“Change is the constant variable of our life”. Indeed! the new wave cinema in India has been attempting to showcase this exponentially, over the past few decades.
Mainstream cinema has always accorded insignificant space to the female protagonists and gender related issues. One might argue that censorship was, to a great extent, a limiting factor to the exploration of sexuality and gender sensitivity. Eventually, the rise of OTT platforms has finally proven the much needed space and liberty to filmmakers.
Consider recent highly grossing and critically-acclaimed Bollywood films, such as Thappad and 2015 film, Angry Indian Goddesses. In both these feminists inspired cinematographic work, a thirst for evolution is clearly visible.
The New Wave: Questioning Patriarchy
Thappad is a film with gradual twists and turns that talks about the life of a simple homemaker. An easy girl, with no great ambitions who is happy taking care of her husband and his family, and rejoices in her small world; until a slap by the husband shatters her conscience.
The moot point here is, would the protagonist have shunned away the matter had that incident been in private – within the confines of the four walls of her home instead of happening in full public gaze? May be. May be not. This question has been left open assuming that love supersedes all else for a woman, in a traditional Indian society. The film Thappad showcases the inadvertently acceptable superiority of male gender in the society. The protagonist’s husband is a doting and responsible partner until the aforesaid incident takes place in a fit of rage, at a house party. The resonance of that slap is far deeper than can be imagined – the lady eventually decides to file for a divorce. The film’s narrative invariably questions every bit of patriarch in the society, both subtly and profoundly.
Cross to Angry Indian Goddesses: the tale of seven friends that traverses through their worldly experience and emotional upheavals. Interestingly, the film has been written by a man (Pan Nalin) which is a noteworthy aspect as it showcases how each of the characters shed their inhibitions in a friendly re-union. Ticking off various situations, the director encompasses issues ranging from gender discrimination, marriage dilemmas, lesbian marriage, rape problem, skin-color prejudice and mirrors every girl’s innermost desire through this cinematographic work.
Watch: Angry Indian Goddesses (2016) Official Trailer
Rethinking Gender Sensitivity on Screen
Many others such as Kahaani (2012), Chak De India (2007), Mary Kom (2014) have all been produced and directed by men. Especially the 2014 film Queen, wherein the protagonist’s marriage fails to eventuate and as she decides to go alone on her honeymoon thereby transforming herself. So far as Hindi Film Industry is concerned, there is something remarkable and unprecedented in this narrative, as instead of the conventional repercussions such as suicide by the bride or his father due to the resultant social stigma, the entire family is concerned about protagonist’s (Kangana Ranaut) emotional well-being.
Yet another recent release Shakuntala Devi (2020) is an embedded narrative of a formidable personality and a world-renowned mathematician Shakuntala Devi. The protagonist has been depicted as a wonderful mother who is entangled between her self-identity and motherhood. The film has been narrated to us from the perspective of her daughter who as a child, is unable to understand her mother’s viewpoint and challenges, but eventually endures it at the end of the narrative. Even though her husband has been portrayed as perceptive and supportive throughout her career, the late Guinness-record holder has been showcased as a fallible character during the initial years of her motherhood- the one who separates a child from her beloved father.
Renowned writer, Madhavi Menon mentions in her book, ‘The History of Desire in India’, that in the year 1977 when she mentally calculated the 23rd root of a 201-digit number faster than a computer, she also wrote a book titled – ‘The World of Homosexuals’. It was later discovered that her book was largely a result of her own marriage to a gay man, “who like countless gay people around the world, went along with heterosexual marriage to keep up appearances”. The film showcases this aspect, but in a very subtle way. It is noteworthy that the film takes us through a much bygone era, wherein the acceptability of such matters was not quite normal.
The Central Element
The central element in all such women empowerment cinema is the individual identity of the woman which is being challenged. Be it an extremely successful, career-oriented women or a simple homemaker; a woman’s self-identity fluidly gets subsumed in various roles she beckons on herself.
In fact, Bollywood itself is marked by a massive wage gap. Interestingly, one of the topmost actors, Shah Rukh Khan has been the biggest advocator of gender equality in the industry. He is known for keeping the names of female actors of his films before his name in the rolling credits and calling the industry a male-dominated one. Actress-filmmaker Nandita Das, Anushka Sharma, Kangana Ranaut have all been quite vocal about equal pay and breaking the barriers of skin color in the industry. The emerging new era in Bollywood is seeking to empower women through international publics as opposed to just the national publics. And as we claim – our constant variable i.e. change, is around the corner!
Watch: Bollywood’s Global Star Priyanka Chopra talks about Pay Gap and Male Entitlement in the Entertainment Industry
As veteran actor Sushmita Sen says, “The Age of Aquarius is on its way, an age when women will rise.” She has travelled from being a Miss Universe to a single parent.