The Dark Side Of Bollywood: Study Reveals Shocking Facts About Women In The Indian Film Industry

Posted on October 3, 2014 in Media, Sexism And Patriarchy, Staff Picks, Taboos

By Priyambada Bhagawati:

I had come out of the movie theatre completely frustrated and angry, just the opposite of what I had imagined to feel. Dhoom 3 was a movie that I hoped to see for a very long time but contrary to my expectations, the movie disappointed me. The one thing that really hit me point blank was the role of Katrina Kaif in the movie; which was to be invisible. There is a scene wherein she auditions for a circus show by dancing seductively and peeling off one clothe at a time! It was pathetic and humiliating for me to watch an actress being given a role in a movie, just so that the raging male hormones could be satisfied.

women in bollywood

This is the reality of every other movie in India today. India tops the chart in showing attractive women in its movies and as much as 35% of these female characters are shown with some nudity, finds a first-ever UN sponsored global study of female characters in popular films across the world. The study, commissioned by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, reveals deep-seated discrimination, pervasive stereotyping, sexualisation of women and their under-representation in powerful roles by the international film industry. While women represent nearly half of the world’s population, less than one third of all speaking characters in films are female, and Indian films are at the bottom of the pack.

Sexualisation of female characters in movies is a standard practice across the global film industry, and women are twice as likely as men to be shown in sexually revealing clothing, partially or fully naked, thin, and five times as likely to be referenced as attractive. Indian films are third, behind German and Australian movies, in showing females in “sexy attire”, and at 25.2%, India tops the chart in showing attractive females in its movies.

Another trend that has been on the rise is the prevalence of item-numbers in movies. Today, item-numbers have become a must, with offensive or provocative lyrics and a whole lot of skin show. It’s very disturbing that words such as ‘item-girl’ or ‘item-numbers’ have become acceptable and the female-leads are themselves performing and encouraging these so called ‘item-numbers’. What these celebrities do not realize is that people look up to them and when they themselves perform such items, it unconsciously reinforces the already prevalent stereotypes and prejudices about women.

However, the story also has a very different, dark side. Bollywood is a completely male dominated industry. Women are not only given trivial or insignificant roles in the movies, but are also underpaid. In most of the cases, the actors are approached for the movie and then they are asked to choose the actress they want to work with. The female-leads today perform item-numbers because they fear losing grounds to the ever increasing starlets. The journey is a tough one where, for every missed opportunity, there is an ever-present eager replacement. Another discrimination that the women in Bollywood have to face is the fact that it is ageist in nature. After an actress hits the 30 year mark, the number of movies coming her way dwindles. In an interview with Anupama Chopra, when asked about acting in movies like Rascals or Double Dhamaal, Kangana Ranaut said, “We have to earn our bread and butter out of this business, sometimes you just have those limited options and as somebody who’s self-dependent, I don’t have any other job, so you have to keep working.” These are just some of the very deep-seated prejudices that force the actresses to succumb to the discriminatory treatment of Bollywood.

The prevalence of female directors, writers and producers in Indian films was also not very high. India had 9.1% female directors, slightly above the global average of 7%, while its percentage of female writers was 12.1%, significantly lower than the 19.7% global average. Female producers in India were only 15.2%, way below the 22.7% global average. This data of gender prevalence behind the camera translated into a gender ratio of 6.2 males to every one female in the film industry in India.

The above fact again highlights one of the many factors of what is wrong with the Indian film industry. Women writers and directors are such a minority that most of their work goes unnoticed. The few successful ones again pitch in to make the same old male-dominated movies because let’s face it, “who watches a movie with a strong, real and relatable female character?” Commercialization has killed the very essence of movies and today, a movie is measured not by its content but by the fact that if it is in the “respectable” 100- crore club!

Things will surely change, but the process needs to speed-up. This very year has seen some remarkable movies like Queen, highway, Finding Fanny, Mary Kom, Mardaani etc. Again, this is just a beginning, for these movies still needs the acceptance of the audience and a place in those 100-crore clubs to be taken seriously. As a minority, women are undervalued and understated. This whole perspective of a “women being a commodity which sells” needs to be changed. The change will start from us and we need to make sure that the trends such as item-numbers, derogatory lyrics against women, voyeuristic nudity etc. is put to an end. Bollywood needs to start viewing women as humans and not just some humanoid robot with boobs and asses. It needs to portray women as who they really are. It needs to respect women. It needs to change.