Indian cinema has represented pertinent values and lifestyles of society. In fact, cinema and culture often find their roots tangled with each other. Change is inevitable and for many years, the industry has derived scripts and stories from religion, mythology and societal norms. But now it refuses to budge from the usual choices.
From normalising stalking, to patronising women by prescribing the rule book of Indian culture, we have begun to ridicule serious issues.
Lately, media and its influence on issues of gender and identity has become a hot topic for discussion. For a long time, media has depicted women as the epitome of virtue and as those who are subservient to the men of the house, thereby institutionalising patriarchy. A slow paradigm shift has taken place and contemporary cinema has attempted to explore taboo subjects. Films like “Dil to Baccha Hai Ji”, “Pink”, “Piku”, “Chak De India”, “Fashion”, “Salaam Namaste”, etc. are examples of this shift.
But, aren’t we forgetting something here? In a bid to empower women and evolve from patriarchy, we have only been looking at the superficial problems instead of the deeper ones.
For example, “Badrinath Ki Dulhania” was anti-patriarchy, to say, but it also addressed a serious issue like male molestation in a comical light.
In an attempt to enlighten the masses on two relevant social issues —the prohibition of dowry and a woman’s right to build a career, the movie tries to blur the lines of patriarchy. But, it also doesn’t want to disappoint the misogynists who may be wooed by the endless stalking and the ‘hilarious’ portrayal of male molestation. So the film did serve a handful of patriarchal ideas, thus setting us back by several years.
There was a scene which had masked men molesting Badri (Varun Dhawan) and tearing his clothes off. The scene worked as a ‘role reversal’ when the girl gave her stole to the boy to cover his exposed chest. The movie not only normalises male molestation but also ridicules it. But what is disturbing is the fact that the audience laughed at it. The concept of men being molested and raped is still not addressed in India, and the movies are a true reflection of that.
Why do we associate only women as victims of rape and molestation? Sexual harassment is not restricted to women alone. The same patriarchy that passes statements like “she was asking for it” is responsible for silencing the voices of men who have been victims of these crimes.
The law also refuses to acknowledge men as victims of sexual violence. As per IPC Sections 354 A, 354 B, 354 C and 354 D- that deal with sexual harassment, disrobing, stalking and voyeurism explicitly refer to men as the perpetrators and women as victims. Section 375 of the IPC defines rape but does not acknowledge the fact that men can be raped too.
With popular dialogues like “ Mard ko dard nahi hota,” the society has failed to identify the deep rooted problem of patriarchy hidden behind the image of how a man should be.
While films from the earlier era showed women as submissive and docile, recent releases like “Queen” have resorted to bold heroines who are uninhibited and sexually liberated. However, this transition of female characters is not the only desired change. For some reason, filmmakers seem to have got the math wrong. Belittling one gender for the emancipation of the other doesn’t count as feminism, it is bringing people at par which counts as it.
Considering the expansive influence of cinema, Bollywood should abandon the ship of patriarchy. The need of the hour is to change the archaic rules of a society. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Indian cinema is a mirror that reflects society. Sometimes takes the form of a prism to introduce a number of new ideas.
I would like to end with the words of Don Dellilo, “Film is more than the twentieth-century art. It’s another part of the twentieth-century mind. It’s the world seen from inside. We’ve come to a certain point in the history of film. If a thing can be filmed, the film is implied in the thing itself. This is where we are. The twentieth century is on film. You have to ask yourself if there’s anything about us more important than the fact that we’re constantly on film, constantly watching ourselves.”