The Gendered Contours of Indian Cinema

GENDER

The objectification of women’s body and their inferior roles is not new. This is symbolic of the larger power relations that exist between the two genders. Romanticising the idea of an ideal mother and wife have been the major aspects of many film scripts. With only few exceptions, we do not find women’s versions of stories pointing out to a gendered cinemascope.

Chandreyee Goswami



Cinema has a very fascinating influence in the lives of people. In India, its significance is bewildering given the fact that every region has its own film industry, big or small, apart from the magnificent Bollywood. It is part and parcel of almost every Indian which cannot be avoided.

Recently Indian cinema celebrated its 100th years and one can only muse over the number of movies we have at our disposal at different points of time. Moreover, these movies are not only product of entertainment but they also represent the turmoil and progress taking place in the society. If one has to gauge upon Bollywood, then he or she will find how movies like Mother India, Shahanshah, Karma, Khalnayak, Border, Nayak and recently Raazi give us a glimpse of the changing times that we live in and its relation to the larger social and political contexts. That is why movies grab the conscience of people since they attempt to provide a mirror of the society.

Their stories might be obscured and hidden but we need to realise that this centricity is not new and obviously not a product of the perceived free world that we inhabit today.   

However, like any other industry, even the film industry has undergone sweeping transformations in terms of its scale, content, music, techniques and aura with the advent of neo liberal economy. It also fell into the trap of the myth of cultural industry where the quantity increased in manifold but quality could not keep the same pace. In many instances, a vulgar representation of society became the mantra of success for many movie producers. In this regard, the portrayal of women occupies the central place of the discussion.

The objectification of women’s body and their inferior roles in the movies are not new things. This is related to the larger power relations that exist between the two genders. Romanticising the idea of an ideal mother and wife has been the major aspect of many film scripts.

With only few exceptions, we generally do not find women’s versions of the stories, their experiences and viewpoints. In their subordinate role as the ‘fragile heroine’ who needs to be protected and saved by the ‘valiant and strong hero’, women in movies across regions have been at the receiving end of the continuum.

Image from a popular item Bollywood song

What has changed over time is only a fragment of this portrayal but not the ideas of femininity and gender roles. In order to garner more money, profit and mega-hits, the sexualisation of women by rendering different parts of their bodies as mere sex objects  is utmost visible. Starting from the lyrics of the songs, to the dance moves, the way camera focuses on certain parts of the body, all leads to ugly and disgraceful representation of a human being.

Otherwise, who would want to compare oneself with Tandoori chicken, few hundred rupees, opium, and many other tangible and marketable objects? The concerning part is its receptivity and hence the huge popularity. It is a blatant way to know the existing sexism and misogyny in the society. It is not a structural understanding of how movies can impact us and malign the societal values and norms. What we need to understand that because in our everyday lives we breathe and transfer these gender biased and double standards relating to women, the celluloid has just become a medium to echo these notions by combining them with market demands.

Film Veere di Wedding

Recently, there have been movies that attempts to bring out stories from women’s perspectives. Movies like Kahani, English Vinglish, Lipstik Under my Burqa or Veere di Wedding, have put forth a new perspective in place. These movies are not perfect and in many instances have failed to deliver the feminist understand of equality. However, one also cannot ignore their contributions in constructing a female voice in the male dominated cinema industry.

It is important to be alert at this point that these kinds of movies do not fall into the sway of neoliberalism. Because then the notions of liberty, freedom, equality and autonomy will only be empty rhetoric. Going on a trip with female friends is perhaps very refreshing idea in a movie but that cannot be equated with freedom as not every girl has that kind of reality. Learning a new skill to establish one’s worth within the household is a fascinating tale to listen and see but what happens to those who cannot afford to do so.

Many such questions remain in the mind while watching movies which are said to be female centric. Their stories might be obscured and hidden but we need to realise that this centricity is not new and obviously not a product of the perceived free world that we inhabit today.   

3 COMMENTS

  1. Cinema is a tool of social liberation. This played an important medium to portray the pain and anguish of women in India. But what we are seeing today is a loss of cinema and art in Indian cinema.

  2. The role of mother was largely adopted by women who looks oppressed and poor. With great emotions those actresses had filled the emotion and masala too.

  3. Thank you for sharing with me Rahul. What kind of total image of Indian mother protrayed in Cinema?? Hatssoff these directors.

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