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

Posted on April 8, 2013 in Women Empowerment

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?