO BOLD! A Bandar-car heroine must be strong if she is going to make it to the end of the film.

Even leaving aside the insulting fact that a dude who has been pretty convincingly accused of rape has claimed the mantle of FEMINIST HERO OF BOLLYWOOD merely for putting a woman at the center of his films, the content of Bhandarkar's films is far from woman-positive. If a "strong woman" is merely strong for sleeping around, wearing revealing outfits, and being a selfish shrew, it's enough to make me want to run to the kitchen, take off my shoes, and start cooking.

[Is Kangana weak here for being covered up?]

[Is Kangana bold here for wearing a bikini?]

But I shouldn’t just pick on Bhandarkar. This male ideal of the “strong” woman, existing outside normal society as she does, available for sex and not much else, was also the major flaw at the center of The Dirty Picture. Why does the “woman-centered” film always end up with the woman on the outside looking in while the dudes she slept with are off being part of society?

As long as I’m on the subject, how about that Deepika in Cocktail? I haven’t seen the film but I have been following the conversation that has emerged around Deepika’s character Veronica. Is she a liberated woman for sleeping around and wearing bikinis? Is she a slut? Is it a positive message for women that she is “reformed” at the end or is it a cop-out to make her give up her partying ways?

I can’t say about Veronica but speaking out of my experience of being a woman I can say this - there is nothing inherently “liberating” about wearing bikinis and doing “bold scenes”. There is also nothing inherently regressive about wearing bikinis and doing “bold scenes”. The actions themselves mean nothing. It’s all about the context. Is the bikini a swimsuit or is it straightjacket? Is she wearing a shorts and a tank top because it’s hot outside or is she wearing them because she feels obligated to put on a skin show? Is she proud of her body or does she need the outside reinforcement that she is “sexy” and therefore worthwhile as a human being?

[Is Dippy less sexy when she is comfortably dressed in trousers?]

[Do we need her to contort herself?]

Should women all feel obligated to show our skin to the world as a token of our “liberation?” I fully support actresses like Sonakshi who don’t want to bother. There’s nothing liberating about browbeating a woman into a revealing outfit.

And my last point in this rambling post on woman-power: Rape is not the end of the world for women.

Let me qualify that - Rape is awful. Rape is too often used as a plot device. But rape is not the end of the world.

Many women - myself included - have unfortunately been in situations where “consent” is nebulous but the advances unwelcome. Do you beat yourself up about it? Are you permanently damaged? Or do you put it behind you and live on?

This theme that a woman (or man) can be raped and still live on is one that needs to be put out there more. It’s one of the things that really touched me in Satyamev Jayate. Aamir talked to rape victims like they were human beings and not just always eternally victims. This theme was brought up in Kiccha - a lovely film starring Kiccha Sudeep - where he comes across a woman who is pragmatic about her “casting couch” experience as necessary to get a job. He doesn’t treat her as a pariah. It’s the man who should be shamed. Again in Rowdy Rathore we see a woman get raped and still be treated as a worthwhile human being by her community. She isn’t a tragic victim but a person to whom something really awful happened.

THAT is the message we need more of. Yes, rape is awful and the men who do it should be severely punished but the women (and male victims) can live on. Their worth is not diminished by somebody else’s actions.

So, what I have covered in my rambles... merely making a woman the center of your film doesn’t make it “woman-positive;” wearing a bikini doesn’t make you liberated; and rape is horrible and awful to live through but doesn’t make the victim worth less as a person.

That’s my two cents, anyways - as a woman-positive woman starring in my own woman-centered life. I have yet to wear a bikini, though I do enjoy partying and enacting private bold scenes. I have yet to receive any complaints.

And there is no amount of money that would entice me to work with that sleazoid humanoid Madhur Bhandarkar.


Thelondongirl said...

I wrote some rambling post about women from 70's and 80's film seemingly more attractive and stronger in my opinion, but like you back in 2008 my hindi, teleglu (did i spell that right) knowledge is just beginning, so i want to wait till i can form a solid opinion not just based on being excited to see a woman at the center of a film. I have to say i hated dirty picture, sincerely disappointed, even more because ppl made such a great deal about her putting on weight for a role. ok i'll stop rambling.

Filmi Girl said...

I would like to see your post! Do you have a link?

I do agree that some of the 70s and 80s heroines are "stronger." One reason why is that in those films, there were more problems than just "romance."

Three of my favorite "strong" heroines from the 70s are Zeenat Aman in Paapi, Sadhana in Geeta Mera Naam, and Hema Malini in Sholay.

ad libber said...

Wonderful, wonderful post!

Bombay Talkies said...

THIS. Thank you. I hate the term "woman-centric" that the industry is so fond of using, as if filmmakers (cough, Bhandarkar) are expecting a pat on the back from women just for making a film about them. The actual *story* is still important, and if your "woman-centric" film consists of nothing more than a (hetero) male fantasy of a woman who needs saving then it's not really a woman positive film.

I watched Chandni Bar (it's on Youtube, or at least it was a year ago) for Tabu and Tabu only. Our wide-eyed heroine gets raped and then spends half the film being put into sexually uncomfortable situations by having to earn her living at dance bars. It's a mess.

Thelondongirl said...

sorry deleted. out of sheer embarrasment from simply not knowing what the hell i was on about. I dont have your balls love. maybe one day i'll get round to it, because if i'm honest it bugs me. its probably why i actively seek out anything with a woman centered in it thats halfway decent, like Sushmita Sen in Chingaari, or even Arundhati and Anushka Shetty. I cling to them. When i get my gall up i'll write it again, trust me i have alot of respect for you bloggers you are made of sterner stuff.

batulm said...

Yay for you, Filmi Girl. Extremely well-written. I agree with you totally.

matt-L said...

strong female characters:

Deepti said...

Interesting post. Lot of food for thought. I agree that the feminist hype around Dirty Picture is totally unwarranted. At the same time, I felt like it tried to portray Silk closer to the pragmatic actress in Kiccha than Madhur's heroines. Also Silk's spiral may have started with the realization that even the men close to her don't respect her choices and the low point was represented by her consenting to a hardcore porn flick - both very Madhur Bhandarkar like touches. But it's colored in between by her actively trying to do stuff - like use her stardom to make a crappy movie etc.. She never sees herself as a victim. What infuriates me about Madhur other than his inability to write a certain crappy cliche is that his heroines seem to become more and more passive about their circumstances with each re-telling of his stock story. Reminds me a lot of the way Aaron Sorkin sees powerful women as neurotic shrews who need to be morally schooled by the misunderstood specimens of male perfection that surround them.

In the end, the characterization of Aisha in Wake Up Sid and Riana in EMAET as women who try to forge an identity beyond what they wear and who they sleep with, smack dab in the middle of male centered movies,are more feminist than Dirty Picture. But that doesn't make the premises of the latter not female friendly for trying. I think both sets of stories can be written about strong women - cliched women like Silk who try to play by male rules and are kicked out of the club and novel stories about women who successfully defy the gender boundaries that society has set.

Also 2 cents on Cocktail. I felt like Veronica trying to be desi was supposed to be seen as a childish attempt to get a lonely guy to fall in love with her and the real growth being her realizing the absurdity and futility of her actions.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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