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Why Just Decorative Dolls? Female Actors Deserve Better Spaces In Mainstream Cinema #CloseTheGap

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By Lata Jha:

So the world and all its giggly teenagers are swooning over the theatrical of Ye Jawani Hai Deewani. While I quite like the apparent spunk of the film, what I can’t seem to get out of my head is this one shot from the song they released a couple of days ago. In what is clearly a fun, party song, Ranbir Kapoor is leading the brigade of dancers (there must be at least five hundred of them) including the two leading ladies of the film, Deepika Padukone and Kalki Koechlin. While I have to commend the girls for being absolute sports for what is possibly (since I haven’t seen the film) his moment in the narrative, I can’t get over the fact that the two, populist faces in their own right, are just there somewhere. They have been positioned conveniently and are quite gleefully grooving away a few feet behind the leading man, who is clearly the star.

women in bollywood

And this happens to two accomplished female actors who enjoy a fair amount of fame, success and fan following in our country. One, I hear, is quite the fantasy figure for aimless college goers and pot bellied uncles alike. And the other has also carved a niche for herself. And yet they find themselves as decorative dolls harbouring some sort of periphery. Let us not even talk of the many nameless, faceless members of the fairer sex who remain props in our films, sometimes inconspicuous, at others, plain ridiculous.

In what we call (and I agree to a large extent) a remarkably evolving film producing industry, there are these important things that we still need to work on. Positioning of the lead actors on the poster of any random film will speak for itself. Guys still call the shots. Women centric films are not the norm, if not a rarity anymore. And it’s uncommon for a girl to be granted relevant and respectable space in a mainstream film. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, it just doesn’t happen enough. Kareena Kapoor was definitely not one of the protagonists in the highly acclaimed 3 Idiots. Neither did Sonakshi Sinha contribute in any way to the plot ( if we decide to be kind and grant it the liberty of claiming it had one) in Dabbang.

Our screenplays still revolve around one Ricky Bahl and the many ladies he’s conned. I’m not commenting on the quality of the films here, but on the dominant perceptions and perspectives. Conversely, a multi-starrer like say, Chashme Buddoor (which I loved, by the way) hinges majorly on the spontaneity and capabilities of its three leading actors. One couldn’t care less about the girl, even though it’s her they are pursuing.

Which is why I’m ecstatic when a Kahaani or an English Vinglish happens. These were films where women were respected for the fact that they have a soul. But these are few and far between. A mainstream Indian film still worships the ground its hero walks on. And the Sheilas, Munnis and Chikni Chamelis add to the inevitability of a woman ending up as a sex object at the end of the day.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy these films or songs. I also do not deny the fact that we’ve come a long way. From the 80’s when the angry young/middle aged man dominated our film viewing experiences and his women were meant to be either rescued from rape or ham in the background while he delivered a monologue, we’ve come to a point where we at least consider telling the stories of these women.

But there is still a long way to go. In according them equal remuneration, equal spaces, equal voices. Not just in alternative, ‘path breaking’ cinema, but mainstream films. If as a population, we can contribute equally to the success of films and film stars in our country, do we not need to close the gap that exists between the male and female actors in the films that we watch?

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  1. Raj

    Yeah, I’m sure these “dolls” are being oppressed and subjugated and forced to dance semi-naked and forced to accept crores as compensation….all because of patriarchy. Because you know, they can’t get any other job….like farming or physical labour…..that’s best left to the poor men.

    I’ve always wondered why is it that it’s always the drab , the crazy, the creepy and the whiners who make up the feminists and the masculists. Never heard Katrina Kaif complain

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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