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Why I Believe ‘Bajirao Mastani’ Is A Strong Portrayal of Women Empowerment

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Bollywood has constantly depicted women in various shades of their abilities and weaknesses. In this article, I have taken up one movie, which is not just a piece of art but also has a very crucial role to play in the empowerment of women in every era.

“Patni toh radha bhi nahi thi, lekin naam Krishna ka unhi ke saath liya jata hai” (Radha was never Krishna’s wife, yet history makes sure we refer to them together)

As they say, the film was “Magnum Opus”. Amidst the regal treatment of the story, the magnanimous setting, the ornamental dialogues, and all the sparkling visions, what we fail to locate, is the innate materialistic use of women as a gender, and not as a vital individual of the society. 

It is quite evident that in the era in which the film is set or perhaps even today, the objectification of women is unfortunately inevitable. No doubt, the film is indeed a grandeur in itself, but many other critics and I have been able to perceive this movie in quite a different angle. 

The above mentioned famous dialogue, from ‘Bajirao Mastani’ is a statement we have heard quite a lot of times; what needs to be noted here, is the two perspectives to this dialogue. Firstly, it seems to be an inherent fact, that a man, no matter whether he is a god or a human being, (here Krishna and Bajirao), is free to love and share beds with more than one woman. This is considered to be masculine, and to our surprise, no one questions the fact. It would be wrong to say that the characters of Bajirao’s family, such as Radha Bhai and Krishnaji Bhatt did not condemn Bajirao’s extramarital affair, but don’t we really see that happening, only because of the religious rift in the society? Yes, of course, we do! 

Secondly, the whole institution of marriage has been shown in a false light, wherein the woman is expected to play the role of a typical ‘wife’, whether it is waiting for her husband or eating after everyone is done et al., but the men are free to do whatever they want. Here in this dialogue, we can clearly see the lament of the wives of Krishna, and Kashibai, who is the legitimate wife of Bajirao. 

“Bundel ki saugat chalegi, beti nahi, 

Mastani rakhel banke rahe chalegi, biwi nahi, par aap ek baat yaad rakhiye aii saheb, Bajirao ne mastani se se mohabbat ki hai aiyashi nahi.”

(I shall go as Bundelkhand’s gift, not as its daughter; Mastani shall remain a mistress, never a wife. But I ask that you remember one thing: Bajirao and Mastani share a bond of love and not a lustful indulgence.)

However lowly we look at Bajirao in his treatment of women, one thing that we need to understand is his fierceness in questioning the hierarchical system of the society, as well as the status of women. In this dialogue, all-encompassing is the viewpoint of the entire patriarchal society. Firstly, the requirement of a boy to take the lineage forward is questioned, which is a vital issue to be talked about. In a way, this dialogue can be considered a classic; as even today, we’ve failed to erase such orthodox perceptions.

Secondly, the theory that a king can keep as many girls with him for his sexual gratification as he wants, but when he chooses to marry one, he is condemned. The fact is, both exploiting and marrying a woman illegally is wrong, but the former is considered more acceptable than the latter.

“Aap humse hamari zindagi maang lete, hum aapko khushi khushi de dete, par aapne to humse hamara guroor cheen liya!” (If you had asked for my life I would have given it you happily, but you have snatched my pride before even giving me a chance.)

Finally, comes the most popular dialogue from the movie, which we could hear even from a 12-year-old’s mouth, speaking very happily, to show her acting skills; but what again we fail to understand is the inherent message which it carries. Undoubtedly, this particular dialogue can have innumerable interpretations. Some major critics have described it as the strength of a woman who can go to lengths to protect her love. Some have even called it the result of the maltreatment of a doting wife.

Agreeing to all such decoding, I would like to insert one more perception, which I believe is reflected through this dialogue or apparently through this entire film. The quest of a woman to find her shelter in a man, where she thinks she will be the most protected, is exactly where I believe she becomes the most vulnerable individual on earth.

It’s a fact that her love is true, but when she tries to hold on to that one person constantly, despite knowing that she may only be an ‘option’ for him, that is when a woman loses her capacity. In my opinion, Kashibai was extremely strong to accept her rejection, but on the other hand, the moment she denied Bajirao’s entry in her room, she became a true woman, and it was a huge slap on the whole of mankind. 

In conclusion, what I would like to state is that this movie was more than what we were made to see. It has shown in an apparent manner, what a woman is subjected to, in a male-dominated society. But it has also depicted, through the strong and poised characters of Kashibai and Mastani, what a woman can do, when it comes to preserving her dignity, and how little a man’s role can be in her life while fighting her battles.

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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.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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