One of my biggest pet peeves as a movie-goer is when filmmakers use activism as a trope to milk on sentiments of the audience. I remember sitting through a cringe-worthy film Himmatwala (2013) and thinking it couldn’t get any worse, when suddenly I was made to endure a sequence where a bunch of goons try to rape a woman, only to have their plans foiled by the hero. The ensuing lecture on respecting women and “teaching a lesson” to those who don’t do so felt forced and very ill-timed. The film came out just a few months after the shocking 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder, and it was just too soon. However, when it comes to women empowerment, Bollywood’s approach to the subject is often problematic which makes us wonder, are the makers simply trying to cash on public emotions or do they genuinely care about the issue? Must empowerment always be in your face and loud in our films? Must it always be spelt out?
- The empowerment of women in Bollywood films is often loud and in your face.
- Is Bollywood prone to using empowerment of women as a trope?
- While powerful dialogues on equal rights are often thought-provoking, it is the subtle depiction of equality and women's issues that stays with the audience.
- Many films in the recent past have had a scene or two that championed empowerment of women, while the films on whole may have failed to do so.
Must empowerment always be in your face and loud in our films? Must it always be spelt out?
However, there have been many films in the recent past, where empowerment and championing of women’s rights has been portrayed with nuance and subtlety. While these films may or may not work to cater to the cause as a package, there is this one scene that stays with you and puts across the agenda of empowerment effectively, without being overly dramatic or verbose. The most recent one being Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor Khan starrer Good Newwz. When a working woman conceives, she is expected to slow down and “take it easy". Many women are discouraged from working when they are full-term and told to rest. However, a woman knows her body the best. As long as she has a green signal from her doctor, she can continue to work, at a pace that suits her. It is nobody’s business to tell her what she should ideally do when expecting a child.
This message finds its way to the audience in Good Newwz, when in a scene Varun (Kumar) tells off Honey (Daljit) when he criticises Deepu for being too focused on her work despite being pregnant. Varun says that being the child’s mother it is Deepu’s choice to decide whether she wants to stop working due to her pregnancy or not.
Another scene that stayed with me is from the film Tumhari Sulu, where Sulu’s husband Ashok is seen holding his wife’s purse while she participates in a contest. I have seen countless men holding their wife’s purse, especially outside the loo at the malls. However, we never see such dynamics portrayed on the silver screen, where a man literally wears his wife’s purse on his shoulder, as it is prone to be seen as "too feminine" conduct for a leading man. Tumhari Sulu changed that with just one small yet refreshing scene, bringing the on-screen gender dynamics a step closer to those off-screen.
There have been many films in the recent past, where empowerment and championing of women’s rights has been portrayed with nuance and subtlety.
Then there was the scene in English Vinglish where Sashi (Sridevi) in a fit of anger doesn’t realise that she has placed an order for a cup of latte in perfect English until her companion points it out. While for many, it was the last scene of the film where Sashi gives a speech in English in front of everyone, that was empowering, it was this scene that stood out for me. It is at this point Sashi realises her calibre and how she has finally overcome a task (ordering a cup of coffee) which was a struggle for her at the beginning of the film.
It is such depictions that one craves for from Bollywood. We want to see more of a father telling his daughter, who is a victim of domestic violence, that he has her back, no matter what she chooses to do (Neerja). We want to see a girl skip and hop to a nearby medical store to buy a bottle of water and iPill like its no big deal (Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota).
The audience today is pretty smart and when you spell things out to them it comes across as cringe-worthy rather than effective. So dear Bollywood, please give us more scenes and stories where the empowerment of women isn't a trope but a fact. Because a fact in itself is so powerful, it doesn't need a coat of sentimentality to move us.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.