Little Bronze Statues ...
“ But Alex she looks lovely yaar.”
“Oh come on, hameim actress chahiye actress. Not some decoration.”
– ‘Heroine’, a Bollywood film released in 2012.
The opposition to the objectification of women is not new. From time immemorial people have been debating about it. In Alexandre Guillaume Mouslier de Moissy's 1771 play, The True Mother (La Vraie Mère), the title character rebukes her husband for treating her as merely an object for his sexual gratification: "Are your senses so gross as to look on these breasts – the respectable treasures of nature – as merely an embellishment, destined to ornament the chest of women?"
Objectification is known to be those portrayals of women in ways and contexts which suggest that women are objects to be looked at, ogled, even touched, or used. From ancient scriptures, a revolted Sita (from the epic Ramayana) to a modern day Delhi gang rape victim, there are countless examples of how women are commoditized. Perhaps to be purchased, perhaps taken – and once tired of, even discarded, often to be replaced by a newer, younger edition; certainly not treated as full human beings with equal rights and needs.
It is all over in mainstream media whether it is in advertising, calendars, pictures, movies, in magazines and so on. Most of these pictures are not those of women scientists, writers and thinkers but those of young stylish models pictured to sell products, attract attention and please the audience. They fail to portray a representative range of women's real skills and occupations, particularly in positions of authority or even fail to reflect the increasing diversity and richness of women's lives, or the range of women's contributions and achievements.
There is a tendency for women to be shown: as secondary to men, as pretty objects, or as appealing sex objects.
Indian films objectify women
Indian mainstream Cinema is rich in producing films of various genre and languages. Regional language films of Malayalam, Bengali, Marathi have always claimed a respectable position on the national and international front. But still ‘Bollywood’ (Hindi film industry) is the synonym of this male dominated industry. “ Nowadays rather than celebrating a women’s sensuality, they are portrayed as an object or a toy of the Hero’s antics or to celebrate his success or his dreams. Or as a product that has been marketed by the catchy medium called media”, said Soumya K, a first year English literature student of Kasargod Central University in Kerala.
It would be interesting to do a case study on all Salman Khan films. Those pretty ladies dancing to the lyrics of ‘MashAllah’ could easily pass off as road side statues. No one cares about them over the big bulk of Tiger Khan.
The Indian movie industry is known for their glitterati and songs. ‘Item songs’ evoke varied emotions among film buffs and viewers. From ‘choli ke peeche kya hae’ to latest ‘Chipka le saiyan Fevicol se’, lyrics, these item numbers are portraying women as objects. Surely this is an example of creativity, but a song and dance sequence showing a woman being stalked and wooed by a bunch of men is ironical. Is this what we call popular entertainment? These songs with derogatory portrayal of women and sexual overtones are often inserted in movie plots for no reason at all.
Actor Aditi Rao Hydari in an interview to rediff.com said: “I wish our movies wouldn't objectify women. There's so much more to being a woman.” There have been some women centric movies like ‘Kahani’ or ‘No one Killed Jessica’ but those are just one or two.
The Malayalam film industry stood out as it celebrated women and their lives especially in movies released around 70’s and 80’s. Films like ‘Kallichellamma’ or the national award winner ‘Chemmeen’ are exceptional examples of how women were strongly portrayed. But then again male domination became prominent and the golden age started fading away. Still directors like Adoor Gopalakrishnan try to whip up some good story lines overriding the economic centric films. For example, his film ‘Naalu Pennungal’ (Four girls) for which he got the National Award for the best director records a journey of womanhood across four distinct parts and each of these parts narrate strong stories of women from different stratas.
Films and Society
The films and media reflect the society and if children grow up dancing to the songs like ‘Chipka le saiyan Fevicol se’ (let me stick to you with a fevicol) then society is to be blamed for allowing such vulgarity to creep in.
The song 'Dreamum Wakeupam' from the movie “Aiyaa” where the lyrics leave no room for doubt as to the intent of the song. Have you ever seen or heard such tactless song lyrics from the west, especially in a family movie? Is it not time that Bollywood behaves more responsibly and maturely?
However Jai Krishnan, a final year student at Armed Forces Medical College, Pune has a different point of view “When women themselves volunteer for such practices then where is the need for an opinion. I mean, in the given Indian culture scenario a woman wouldn’t usually do a ‘Munni Badnaam’ in front of her brother-in-law so gallantly. There is no objectification of women. It is their choice to large extent.”
With competition between these songs rising up, filmmakers have adopted an easy way out.
The more indecent and vulgar the song is, the more it will stand out. And there is no end for this. Woman performers of such songs gain popularity as “item girls.” Indeed many have made a career out of it. The disheartening fact is that they become synonymous with sex. They are not seen as an actress or performer whose personality and talent is explored.
Once people see skin, their eyes freeze on it. Voyeuristic camera angles and extreme show of sensuality have not helped matters.
Potrayal of women
The recent case of the brutal rape of a medical student in Delhi has highlighted strong objections from all over India. Filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap tweeted “"We need to stop objectifying our women in what we call our second religion... Our films. And our TV Shows." To some extent TV shows celebrate womanhood or the various stages of it but still they do portray them as a ‘poor suffering daughter or wife or daughter-in-law without any ambition.’ That doesn’t score.
The tall dark angry gentleman comes in the most debonair way and teases the heroine, if she shows attitude he slaps her and tames her. No prizes for guessing; she ultimately falls desperately in love. Imagine, we are taking small children with us to see such films. They see the hero misbehaving with a woman, teasing her, passing coarse remarks about her, pinching her. Then there is the stunt scene where the angry hero will be saving the heroine from street-side goons again confirming to the heroine that she is safe in his crude hands.
Noted Economist and leading Columnist Swaminthan Anklesaria Iyer wrote in his blog in the Times of India website: “What’s truly terrible is the manner in which film heroes have for decades pestered, stalked and forced their unwanted attentions on heroines in a thousand films, yet ended up getting the girl. That sends the most outrageous of all messages to the public: pestering girls is what heroes do, and a girl’s ‘no’ actually means ‘yes’.” The recent super hit film ‘Rowdy Rathore’ the hero is shown pinching the woman on her waist. Now, this is what is seen by a kid, and this is what he thinks is right. And these are not under any scanner. But when films which talks of Child Abuse or homosexuality release there is a huge uproar.”
In movies like Salt, Fashion, and Legally Blonde, women are portrayed as leaders, with power, and authority along with their attractive features. These movies give women in society a more positive image than what most movies do. It seems that the objectification of women in most movies have stemmed from society's constant judgment of women’s features, and not from their intelligence and leadership. It is producers and directors duty to celebrate women hood by making meaningful movies that don’t portray them as mere bronze statues but those with equal cult status as men.
“Fairytales, complete with a glorious past where valiant heroes rescued simpering maidens and everyone lived happily together, mask cultural and social complexity,” wrote Sanjay Srivastav, a noted Sociology Professor of the Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi in The Hindu.
It's very easy to argue that we should not victimize Bollywood, but the fact is that we are indulging in commodification of women on the silver screen just to make it a commercial proposition.
Clearly, we have a long way to go to ensure respect for women.