Archive for February, 2013

Rampant sexism in Indian movies

February 24, 2013 Leave a comment

My parents are here with me in the US, helping Prabha and me manage our two children. While it is very good to have them around, there are some inconveniences too, like when yesterday I had the highly nauseating experience of sitting through a Telugu movie that Prabha played for them. It is one of those regular mindless movies where the hero single handedly takes on an ex-CM, beating up ever increasing number of people every 20 mins that the villain sends to rough him up.

While that alone is enough to put me off the movie, what made me move to a different room was the way the hero preaches the heroine on how women should behave. Remember that for a considerable part of the time the movie played, Aman was testing the limits of his voice box by shouting into my ear, while Akash was trying to stand up tugging at my shorts to raise him up and so I could not really focus on the movie. But in a scene where the heroine is downing a beer, the hero preaches to her on how a woman should be. How she should not be drinking, how she must be soft, shy, wear makeup and so on. He goes on to explain how guys dont fall for extraordinary women (as the heroine, playing the role of a journalist, describes herself in the earlier parts of the movie), and that they like only ordinary women.

This kind of sexism never fails to rile me up (why else would I write about it at 3.30 AM). It makes me stinking mad. As a male myself, I don’t think I am completely free of such prejudice. I am sure that there are cases where even my privilege as a male shows. But I am working on it and when pointed out, I am ready to correct myself.

Another reason, why it makes me so uneasy is probably because it reminds me of the time (more than a decade ago) when I thought I liked Rajinikanth’s movies. His movies too are full of such utter nonsense against women (take any movie). It makes me feel sick about what my own thoughts were, when I was in school and college. Needless to say, I am today ashamed to say that I liked his movies at one point.

You might say I am fretting too much about something that is very common. But what concerns me is precisely, that such tripe is so common and that it is not talked about as much as it should be. My worry is that such movies, with big stars, are so popular that people are brainwashed into thinking that the role of women is just to play second fiddle to the men in their lives, and that any kind of assertion of women’s rights becomes something that a woman should never do. When someone does that, she is seen as being not an “ordinary” woman. Those who know not the first thing about feminism, start criticising it. I am not saying that the moment the movie is over, the men go about beating their wives and sisters. But this kind of movie making reinforces the already deeply entrenched idea in our culture, that women are second class beings.

What worries me further is that ideas like these are held my women themselves in our country, and such movies ensure they never get out of such a thought process. Women themselves think that their role is to help men succeed in their lives (as my mom does). I wonder if there are no women on the sets of the movie who will raise their voices against this. But I realise that those women who get to work as technicians in the movie do not get enough control over the process, to assert their views, but what about the heroines themselves? Is Tamanna ok with her journalist character being told that her not wearing make up, her swearing, her beer drinking are all something a woman should not do? I guess so. After all she does not mind being objectified as a mere prop in movie after movie where she gets screen time only because our movie format has five songs as an indispensable component. I can understand men being MCPs (though that does not justify it), but why are women playing along? That should give us an idea of how deep seated such prejudices are.

To get the problem into perspective, imagine a movie, where the hero tells a person, citing her caste, that ordinary people belonging to her caste, should not study in college and that they must act only as a servant of the upper castes and that if she goes to college and gets a degree, that would mean she would not be liked by the members of the upper caste? That would have raised voices from so many people asking for the movie to be banned since it promotes casteism. But, the movies that degrade women are exactly similar, and I would argue, are worse. After all, there is no caste that constitutes 50% of the population. But women who make up almost 50% (slightly less, I know) of our people are stereotyped day in and day out in the movies, and no one seems to care. Why does the censor board let such films through? Why is it not legally a problem to make sexist movies, but casteist movies are a strict no-no? I don’t have an answer, but I know it is wrong, unfair and prejudicial.

What is even more odd about the whole thing is that the women in the movie stars’ families, regularly do things that the movie star himself derides in the movie. Why is it that Rajinikanth does movies like Mannan, while his one daughter is a producer and the other a director? Cant people see the double standards?

I wonder what would happen if some filed a PIL against an obviously sexist movie asking for it to be banned? Would that raise our consciousness? The case might fail, considering that a majority of the judges too might go with the public sentiment that sexism is too common to be banned. I am personally not for banning a movie for being sexist, but I would like to see everyone associated with the movie boycotted and ostracised voluntarily by the rest of the media and people. At least the women in the media and the entire population of women. That would be very nice, but I am not very hopeful of seeing something like that happen in my own lifetime.