The poster of Mission Mangal, an upcoming Bollywood film about India’s Mars Orbiter Mission is out. Featuring powerhouse performers like Vidya Balan, Nithya Menen and Taapsee Pannu, the expectations from this film are high. But there is something about the film’s poster that is unsettling. Despite featuring above mentioned talented women actors, the poster is dominated by its lead male star, Akshay Kumar. Kumar is one of the most bankable actors in the country and the dominance he gets in the poster basically tells us the harsh reality of Bollywood. In the battle between talent and saleability, the later always wins.

TAKEAWAYS:

  • A lot of people have questioned how Akshay Kumar dominates the poster of Mission Mangal.
  • Actors like Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu and Nithya Menen are clustered together on other side.
  • This is the perfect example of how saleability often overshadows talent in Bollywood. 
  • But as the audience isn’t part of the blame for this with us as well?

Kumar is one of the most bankable actors in the country and the dominance he gets in the poster basically tells us the harsh reality of Bollywood. In the battle between talent and saleability, the later always wins.

A lot of people have pointed out to the space Kumar receives on Mission Mangal’s poster and how it seems unfair to the leading ladies of the film. The film also draws an inevitable comparison with the 2016 Hollywood Film Hidden Figures, an Academy Award nominated film mind you, which was based on three African-American women mathematicians who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and went on to play a critical role in the country’s space program. The posters of Hidden Figures were dominated by its women star cast. In India, I can’t imagine a film poster omitting out our equivalent of Kevin Costner and let space belong to those about whom the story is. (It is said that this film highlights contributions of women scientists in Mars Orbiter Mission.)

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Many may argue that we are judging a book by the cover here. That perhaps the film’s trailer and the finished product itself would do much more justice to the women actors featuring in it than the poster does. And believe me, that is exactly what I am hoping for. But it just breaks one’s heart to see actors like Pannu and Balan, who have proved to be bankable actors with films like Pink, Naam Shabana, Badla and Kahaani, The Dirty Picture and Tumhari Sulu respectively being clumped together with other actors like Menen, Kulhari and Sinha, in one tiny part.

Women actors aren’t just replaceable in our industry, they have a lower shelf life. Not because they lack talent, but because the audience has different priorities than acting capabilities.

However this isn’t just about men versus women, but how the industry treats talent in general. We have seen so many talented artists being reduced to playing supporting roles, forever in the shadow of bankable A-listers. Some like Pankaj Tripathi, Seema Pahwa and Sanjay Mishra have developed a cult following of their own. But when it comes space on posters, it belongs to stars that draw the crowd. Or as in case of Mission Mangal, who draws a bigger audience. Which brings us to the inevitable culprits because of whom five women leads, about whom the film is possibly, get cornered in this poster- us the audience.

Cinemagoers in India still remain driven by male star power. A fifty something Kumar or Khan enjoys bigger stardom and dedicated fan following than a forty-year-old Balan or thirty-one-year-old Pannu. Women actors aren’t just replaceable in our industry; they have a lower shelf life. Not because they lack talent, but because the audience has different priorities than acting capabilities. Things are changing slowly, but we are a long way from when five woman actors could have a bigger portion of a film poster to themselves than a male actor. When we would appreciate capabilities over persona. Kumar has championed many women-related causes in films in the recent past, Padman and Toilet Ek Prem Katha for instance. But we must ask, when will we be ready to rally behind our women actors with similar fervour? When will we stop needing men to tell us stories of women? When will the audience fully warm up to the idea of women having the stage to themselves, to tell their stories in their own voice?

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

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