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Women in the movies: Through a biased lens

Women in the movies: Through a biased lens

Women in the movies: Through a biased lens
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By Manisha Lakhe  Mar 8, 2019 7:46:57 PM IST (Updated)

There are so many movies which pretend to be ‘women-centric’ and then do their darned best to create even more stereotypes.

‘You’re too emotional! You’ll never really be powerful if you cannot control your emotions’

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My radar begins to buzz, and before I can mouth a horrified, ‘What the…’ Carol Danvers gets mad and punches Jude Law, electrical fire coming out of her. If I could I would be mad too and begin to glow and would kick ass like Captain Marvel and then I would do so much damage…
There are so many movies which pretend to be ‘women-centric’ and then do their darned best to create even more stereotypes. Pink the film had really cool women characters. But the film needed Amitabh Bachchan to show up and save them all in court. With Women’s Day being celebrated everywhere with token roses and gift coupons and what-have-yous (one auto-rickshaw chap in Mumbai proudly offered free rides to women passengers on social media to be lauded as a ‘hero’), I want you to see that these ‘special days’ mean nothing because we’re watching movies in the theatre and online all through the years. And I have swallowed endless cups of coffee watching predictable characters do the expected. I was one of the few who hoped Lady Gaga’s version of A Star Is Born did not have her marry the drunken sod who ‘discovers’ her... Do male directors really ‘get’ women?
Let’s start with the recently released wonderful film Sonchiraiya made by Abhishek Chaubey. The film is brilliant, best so far this year, but this film too had me rolling my eyes when Bhumi Pednekar - who raises a gun to the bandits (and sports one on the movie poster too) - is reduced to a damsel in distress singing inspiring songs about golden birds (hence the title of the film) the moment the men take her under their manly armpits. Bah! You want to scream! Another gun would have been handy to fight the bad cops, no? But no! Her role is only that of the woman saving a child from unspeakable horrors…
Am not saying there’s anything wrong with a damsel in distress, and I loved rich girl running away and meeting only super nice men out of touch with reality film Highway starring Alia Bhatt so much. Until a dry voice told me I liked the songs and the cinematography more than I believed the character, who really needed a couple of tight slaps…
I’m not saying women cannot be delicate darlings, gasping at the sight of blood, but give me Michelle Rodriguez in Girlfight any day. A film directed by a woman, this film is everything you want to be as a woman (personally, I cannot abide boxing, but this film is an exception). Here is a taste:
Some women need saving too, and men have created a whole lot of them, and they are so delicious on screen: Nutan as Sujata, Nargis in Chori Chori, even Sonali Bendre’s sacrificial Preeti in Hum Saath Saath Hain. But when male directors and writers create unusual women characters in cinema they end up being patriarchy’s well-loved figures no matter what year they have been created. Remember Bandini? The most gorgeous Dharmendra is in love with the inmate in a women’s prison. And she realises this too. But the director makes her go back and serve her pati parmeshwar (not really) because ‘Main hoon bandini piya ki’ (S D Burman laments beautifully)
When I watched Uma Thurman admit, ‘Mercy, compassion and forgiveness I lack’ I forgot my manners and clapped in the theatre. But right before the two women redecorate the house.
Seriously though, but film after film women are shown to be just not practical. And I’m not talking about heroines wearing chiffon sarees in the snow while heroes are trussed up in cable pullovers. I’m not even talking of heroines with manes made for shampoo commercials riding in convertibles (top down, of course) without a scarf, hair flying beautifully. I’m talking of moms in movies. each more sacrificing than the other. But every mom seems to find a job as a stitcher of petticoats and blouses. While I’m bawling at the life situation mom is in, one part of me is asking, ‘Where are these jobs irl?’ I imagined myself at the lowest point in my life and realised that there would be no one who would offer me a job as a petticoat stitcher. I might end up making pears poached in red wine sauce for some soiree but stitching blouses?
And no, no matter how delicious that drop of mango juice looks on Katrina Kaif’s lip, real women would rather be dead than be caught drinking anything from a bottle. Even if one was on a road trip with Ryan Gosling, we’d have glasses.
Yes, there are women who will wait for you to come back home so you can have a meal together, but more and more women are now watching Netflix or Amazon simply because there are shows where men cook for women and even do dishes…
Most of my friends who happen to be men will admit that Dil Chahta Hai is one of their favourite films. Remember the women in that film? No? Good. Because you don’t want to remember women as screaming banshees or sexy, older women who must walk away from gorgeous men simply because young men must seek young women only, any other kind of relationship equation is a no-no.
It’s the same thought process that gives Deepika Padukone jumping into fire as the only option because a wild man thinks that she is beautiful in Padmavat. Of course, it was a story written by a man, and men in real life were ready to kill because they thought there may have been a ‘dream sequence’ where the queen would fall for the gorgeous, wild man smitten by her. Alas, that was not to be. She was married to a man who is shown to be a clothes horse and someone who lives by some insane rules of manhood. Maybe that’s why jumping into the raging fires was a good option…
After watching Gwendoline Christie in Game Of Thrones, it feels like such a let down to talk about super cop movies. Women in those films are simply objects to be rescued and the men are there to be adored, honoured and obeyed. ‘Ataa majhi satakli’ should be the response of every woman who watches these movies. She starts out sassy and cool and wins the prize: the coolest cop. Or the smartest soldier. Or a RAW agent. The moment the uniformed men are attached and call to say that they are off on a super secret mission, the heroines turn into some sort of idiotic mush who insists, ‘We’ll run away to some village where no one knows us, but please don’t go on this super secret mission.’ This trope is so annoying, you half expect the men to jump willingly on a grenade because their women are so daft.
Don’t get me wrong there are some very cool movies from the South that break these stereotypes. Nayanthara plays a doctor in Viswasam and she carries the film Aramm as an IAS officer, a collector in a small town where a child falls into a borewell. But who can forget that she also dances to the best rain song there is imho. And even though she’s quite the ‘item’ (how I loathe that word), there is no ‘hero’ ogling at her. She dances with urchins, in an expression of pure joy of dancing in the rain.
Will things ever change? I have watched so many shows streaming online, and even when the women are cops, time travellers bartenders, or even spies, within 20 minutes the shows and movies their ‘unusual’ jobs turn them into heroines we have seen in the movies forever and ever.
Men, on the other hand, are supposed to be macho and protective and able to handle any challenge. Don’t get me wrong. Who am I to deny myself the pleasure of watching a bearded Keanu Reeves in John Wick?
But there’s hope, methinks. For every superhero movie you will watch in the theatres, there is a love story in Cold War that will steal your heart. For every white saviour film like Green Book, there will be a Roma. But we’re talking about women this week. And even though I am very taken by the very sensitive buddy movie called Paddleton on Netflix, I must draw your attention to Rebel Wilson in Isn’t It Romantic who has one of the funniest point of views about how women view the world.
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