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Girls on film

On a more sagacious note is Neepa Majumdar’s Wanted: Cultured Ladies Only! This is a well-written, delicately researched book on the fascinating early days of women in Indian cinema. Indrajit Hazra reports.

books Updated: May 28, 2010 23:11 IST
Indrajit Hazra

Sex in Cinema
Fareed Kazmi
Rupa # Rs 395 # pp 376

Wanted: Cultured Ladies Only!
Neepa Majumdar
Oxford # Rs 695 # pp 258

Any informed book that has the line, “If Raj Kapoor was boob-obsessed, Dev Anand has a fetish for the female butt and legs,” has my vote. Not only does it tell me that the writer is a good observer of pop culture, as depicted via one of the most powerful visual forms — popular films — but it’s also comforting to know that ‘reading’ images isn’t the monopoly of academics more keen on showing their Baudrillard than their Bobby, their McLuhan rather than their Mother India.

But Fareed Kazmi is no gup-shup voyeur. The Allahabad University political science professor makes an engaging — if idiosyncratic — study of the depiction of women in Hindi cinema. In the process, he uses one of the most reliable barometers to check how we (women included) see women.

He does start the book with doctrinal planks and nerve-grating lines like “This true-self/false-self dichotomy duplicates aspect of the existentialist distinction between authenticity/bad faith”. But skip the opening chapters and you’ll get informed analysis of the good old-fashioned psychoanalytical kind.

We learn about the radical ‘gender reversal’ in Abrar Alvi’s Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam (1962) when Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman) is the one flirting outrageously with the simpleton Bhootnath (Guru Dutt), who’s “behaving like an uninitiated virgin”. Chapters later, Kazmi points out the same kind of manoeuvring in Amit Saxena’s Jism (2003), where Kabir (John Abraham) is the one who’s guilt-wracked after a romp, while Sonia (Bipasha Basu) purrs on only hoping that their tryst with destiny remains a secret.

I’m not too sure whether Kazmi should have used terms like ‘the Big O’ without any irony. I also hoped he had something to say about Ram Gopal Varma’s 2007 film Nishabd (young siren-older man), Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D (updated Devdas story) and Rajkumar Kohli’s 1979 Freudian ‘bride-killer’ classic Jaani Dushman. Perhaps another time.

On a more sagacious note is Neepa Majumdar’s Wanted: Cultured Ladies Only! This is a well-written, delicately researched book on the fascinating early days of women in Indian cinema. How stars like Durga Khote and Devika Rani thrived in a field where morality was automatically seen as a casualty is well worth the read. As is Majumdar’s chapter on desire as depicted on screen. To read these two books in tandem would be to pretty much know everything there is to know about girls. In films, that is.