Hindi mainstream cinema is not the only offender but given the reach and influence of these films — or Bollywood — sexism and misogyny travel far, wide and deep into popular discourse.
Bollywood of the liberalised India seems to be introducing bold shades of the feminine but the binaries persist save a few exceptions such as the mother in Paa or the protagonist in Kahaani and in No One Killed Jessica. In fact, critics say the bold new Bollywood actually thrives on throwing more sex in your face.
In box-office hits, heroines are still a prop — more skimpily-clad than earlier — to the testosterone-driven revenge-seeking hero or start out being independent but transform into demure ‘good girls’ to win the man. Filmmaker Reema Kagti says: “Every film writer isn’t sexist or misogynist. There’s surely a need for balance… There’s a lot of sexism in our society and people are putting such things in films without realising it.”
Beyond the binaries, there’s another issue. What passes as the hero wooing the heroine would, in the real world, constitute offences such as stalking, molestation and sexual harassment.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that Bollywood’s portrayal of women has a direct and immediate co-relation to misogyny around us. Yet, given its easy and unprecedented sway over minds, its portrayal of women creates a climate in which highly offensive and illegal behaviours seem acceptable.