The portrayal of woman in Hindi Cinema


‘Anaarkali of Aarah’ is a story of an adult-entertainer, Anaarkali, from the town Aarah of Bihar. The film is directed by Avinash Dash and released in 2017. The film raises some very important issues related with the females in show-business. The film is famous enough that I do not need to enumerate the story-line. I want to concentrate on the Metaphors used for the female protagonist in the movie. This movie used the metaphors from the domain of food. Even the name Anaarkali is shortened to Anaar meaning “pomegranate”, which reminds of the famous Hindi proverb – “ek anaar, sou bimaar”, literally, ‘one pomegranate, and hundred patients’, implies that many people are after a single thing or person. This is exactly the position of Anaarkali in the movie.

Anaarkali is introduced in the stage-show as desi tandoor which implies ‘very hot, chilly and ready to serve’. She is also referred to as anaarkali angaaraa on the analogy of ‘chicken-angaaraa’. She is called laal tamaatar, i.e. red, hot tomato, something spicy. Interestingly, all the major metaphors used in the movie are based on edible items and almost all of them are used for the female protagonist. This fact implies that a female who performs in front of the people is more of an item of consumption and hence has to be ‘served’ hot (angaaraa) and spicy (tandoor). Such metaphors and easy consumption of such metaphors also imply the societal mentality at large.

When it comes to Hindi cinema, the female characters are portrayed in two extremes: they are either Goddesses or incarnation of Devil, the vamp. You either get Mother India, a goddess of sacrifices or a femme fatale, one who is nothing but a conspirator. Their actions are motivated by high moral principles or the enticement of power, person and property. There are domestic servants, beggars, prostitutes, mistresses and wicked mother-in-laws. Majority of these characters are stereotyped as villainous and keen on wrong-doings. ‘The women themselves are responsible for the misery of the females’ is nourished with the vamp plotting in the movie. In short, you don’t really find the ‘real’ female that you may find in the day-to-day life.

There have been some movies which advocate female empowerment. But, the empowerment remains faulty from the ideological perspective. For example, in the movie Chak De! India the female football team becomes successful just because they were guided and trained by a male coach. They were like fighting cats that needed to be directed and controlled. They get the sponsorship to play only because of the generosity of the male football team. And after all the coaching and teaching, the internal rivalry remains till end, implying that the females cannot unite. In the movie Kahaani, the leading lady, Vidya Bagchi, is on the quest and is helped by retired IB officer Colonel Pratap Bajapayee and Satyoki Sinha (Rana). Even in Anaarkali of Aarah, Anaarkali is supported by Hiraman Tiwari and Anwar. The females are portrayed without their own will-power and intelligence to solve the issues on their own.

Another characteristic of females in Hindi cinema is their role as the show-piece. They are in the movie as an extra ‘love-tract’ for some songs. They do not have any contribution in the main story-line of the movie. They are basically the dolls that add sensation in the drama; they are extra who can show their skin to the audience and hence they needed to be served ‘hot’. In some movies, the only roles the mothers, sisters and wives have, is to get kidnapped and put the protagonist in trouble and ultimately show his heroism. There is an emerging genre in which an independent woman is the protagonist but she’s presented as an almost stupid and emotionally driven, for example, Queen, Jab We Met, Tanu Weds Manu among others.

More startling issue is the representation of the actresses in the role of actresses, for example, in the biographies. In the movie Dirty Picture, the portrayal of the central figure is quite questionable. In most of the cases, the heroines are presented as characterless and this characteristic will become the reason for their downfall. Not only that, almost all independent woman presented in the movies have questionable character from the perspective of acceptable social norms.

Representation of a community or a group plays a very important role in the overall image of it. It is believed that the work of art is a mirror to society and is inspired by the social events; whatever is in the society is reflected in the work. Whatever is presented in the cinema is basically a metonymic representation of the society. But cinema never makes a sweeping statement that the characters are the final representation of the reality. According to cinema, the characters are just imaginary instances which don’t correspond with the reality.

Hindi cinema runs on the stereotypes. The cinematic representation strengthens the stereotypical belief system. The most powerful stereotypes for females are the physical one. They are beautiful; they are fair; they have the perfect figure; they are always well-dressed; they dance well; and above all, they are available. These stereotypes are actually created by the cinema and strengthen by the advertisement and fashion industries. These industries are into business and hence expecting conscience from them for a just representation can be a great fault on our part.

There is a difference between female and feminine; female is a natural category. But feminine is a social construct, developed, strengthen and enforced by the various social institutions. The cinematic representation of woman is part of this institutional process. The heroines are the ideal representation of the females. By representing the females in a specific way, they create a kind of ‘sunflower syndrome’ for the women in the audience. The female audience strives to become like the woman in cinema, primarily the heroines, which may be ideal but not real. But, the greater problem arises when the expectation of the society is also configured on the cinematic representation. The society wants the women who sacrifice, irrespective of their choices and aspirations. We want to govern them, even if it goes against their will. We want to see them young and beautiful. These are stereotypical gender roles and they are represented in the cinema with possible overstatements. Basically, it serves to the male gaze. They are objectified to fulfill the male desires; the beauty of the female body is presented for the males to consume.

Certain gender roles are uplifted and strengthen for males; they are presented as saviors. On the other hand, females have a very distinct roles; primarily, to make the life of male counterpart more enjoyable, to facilitate male lives. We need a huge revolution to alter the narratives in favor of woman or rather in the quest for the balanced representation. The representation of the true woman-self, their real problems, and their own aspirations and desires needs to be narrated from a fresh perspective. And the audience also has to elevate the tastes to accept the newer images of females in Indian movies or say in Hindi cinema.

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