Winner of two Filmfare Awards, in Joh Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (The one who wins is the king), Ramlal has an ideal, older son, Ratan, and the indisciplined younger one, Sanjay. Contrary to the hard-working Ratan, Sanjay keeps failing his classes and hangs around with his friends Ghanshu and Masood. Ratan competes for top honours at the inter-college sports event. However, losing the penultimate cycle race at the finish line to his arch-rival, Shekhar, by less than a cycle’s length he got placed second. The film turns 30.
Over the following year, Ratan and Shekhar keep running into each other while training. Shekhar, who is from the elite Rajput College, mocks Ratan over his modest background. Meanwhile, Sanjay is busy running after women in cars that he “borrows” from his childhood friend Anjali.
One day, he meets Devika, a rich student from Queen’s College. Posing himself as the son of a wealthy millionaire, he impresses her. Devika gets carried away and falls for all his lies. Devika, however, dumps him after knowing his truth, and Shekhar mocks him for his poverty-stricken background. When Anjali, who has always liked him, helps Sanjay overcome his heartbreak, he realises that the woman he has always wished to be with was right in front of him but he failed to truly see her.
Suggested Reading: “Mard Aurat Ka Bhagwan Hota Hai” And Other Sexist Dialogues From Hindi Films
Joh Jeeta Wohi Sikandar Turns 30
Although the music for this film was composed by Jatin-Lalit, and rightly got nominations for Best Music at the Filmfare Awards, and Pehla Nasha is the most popular track on the album which, until today, is a cult song, the movie exhibits a lot of gender biases. Bollywood, gender biases, and sexism complement one another as popular media, as a mode of influencing public mindset and opinion, is also inflicted by it.
The gender role stereotyping and sexism in mainstream Indian movies, television, and advertisements in its evolution over the years, gives a regressive portrayal of women in popular visual media. Sanchari Mukhopadhyay, Department of Integrative Medicine from NIMHANS Bangalore, writes in the Journal Of Psychosexual Health in her work titled: “Bollywood, Popular Media and Sexism In India: A Critical Glance Back,” about Indian movies under either a large ambit of Bollywood, the Hindi-language cinema fraternity, or regional industries, like those of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Bengal, Assam, and so on.
She writes, “Since the 1950s, movies made in this industry have undergone several conceptual and technical changes. Talking about the female representation, fewer women were working in the industry as directors, actors, producers, scriptwriters, and so on, to start with.”
The general behind-the-scene male dominance was always on the screen. Gradually, although female representation increased, interestingly, the inherent sexism did not go away. In movies like the one which turned 30, female leads or characters were usually the mothers or romantic interests or “wives” of the male leads, to support them in their life endeavours.
In reality, however, women are much more than “beauty” and “marriage,” as 1832 American novelist, Louisa May Alcott writes in Little Women. Childhood and adolescence may seem “idyllic” in “Joh Jeeta Wohi Sikandar,” but, the general trope of women adding “beautiful reliefs” in between the real-life struggles and challenges faced by the heroes, is inherently sexist.
Adding to all of this, the sexuality of women has been another taboo in Indian cinema, and certain actors have permanently been associated with sexual explicitness, and have only been looked at in that light. They hardly landed any different roles because of the stereotyping by viewers and directors alike.
Movies like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Darr, Anjaam, Tere Naam, and Wanted, among many, have normalised stalking and so much so that love became synonymous with such behaviours among men. Sadly, condemnation of female under-representation, male gaze, and “item” songs in mainstream Bollywood cinema is only restricted to a certain group of people.
The views expressed are the author’s own.