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Oct 18, 2017

Reel & Real: Blurred Lines between Cinema and Reality- Notes from Women In Films brunch at Jio MAMI Film Festival

Oxfam India   /   Sanya Sodhi

There has been an ongoing debate around the portrayal of women in cinema, which raises questions around the lyrics of our popular item songs. We have all danced to Sheila Ki Jawani and Munni Badnam Hui at some point. These songs are extremely catchy, and they are played everywhere, from our bustling bazaars to our over the top weddings. Most of us are aware about the ways in which these songs objectify women with their suggestive lyrics, but we are not guilty of objectifying women in real life!  Then, what is the problem?

Cinema as a medium of entertainment... or more?
According to the Active Audience Reception Theory, audiences are actively involved, (consciously or unconsciously), in making sense of any given message communicated to them through media, by relating it to their own personal contexts and cultural backgrounds. When influential women like Kareena Kapoor dance to suggestive lyrics such as Main toh tanduri murgi hoon yaar; Gatkale saiyan alcohol se// I am a roasted chicken hubby; you can gulp me down with alcohol; it does not make the Indian audience feel uncomfortable. This goes on to show how the objectification of women has found an easy acceptance in the minds of the viewers. 

How does my response to item numbers matter?

According to actress Shabana Azmi, “Every drop in the ocean matters”. Our enthusiastic response to the item songs leads to a rise in their demand. This rising demand not only distorts reality by portraying women as subservient beings who are meant to feed male desires, but also directly impacts the nature of work that female actors are doing in the film industry. Women are objectified in 88% of the films in Bollywood and are mostly shown in stereotypical roles as wives, girlfriends, daughters or mothers. They have little influence on the progress of the plot as they are noted for their beauty, naivety and sensuality. The male actor dominates the film.

Are you saying that the reel world and the real world intersect?

Actress Sayani Gupta who has worked alongside stars like Shah Rukh Khan feels that the scripts that are presented to women in Bollywood are a reflection of the society’s perception towards them. “In most of these scripts, women are presented as an innocent virginal being or the vamp who is evil and wild.” Such a reductive categorization of women does not leave space for the idea of an autonomous woman to develop. Resultantly, the reflection of a real world is incomplete and distorted. 

What can we do about this?

The concern should be to break this cycle of supply and demand of such cinema, which reinforces the dominant patriarchal ideas. Simple economics is at work here, supply exists because of the demand, which in turn is shaped by the existing supply. Change in the mindsets that we lobby for has to be two-sided and not just an attempt on part of the film industry. There is a need to actively engage in this discourse by being more conscious about the nature of content that we are consuming as part of the popular culture.


Catch the interviews from #OxfamAtMAMI brunch here:







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