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What”s With Indian Cinema And The “Commodification” Of Women?

Posted on February 3, 2013 in Media

By Pratik Mantri:

A song from a recent movie goes like this “Mere photo ko seene se yaar chipkale saiyan fevicol se”; it further adds lines like “pata le saiyan miss call se”. The song has become a rage everywhere, from nightclubs to marriages. The lyrics are surely creative but it has portrayed women as objects. The item numbers still cater to the liking of males with a song-dance sequence showing a woman being stalked and wooed by a bunch of men in a playful manner. For long, women have been described as objects or equivalent to it in various films particularly those falling in the category of popular entertainment. It implies a very orthodox, rigid and traditional understanding of women as wild and devious beings who need to be controlled. Men raise their voices for the upliftment of women but once in a movie theatre, they start whistling at Kareena Kapoor dressed in skimpy clothes singing “Main to tanduri murgi hoon yaar gatkale saiyan alcohol se.”


There is very little doubt that Bollywood has shown women in poor light. Be it with raunchy item numbers, double meaning dialogues or semi nude posters outside theatres. There have been some women centric movies displaying the atrocities faced by women but that sort of movies have made rare appearances. Even during the 70’s and 80’s, Bollywood was deeply infected with cultural stereotypes with men being prime producers and consumers, the objectification of women dominated the cinema. But the situation today is a labyrinth to me with the two recent popular item numbers, Munni Badnam Hui and Sheila Ki Jawani were both choreographed by a woman. Honey Singh has left no stone unturned to display women as objects of sexual desire, his songs are utterly noxious.

The films and media are a mirror of the society and if children grow up dancing to the songs like fevicol se then society is to be blamed for allowing such vulgarity to creep in. Films are a commercial product and in a bid to generate more revenues, the movies tend to be low on moral grounds. Young parents are taking their little girls to coach and learn item numbers from Bollywood films. They are then made to perform at family wedding ‘sangeet’ functions. Another reason for such commoditization of women is the deeply ingrained theory of a submissive female to a dominating male borrowed from the ‘Ramayana’. Voyeuristic camera angles and extreme show of sensuality have not helped the matters either. Also, society as a whole, has failed to distinguish between what is acceptable and what is not.

If the cinema portrays women as strong natured and fearless then this would gradually kick start the process of changing the image of the fairer sex in the society. The actresses, producers, choreographers, directors and everyone has a role to play.

It can also be argued that whatever is displayed on screen presents only a partial picture and many times the movies also talk about peace and communal harmony, but still the problem remains. Filmmaker Sudhir Mishra is of the view that the nation does not follow whatever is preached by Bollywood. Some of the actions which are acceptable in movies are considered as obscene in real life; so, we can say that cinema is not taken that seriously. For the people who are campaigning for a Bollywood without any misogyny, what about the violence and regressive remarks which make their way through newspapers and websites?

In the end, it’s the mindset and the intent that matters in a country where truth is stranger than fiction.