OTT 2020: Woe and Women in the Badlands, Is Violence Against Women Normalised?

The women don’t resist/overthrow rather co-opt the male symbols of power and their “empowerment” is accompanied by normalisation of violence against women. Why?

Sanhati Banerjee
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Despite some high points, the portrayal of female characters on OTT platforms is still stuck to the Hindi belt’s gendered notions​. Have representations of women in UP/Bihar belt-based dramas pushed the benchmark in the decade in passing? Well, maybe not much.


Mirzapur (Season 2)

This year’s Amazon Prime original Mirzapur (Season 2), set in an Uttar Pradesh town by the same name, tracks the story of a Tripathi household presided over by the patriarch Satyanand Tripathi (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) His son Akhandanand Tripathi (Pankaj Tripathi) is referred to as Kaleen Bhaiya as a nod to his carpet business that is a front to his gun empire. There are several parallel storylines like of the rival clan of Sharad Shukla (Anjum Sharma) and Tyagi brothers (Vijay Varma) of Siwan among others. The central force though is that of Guddu-Golu (Ali Fazal-Shweta Tripathi) out to avenge the death of Guddu’s wife and Golu’s sister Sweety (Shriya Pilgaonkar) and Guddu’s brother and Golu’s lover Bablu (Vikrant Massey), who were both killed in the first instalment in 2018 by Munna Tripathi (Divyenndu), the heir apparent of the Tripathi household.        

Also Read: Does Mirzapur 2 Give A Fair Representation To Its Marginalised Women Characters?

It is in this backdrop of provincial kinship ties that Madhuri Yadav (Isha Talwar) in Season 2 begins as a campaigner for her Chief Minister father leveraging her good beti image in her widow whites. A brief sexual encounter and later, Madhuri gives consent to marry (her second) Munna. As she navigates between being the no-nonsense wife and the respectful pallu-drawn bahu in the Tripathi mansion, she deftly manoeuvres her way to claim the UP-CM seat. As Madhuri comes of age as a politician, she unsettles patriarchal assumptions that restrict women’s ambitions within families.

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In another instance in Mirzapur 2, Rasika Dugal’s Beena Tripathi, married to Tripathi senior, takes out a gun from her dressing table drawer (the vantage site of the woman’s dress-up session) and mulls killing herself as she is repeatedly raped by her father-in-law, Satyanand Tripathi aka Babuji only to reserve her weapon for later. Beena the wife with her jet-black hair that is let loose, mangalsutra-colourful bindis paired brocaded saris in pinks and reds only hiding her passive aggression, emerges as a key player plotting carefully to emasculate the three generations of Tripathi men. Then there’s Gajagamini “Golu” Gupta who was introduced through a scene in Mirzapur Season 1 where she was masturbating at a library. In the second edition, Golu’s character grows as the archetypal revenge seeker in her oversized, neutral-shaded shirts-trousers and a cropped haircut who demands sex minus love in a half-heartedly scripted scene with sadist underpinnings. 

2020 Shethepeople roundup

Also Read: Mirzapur 2 Review: The Women Characters Are Strong But Wish They Were Explored More

However, even though these central women characters in Mirzapur defy conventional notions of femininity (Madhuri as the power player; Beena as the craftyking maker; Golu as the dispassionate gangster and both Beena-Golu as the surviving contenders of the Mirzapur throne), they continue to perform within shadows of patriarchy. Beena’s “power” rests on her being the mother, the carrier of the Tripathi scion, a regressive trope that ultimately reinforces her role as assigned by patriarchal power structures. The women don’t resist/overthrow rather co-opt the male symbols of power and their “empowerment” is accompanied by normalisation of violence against women.


Here is what Beena Tripathi and Golu Had to say to SheThePeople:

Paatal Lok

Take another big badlands OTT hit this year, Prosit Roy’s Paatal Lok, the police procedural where caste and class tensions leap through the backstories of Vishal Tyagi (Abhishek Banerjee), Tope Singh (Jagjeet Sandhu), Kabir M. (Aasif Khan), and Cheeni (Mairembam Ronaldo Singh)—the four suspects in a failed assassination attempt on celebrity TV news anchor Sanjeev Mehra (Neeraj Kabi). In one scene, among several others, where Tope Singh’s mother, a middle-aged woman is raped by the upper-caste village patriarchs while a dupatta is stuffed in her mouth so that no one hears her shouting. It is an example of routine violence against women being represented in a visceral, tone-deaf manner. One of the two central women characters in the out and out male-dominated series towered over by Outer Jamna Paar Inspector Hathi Ram Chaudhary, played with heft and heart by Jaideep Ahlawat is that of his wife Renu (Gul Panag). The lover of neon colours in her otherwise humdrum, Renu who is limited by both screen time and narratorial relevance only rises to the occasion when she return-slaps her husband as he falters as a father.  

Also Read: Paatal Lok: Finally a Web Series which addresses Toxic Masculinity

In a typical fictional cocktail of caste and crime, the cultural packaging of gender is drawn on the inner and outer worlds of women and men. Outside, muscle and money rule with gangsters, druglords, bahubalis fight territorial wars of dominion allayed by provincial equations. At home, women as lovers, wives, mothers have clout but derive their agency from the powerful men in their lives.


In the Zee5 original Rangbaaz (2018), Saqib Saleem’s Shiv Prakash Shukla, based on the 1990s-Gorakhpur’s (UP) infamous namesake gangster, calls the shots in his relationship with Ahana Kumra’s Babita Sharma who keeps waiting for his erratic phone calls and receiving precious gifts. She is his prized trophy; a beauty amid the blood.     

Dramas rooted in the badlands of UP/Bihar, much like other parts of North India, draw from the gendered repertoire of the bahu-beti canon. Raised as amaanat or treasures, beti (girl child, daughter) is the repository of the family’s honour or izzat, which the patriarchal figureheads protect until she is given away in marriage as the bahu (daughter-in-law).  

And yet, we have had a few landmark badlands-based female characters on screen in the decade of the 2010s. Take the epic 2012 Anurag Kashyap directorial Gangs of Wasseypur franchise on the Dhandbad coal mafia. In Part 2 lovers Huma Qureshi’s Mohsina Hamid asks Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Faizal Khan who clumsily clasps her hand in a perceived sexual advance: “Permissan liye hai aap? … Jo man mein aaye who karenge? (Did you take permission? Will you act as you please?). The macho, scarf-wearing local gangster-to-be breaks out in a soft tear upon this admonition teaching Indian men an important lesson in consent. If the Wasseypur series gave other assertive and sexually aware characters in Richa Chadha’s Nagma Khan and Reema Sen’s Durga, the subject of female desire or awakening of female sexuality is well treated in the 2014 thriller Dedh Ishqiya where Begum Para and Munniya played by Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi respectively play out a lesbian subtext. Under the garb of their “cultured” Nawabi costumes, they plot revenge in a delicious manner with seduction and subversion at play. Or take the Saheb, Biwi aur Gangster (2011-) franchise where Mahie Gill’s character was invested with both sexual and personal agency.

Circa 2020, and, in the skewered world of the badlands where caste-and-gender led violence/crimes against women speak in both numbers and shame, representations continue to be premised on desensitised violence. Women seem to seek empowerment by replaying the roles hitherto reserved for men. Since streaming platforms are more democratic such content can only be progressive if they look beyond done to death tropes.  

The views expressed are the author's own.

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