Times are a changing | india | Hindustan Times
  • Tuesday, Jun 26, 2018
  •   °C  
Today in New Delhi, India
Jun 26, 2018-Tuesday
-°C
New Delhi
  • Humidity
    -
  • Wind
    -

Times are a changing

Intelligence and aggression are two qualities that female characters in Hindi mainstream cinema are not supposed to have. Sorry men, but some of them are putting their foot down.

india Updated: Mar 17, 2004 19:06 IST

Sexuality in female characters has been directly linked to the woman as ‘object’ of the male gaze, both within the film, and without it. The male characters in a film are constructed in a way that they treat their female counterparts as objects of their gaze, desire, oppression, humiliation, glorification and celebration. Since the woman is not generally vested with a ‘voice’ of her own, this extends to a casual indifference to her sexuality as the ‘subject’ of desire, rather than an ‘object’ catering to the desire of other people, mainly male.

Outside the film, the woman – both the star as well as the ‘character’ she portrays, is the ‘object’ of the male gaze within the physical parameters of the studio. The costume designer, if he is male, the cameraman, the spot boys, light boys, make-up man, etc. are (a) by social conditioning, (b) by male impulse, and (c) by professional necessity, trained to ‘look’ at the younger female characters as if they were sex objects to be fantasized about.

In this, the editing studio forms an integral part. If the editor decides to keep the footage with close-ups of the heroine’s face alone, the director may ask him to include the close-up of the heroine’s (or vamp’s for that matter) cleavage in a dance sequence, or, on her mouth showing her running her tongue over her glossy lips in a scene of suggestive seduction. Intelligence and aggression are two qualities that female characters in Hindi mainstream cinema are not supposed to have. Sorry men, but some of them are putting their foot down. Really! She might reject a “Sita” character and opt for the “Apsara” one, who knows?

Patriarchy notwithstanding, one must concede that the screen woman - star, actress or character, has changed dramatically over time. Bipasha Basu will never be able to recreate the Chhoti Bahu of Sahib Bibi Ghulam enacted by Meena Kumari. Nor will Preity Zinta be able to play the Radha of Mehboob’s Mother India. Reverse the situation and the answer is the same. Meena Kumari would have been scandalized with the Jism role. The Chandni Bar role would have appalled Nargis. Our society sends out mixed signals about female sexuality, which women find difficult to relate to. Bollywood today exhibits brazen representations of female sexuality and flaunts the female body. All societies have constructs about ‘good women’ and ‘bad women’ based on sexual identities constructed for them, and for women in general.

In reality however, both constructs can be used against women to deny them any authentic experience of sexuality. Remember Guru Dutt’s Sahib, Bibi Aur Ghulam? But the lines between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ woman on screen have blurred. And the ‘bad’ woman is neither guilty nor ashamed of being ‘bad.’ She sets her own standards of celluloid morality and the audience actually enjoys it!

"They know that deep within every Sita is an Apsara hiding away, ticking like a time bomb, waiting to explode."