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The Bollywood and Its Women

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By Ritu Ganguli:

Here’s the scene: while the entire world sweats its creative juices out trying to venture into realms of ideas and emotions its audience has yet to revel in, Bollywood stresses out its producers with monstrous budgets and midget plots, with an added horror of its portrayal of women.

What is it that allows film makers to badger us year after year with item songs like ‘Lucky Boy’ ‘Munni Badnam Hui’ ‘Sheila Ki Jawaani’ ‘ Beedi Jalaile’ ‘Jalebi Bai’ and the likes that have become the very marketing strategy of most high budgeted ventures, the very reason people go to tolerate a film for an insane three hour sitting? No points for guessing here. It’s the procurable, seductive, bollywood-designed portrayal of women.

What’s the problem with Bollywood heading the head it is, one asks. In a country where the independence and voice of a woman is constantly put into a tight spot, where being a virgin before marriage is absolute mandatory, where being married is the only dream a girl can have when she barely turns 18, Bollywood marches right ahead and makes its women all-attainable. The contradiction between real world and reel world is horrifying.

Let’s take a moment to look at ‘Biwi Number one’ where Salman Khan, played the role of a two-timing husband. It was a humor driven story, but carried far from a humorous message – even if you are an average, unattractive married man with a wonderful home-maker and child, you can venture out and engage in a hurricane extra-marital affair. To be further noted an affair with a super model who is rather intelligent, independent and articulate thinking. The storyline cheekily indicates that the ‘modern’ Indian woman is capable of an unfair affair and that at the end of the day, your cultured Indian wife has been taught to forgive, your devious deeds as the undeserving husband.

My ever blacklisted film ‘Bachna E Haseeno’ starring Ranbir Kapoor a playboy who dates women and literally chucks them at his whim, is a film that has a very (un)cool underlying message – Indian men can woo several women and not end up marrying any, because at the end of it, he will default end up with a beautiful, level-headed girl who is ready to give up her career and principles for your true love.

This compared to the film ‘Life in a Metro’ where modern, sensible, dedicated wife and mother, Shilpa Shetty finds it difficult to connect to her husband- who is secretly sleeping with someone in his office. She accidentally meets someone in her daily routine life and falls in love with him. Theirs is a genuine journey of love, dealt with sensitivity. But when it comes to choosing a sparkless life with her cheating husband and an enamored journey with her whole-hearted lover, Shilpa is made to choose her husband for no logical reason.

Cut to a more recent ‘The Dirty Picture’ — it had a very strong message against the exploitation of women in the industry and how a woman had to pay with her body in desperation to find true love and a place in the industry. However they exactly used the same marketing tactic which they seemingly tried to criticize in the film — sleaze and voyeurism to promote a film. Most of the people who went to watch the film went to get a glimpse of the literal ‘dirty picture’. For those who understood the sarcasm, fair enough, for those who did not (which I suppose is a majority) the price of the movie ticket was worth the ‘oomphs’ and ‘umphs’ of the voluptuous Vidya Balan. Even when a ‘women’s issue’ is questioned, the woman had to be objectified to pull the masses to the theatres.

It’s a vicious cycle really. The more such films are made, the more people go for it, the lesser the quality of thinking imparted to the mass. If a larger chunk of more conscious Bollywood film makers decided to come up with more challenging and talent oriented films, there’s no stopping good change. No it’s not magic, but it’s the very power of Films. The minute you portray women in a certain way in movies people begin to identify themselves with it – so why not in a fantastic light?

Bollywood owes more than item numbers to its audience. It owes its congregation a greater mindset, siding with Indian women rather than against them.

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        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

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        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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