Rumour has it that Akshay Kumar will be playing the role of PV Sindhu’s coach Pullela Gopichand in the former’s biopic. Keeping in mind how Mission Mangal is a film about a male scientist, who brings a ragtag team of women scientists together and mentors them and Toilet Ek Prem Katha is about a man who fights the society to build a toilet for his wife, one wonders if Sindhu’s biopic will focus on her, or how her mentor battled odds to ‘make’ her a world champion? But Kumar isn’t the only leading superstar in Bollywood whose women-centric films are more about men championing women’s rights. Ranveer Singh’s Simba is a movie about a corrupt cop coming to his senses after sister suffers a sexual assault, and brings her justice, a trope we have seen in endless Bollywood films. With all these male-led films on women empowerment films minting money on the box office, the alarming trend is here to stay.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Bollywood has churned out many women-centric films led by men.
  • Even in films on women’s rights and empowerment, female actors are reduced to supporting roles.
  • Which makes these films more about male saviour complex than a genuine celebration of women’s causes.
  • We aren’t still over our obsession to celebrate masculinity, whether in the form of beating bad guys of championing women’s causes. 

It is the male superstars of Bollywood who get to be primary flag bearers of women empowerment in films. They are shown leading the way like true ‘men’, fighting for women’s causes and thus reducing women to mere victims, who need to be rescued.

Bollywood has bestowed us with a string of films championing women’s rights and empowerment in recent times. Touching subjects like toilets for women, female scientists sending a rocket to Mars and menstruation, one would believe that Bollywood has finally and truly embrace the cause of gender equality. But there is something amiss from the narratives of all these ‘women-centric’ films – the spotlight remains fixed on men, and women are gently pushed to the side-lines. They are mere characters who must be either rescued or motivated by male leads. Or worse, they are plotline meant to evoke the heroism in a male protagonist.

The fans of these male superstars throw a fit when you point these discrepancies out to them. Why can’t we just let their idols do good roles? Aren’t they setting a good example for common Indian men, on how to be supportive of women? Would we rather have them do roles where they treat women with disrespect, abuse them or violate their consent? Besides, what’s the harm, if a good story, which needs to be told anyway, is brought to the silver screen?

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No harm indeed. Infact Kumar should indeed be applauded to have taken up projects on taboo subjects like menstruation and sanitation, which I think no other male actor would have taken up. But wouldn’t it been more empowering if these stories were about women challenging social norms and taboos, while the male character cheered on? It is as much tiring to see men take over women’s narratives in films as it is to have them mansplain feminism to us. We don’t always want to be ‘led’, sometimes we want men to follow our lead. Let us tell our stories, share our perspectives, and just listen to us. The desire to ‘rescue’ and champion women speak of men’s innate saviour’s complex, which reflects in the way male fans of these superstars hail said films and troll anyone who question the sincerity behind them.

We don’t always want to be ‘led’, sometimes we want men to follow our lead. Let us tell our stories, share our perspectives, and just listen to us.

There are two reasons why we have so many men telling women’s stories in Bollywood. First, male actors remain more bankable than their female counterparts. Even the combined star power of four talented women actors couldn’t stand in comparison to the male lead of Mission Mangal. At the end of the day, a regular film producer knows that it is the male actor who’ll have better chances of attracting an audience to the theatres. Which is why the cause takes a backseat for the sake of box office collection.

This brings us to our second reason, we as an audience care more about our male superstars. We aren’t interested in women striving for equality. But we are very interested in men beating bad guys to ‘protect’ the dignity of their women, men challenging social norms to bring justice to women. Underneath the guise of women empowerment, we are still rooting for the patriarchal idea of masculinity. Earlier it used to be in the guise of muscular heroes beating corrupt bad guys, while now it is men championing women. Stories we are told change, but the sketch of the protagonist remains the same.

Bollywood at the end of the day remains an industry which only understands the language of profit and loss. It will only supply what we demand. So, if we genuinely want to celebrate women empowerment via films, let us show more love to good films on gender, which are led by women.

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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