I am an ardent fan of movies and have a blog to express the same. I have been watching all kinds of films. Everything from Hollywood, Malayali and Bollywood, ever since I can remember. As someone from the ‘fairer’ (general social perception) sex, I have noticed how women are treated as damsels in distress, sex objects, and even face violence in the form of romance. Thanks to social media, I have noticed that these observations have been made by many other men, women and celebrities.
Today, when compared to the golden 90s, where sexism, misogyny, racism, and homophobic content were at its peak, things are being neutralised due to the arrival of liberal screenwriters who represent women better. Even then, I believe we have a long way to go before an actress stops feeling insecure about her career at 35 years of age. Based on my observations, here are the 13 films that are either unintentionally pathetic in terms of portraying women and minorities or end up highlighting a scenario that enhances the typical social mindset.
“Fashion” was hailed as one of the best films of Madhur Bhandarkar as he managed to nail down the misogyny and problematic lifestyle of the models and entrepreneurs. It was the best pro-feminist film as it centred around a woman who was able to get back up after being knocked by male domination, drugs, arrogance, and recklessness. We see a woman, Meghna Mathur played by Priyanka Chopra, redeeming herself along with those people who stood up for her. But then, one scene from the film made me cringe to an extent that it killed the film’s feminist appeal.
Meghna becomes increasingly heedless with her alcoholism and arrogance as her career goes downhill. She goes to a disco party where she tries cocaine for the first time. As she drowns in the ecstasy caused by the high, Meghna starts dancing with a black man. That night she wakes up and finds herself next to him in bed. This incident traumatises her so much that she falls into severe depression. Now, “Fashion” as a film fearlessly showed Meghna’s affair with a married man who impregnates her and shows no empathy whatsoever. Later, he gives her the ultimatum in the form of a replacement. Yet, she finally had the epiphany after having consensual sex with a black man. This enhanced the racist mindset of Indians, not to mention that if he was a Caucasian in his place, then she probably wouldn’t go through the traumatic epiphany. This scenario must have been a big ‘open mouthed’ moment for African nationals watching this movie. Not to mention that there were malevolent incidents like a Tanzanian woman being beaten and paraded after being stripped by the locals. While we are vociferous when there is racism in Hollywood, have we opened our eyes to the intolerance faced by those with dark skin in our country?
“Sultan” is undoubtedly one of the best films of Salman, with the likes of “Kick” and “Wanted” in his filmography. The movie featured a kick ass woman named Aarfa who has big dreams and ambitions in her life. Anushka Sharma’s avatar as the wrestler was even used for the movie’s promotions.
She emancipated this side of her while Sultan was doing the typical Bollywood romantic hero; by stalking, misbehaving, and declaring her as his girlfriend before his friends. But then, his determination and hard work bring her to him and they get married. Her Olympic dream is cut short as she finds out about her pregnancy. The fact that his wife is selected for the Olympics doesn’t even cross his mind as he goes out to celebrate the announcement of his wife’s pregnancy. Aarfa leaves out her dreams and becomes a dutiful wife. This move was a huge slap on women’s faces. Marriage and motherhood still decide the expiry date of woman’s dreams.
“Pulimurugan” is the highest grossing Malayali film and the tenth industrial hit provided by superstar Mohanlal. The movie is no different in terms of upholding regressive scenarios like a damsel in distress, a villain who lusts after a woman and gets away with just an apology at the end and a man addicted to sex who pays no heed to his wife’s reproductive health. The worst aspect of this film is undoubtedly the character Sasi (Suraj Venjaramoodu). Sasi is a pervert with the tendency to peep into the bedrooms and bathrooms used by women. He wants to see naked women to get a ‘kick’. He is depicted as a comic character who ends up in trouble and receives ‘punishments’ for his deeds. Yet, he is treated as an everyday person and is a close friend of Murugan. Sasi sticks around only to flirt with women and he suggests peeping into their bedrooms. Men might find this character funny, and I heard audience members (including women and children) laugh at his dirty jokes. As a woman living in a society where we get blamed for everything that is done to us, I am terrified of characters like this; the ones who peep into the bedrooms and bathroom windows while we are changing, men who eve-tease us with their ‘romantic songs’. A mere ‘punishment’ is not enough to correct these characters. He should be in jail and filmmakers should stop this regressive mindset of passing off violence against women and misogyny as humour.
Do you need sympathy from the audience? Present a parent who keeps on talking about their difficulty while raising daughters because of which they will have to work hard and lead a dignified life. Just like how most female villains in Malayali TV soaps say; Indian women are born to be married off with big fat dowry and they are ‘vessels’ who should be preserved with less to no damage. Even today, we get to see this dilemma. Malayali film “Oppam” has a character named Babu (Aju Varghese) who betrayed his best friend to a serial killer. Why? Because he has two daughters. The latter offered to give him a large sum of money. Just like how maa-behn associations are used to counter violence against women, sister-daughter dilemma makes us as women, question our own integrity and roles as Indian citizens.
Director Priyadarshan is notorious for bringing misogyny in humorous contexts and movies like “Boeing-Boeing” showcased it. After a while, he directed a film named “Rakilipattu”, known as “Snehithaye“ in Tamil, a woman-centric film. The idea was pro-feminist, but the movie had a scene that pissed me off. The character played by Tabu is a police officer who is known for her rough nature and, is a misandrist. After coming across a scenario where two women were attacked by men in broad daylight, one of whom was killed on the spot, she becomes so agitated that shouts at men around her. How? She removes bangles from a woman who is standing nearby and throws it at the men shouting, “Wear it! Why should you call yourself men if you can’t counter this?.”
Personally, I agree to the whole notion that one shouldn’t expect another to have the same mindset as yours but this is also a form of attack on women. There are plenty of female leaders who wears saris and bangles, some of whom might have verbal or physical altercation during times of injustice. Even if there are aren’t any, this move by Tabu’s character, who was standing up for a woman who died on the spot, ended up insulting womanhood altogether. Are we too weak to be tolerated? Not to mention Goddess Parvati, known for the quality of strength and Durga, who is worshipped by masses, wears saris and bangles. Films show this tendency to insult men by using feminine overtones while women are appreciated with masculine overtones. Either way, women’s roles are being insulted as well as disregarded. This is also used a lot in real life contexts, like men who can’t stand up against violence against women are asked to wear bangles and to be inside the house. Being a woman itself is quite an insult, huh?
This is something that’s been discussed a lot. How can it not be mentioned? The fact that some men can’t take ‘no’ for an answer is quite scary. Kundan (Dhanush) threatens Zoya (Sonam Kapoor) by saying that he’d mutilate himself and commit suicide if she were to reject him.
He didn’t pay heed to ‘what’ and ‘why’ of Zoya. This is both selfish and cringeworthy. Stalking is not a romantic thing when it comes to real life. Women are attacked with acid, killed and raped by stalkers who can’t handle rejection. Even then, these women are blamed for rejecting a person who loves them. Bollywood plays a painful role in upholding rape culture. But, while discussing rape culture in Bollywood, our politicians and elders will only talk about the item numbers by women. As always, women are blamed for everything.
When I saw Malayali film “22 Female Kottayam” for the time, I was thrilled as the heroine Tessa (Rima Kallingal) took the matter into her own hands and struck at her rapists. 22FK was the voice for rape survivors but the film itself presented the rape survivor in a bad context. She keeps on talking about how her life is ruined and that she has no other option. But then, the uplifting part is towards the end where Tessa moves on.
“Puthiya Niyamam” was much worse in this regard. The heroine is gang raped and she keeps on highlighting how she is a “damaged vessel.” Statements like these are only adding fuel to the fire caused by our elders who compare a lonely woman with a ‘khuli tijauri‘. Rape and revenge films became a fashion after many shocking cases across India. While talking about the presentation of rape survivors, a big shout out to “Udta Punjab”. Alia Bhatt plays the unnamed Bihari migrant who was caught in the drugs racket. She was used as a prostitute and in return, was given drugs. She was raped and brutalised repeatedly. How did she confront this? Instead of herself, she blamed her circumstances and kept on talking about the beast-like attitude shown by her captors. She stood up for herself, notably in the scene where she shouts at Tommy who suggested that they commit suicide. She said, “I will not fall. I am still here.” Best rape and revenge film I watched is the Hollywood film “Accused”, where Sarah’s (Jodie Foster) rapists were nailed down and she received justice.
“Action Hero Biju” is one of the most popular films of 2016. The movie showed the life and times of a typical police officer, dedicated to his work. I applauded when Biju Paulose (Nivin Pauly) mentioned the “keep an eye on your sons” message in the film, citing the December 16 case as the example, saying that young boys are committing brutal crimes like that because parents pay no heed to their lifestyle. But, the movie did not spare racism. In a comical context, Biju slaps and shouts at a man due to two reasons; firstly he slapped a woman and secondly he fell in love with ‘that thing’, pointing to the woman who is dark and fat. The situation was meant to be a comic relief but the fact that it upholds general perception about dark skinned people and fat shaming did not cross the directors’ mind.
One of the reasons why I couldn’t enjoy “Bhagyadevatha” was due to the benevolent misogyny. Benny (Jayaram) decided to get married to a woman named Daisy (Kaniha), to whom he was visibly attracted. The major reason he cited for marrying her was the fact that he needed the money, and therefore, asked for a fat dowry. Her father couldn’t pay it in time and Benny abused Daisy physically and emotionally; from refusing to sleep with her to humiliating her in public and, dragging her, by grabbing her hair, back to her house, at night, when she came to his house with his mother’s consent. He started to stalk her and ask for forgiveness after knowing that she won a lottery worth 2 crores. Now, as audience members, we will feel contempt and hatred towards Benny for mistreating his wife, an independent working woman.
Dowry system is a curse that is choking the nation. In spite of her status or occupation, women should give fat dowry and the ones who speak against are branded as ‘feminazis’ or ‘killers of Indian culture’. I expected Benny to realise the mistakes and repent, but then his sister had to be the collateral damage. She was publicly humiliated for having an affair with a boy. The only way to save her grace was by getting her married to the same. The boy’s mother asked for a fat dowry and we saw Benny going through the turmoils Daisy’s father did. But at the end, Daisy came to the rescue and paid off his sister’s dowry and they both finally reunited. Sathyan Anthikad, who otherwise makes films on strong female characters, disappointed me to the core by glorifying the sister-daughter dilemma and dowry system, something that is not only illegal in India but it is also responsible for the abnormally low sex ratio. Girls are killed before and after birth, tortured by husbands ,in-laws and humiliated in the name of dowry. “Bhagyadevatha” is on my black list of films that are misogynistic and cringeworthy .’ If Daisy hadn’t won the lottery then Benny would continue to mistreat her.
This is the one film that caused hue and cry. The scene where Avanthika is getting raped is still shown as the ‘romantic’ scene between Prabhas and Tamannah. Avanthika (Tamannah) is a warrior princess who had an aim. But, just like most conventional heroines, this ambition of hers was taken from her by Sivudu (Prabhas), the hero who stalked, molested her to ‘enhance’ her feminity. The strip-tease symbolically showed how feminity is used as a weapon by men to tame the ambitions of women. Many defended this scene, citing Rajamouli’s intentions to enhance Avanthika’s femininity but in real life, if a guy rips off a girl’s shirt with the same intentions, then he will be penalised under IPC. Sivudu, being the hero of the film who is seen as a role model model by young boys, did something that is equivalent to a crime. People called out Bhallaladeva’s (Rana Daggubati) mistreatment and torture of Devasena (Anushka Shetty). Yet, see Sivudu molesting Avanthika as something that is ‘romantic’.
“Dostana” is one of the worst examples in terms of portraying homosexuals. In spite of being straight, I facepalmed the whole time. Sameer (Abhishek Bachchan) and Kunal (John Abraham) showed off the ‘gay’ act along with the cringeworthy performance from Boman Irani as ‘M’. Many have voiced against this misrepresentation but then the scene which disturbed me is probably the one scene that received all the laughter and applause. Kunal asked Sameer to go to the nightclub/ hotel, saying that he and Neha (Priyanka Chopra) would meet him there. Sameer went to find himself amidst ladies led by Neha aunty (Sushmita Mukherjee). They stripped together. The scene is shown in a comical manner where Sammer grabs a pole while women pulled him towards them and scream ‘mummy” out loud. After all the ruckus, Neha’s aunty took him back home and he is shown coming to the house with torn clothes and in tears. Now, many films have romanticised and made fun of female rape survivors. Only survivors of sexual assault will not laugh in these instances. What’s even worse in terms of presenting male rape is that it is shown in a comical manner, especially if the perpetrator is a woman. Sexual assault is not funny, period! Hopefully, Yash Raj and Dharma with their big budgets know that now.
“CID Moosa” was one of the most popular characters in Malayali cinema, but he is no different in terms of stalking and wooing a woman. Sahadevan (Dileep) falls in love with Mina (Bhavana) and he follows her everywhere and sings songs to her. He even interrupts her work and molests her. Mina has to pay the price for it as she is fired from her job and her mobility is restricted due to his presence at every corner. Exasperated, Mina confronts him but then Sahadevan leaves with a statement, “I will never leave you alone. I will love you, make you pregnant and destroy your youth and finally, you will ask for water. You wait and watch.” This scene was further romanticised. Sahadevan is shown as an aspiring police officer and he even rescues Mina when she is falsely accused of harbouring terrorists. Mina is shown as an independent women who takes care of her grandparents but then she is reduced to a dutiful daughter-in-law to Sahadevan’s parents and Sahadevan ,who stalks her and becomes the sensational hero.
The list is short and the fact that people don’t realise this benevolent sexism and racism in films is quite scary. Women continue to pay the price in from stalkers who receive inspiration from films and their heroes. Yet, only item dances featuring ‘sexy’ women are blamed for it. The nation has not progressed in terms of treating gender as a spectrum and films are more then enough to show the internalised racism.