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Women In The Entertainment Industry: The Need For Breaking Stereotypes

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By Rachita Sharma:

We were hardly getting over the mirage of Delhi gang rape and the subsequent death of the victim, coming to our shock is the brutal rape of a five year old girl in East Delhi. In the aftermath, I’d like to look into something which has been hotly debated through all scales of media. Cinema is always blamed to show a wrong depiction of women, be it in Hindi movies, the “itemized” aura of our heroines, advertisements objectifying of the same and television shows, mostly the soap operas, where often the women have been portrayed as a dumb, melodramatic and “mera-pati-mera-devta” kind of characters.

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When we tend to canvass the essential details of how the films show any level of comparison and contrast with the real world; how the process of characterization, and most importantly the representation of gender specific roles is done in our Hindi movies, we would observe a sharp cognitive stance of a patriarchal influence onto the making of these movies. Heroes are shaped up in forms of brands that fetch a guaranteed finance and revenues for the films. Heroines on a subordinate level, barring few exceptions, are usually treated as a beauty dump, merely to fill up the love space for male leads and conjuring up some delicate emotions into the story line. We all are perfectly acquainted with this very scenario, and have exhibited our acceptance towards it, knowingly or unknowingly.

Shabana Azmi, the renowned actor and social activist, who has done extremely humdinger roles in her career, shares her view in a talk show, “The time is for us to reflect within ourselves. The business of cinema is a business of images. When we have fragmented images of women’s body, you rob her of all autonomy and make her subject to the male gaze.” Here, I would specifically mention an essay written by Bindu Nair, named as “Female Bodies and the Male Gaze: Laura Mulvey and Hindi Cinema”. She wrote how the songs in our Film Industry are pictured with a prime reference to her physical attributes. “… In item songs, the styling in terms of make-up and costumes, and the cinematic elements of lighting and shot taking i.e. the way the body is arranged with respect to the camera and hence the eye of the audience, the movements of the body, all add up in turning the women into a spectacle.” Songs like Chhamma Chhamma, Chickni Chameli, Halkat Jawani and the likes have far and long interrupted a promiscuous virtue of the male counterpart. To merely categorize them as item numbers and a taboo to the female stature would be a hypocrite take as we all love to watch Katrina shaking her booty around Hritik Roshan.

Women in the past have always been worshiped and sculptured as a relic of chastity, purity and sublime beauty. Nargis in Shree 420 was carrying a momentous aura in comparison of the sharp and grey character of Nazia, who was famous for her minxish traits. Nutan in the 1950s movie “Bandini” proved her meticulous forte in acting by playing the role of a murderer, which was a great challenge, keeping in mind the surreal roles female actors were offered in those days. Jaya Bachhan’s role in Sholay, with her silent expressions, and an absolute no-make-up look, is still counted as most momentous in her acting career.

But sadly, in today’s entertainment industry, barring the few exceptions, not many directors, advertisement makers etc. are rendering their full efforts in writing good and constructive roles for women. Voyeuristic camera angles, vulgar lyrics of the songs describing the physical attribute of women in the lamest language- this all escalates the level of commodification of women in the film industry. “Mai toh Tandoori murgi hu yaar… gatkale saiyan alcohol se” as if she is a delicious platter served in front of the hero. Celebrating the woman’s sensuality is one way, but accessorizing her body in songs, dialogues and punch lines surely robs her of the autonomy of her own self. Comedy reality shows would provide the finest of examples how the judges laugh their heart out when a male artist carry a womb, caricaturing the pregnant woman’s character.

Deep down inside, we have become tolerant to all sorts of crippled mindsets floating around us. We enjoy these itemized erotic songs, we laugh when our children imitate Sheila ki Jawani in weddings and family functions, we enjoy when the hero stalks the girl repeatedly in films to make her fall for his “charm”, and then we want a complete empowerment of women in the society.

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  1. Manu

    How come I don’t hear any of the “victimized” item girls complaining about how “exploited” they are, especially after collecting their multi-crore checks? How come I don’t hear male actors like Amrish Puri whining about being stereotyped as a villain or Hrithik Roshan crying about being exploited and made to dance topless dance numbers (with his emaciated looks and 8 packs showing) and romance strange women like Aishwarya Rai?
    Why can’t this cruel society leave these poor people alone and instead donate a few 100 crores to each of them so they all can get on with their lives and leave this degrading profession?

  2. harish

    That’s a picture of Sunny Leone aka Karen Malhotra. She went to college in Canada and studied biology and trained to be a nurse. She also held jobs at a bakery and a tax firm. But leaving all this , she somehow got “exploited” and joined the porn industry , and became one of the top-ranked adult actresses. She makes far more money than an average man ever will. Yet somehow with all the talent and opportunities she had to do something else in life , she ended up getting “exploited” by the porn industry. Amazing!

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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.

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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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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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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.

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