Gender Equality is defined as the state of equal ease of access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender, including economic participation and decision-making; and the state of valuing different behaviours, aspirations and needs equally, regardless of gender. Gender systems are often divided and hierarchical. Gender inequality stems from distinctions, whether empirically grounded or socially constructed.
Women lag behind men in many domains, including education, labor market opportunities and political representation. Gender systems are systems of gender roles in societies. A gender role is “everything that a person says and does to indicate to others or to the self the degree that one is either male, female, or androgynous.The relationship between media and gender shows how representations of the different genders are created for and by mass media.
Media can range from cinema, newspapers, magazines, comic strips, novels, CDs and music videos. These representations can influence the general public’s perception of the different genders. Cinema, or motion picture, is the art of moving images; a visual medium that tells stories and exposes reality.
Created in the dusk of the 19th century, cinema is the world’s most recent art form. It is also, by far, the world’s most complex, collaborative, and costly artistic expression. “Cinema is the manipulation of reality through images and visuals”. Bollywood has been a major reference point in portraying South Asian culture and Society.
Bollywood has taken stands for auxiliary aspects of film production including music, dance, hairstyles, costumes, and cinematography. The capitalist tools to market films, continued racism and classism along with the caste system, and the portrayal of women in the Bollywood films reinforce the prevailing and new stereotypes in a very rigid and heterosexual fashion. Besides entertainment, Bollywood films reflect society and culture to make them relatable to the audience, hence successful at the box office. The stereotypical and biased representation of genders is shown in a number of ways including male gaze, less screen time and representation, and fewer dialogues of one gender under other. Most action movies of Bollywood are male-oriented. Male characters are shown powerful, highly masculine, and responsible for the safety of female characters while female characters are shown distressed, vulnerable, powerless, and dependent on male characters.
In 2008, Bollywood released a film Ghajini, where Sunita and Kalpana were the two female leads. Regardless of more than one female lead, it was still a male-driven film. This film also showed a hyper-masculine character of Aamir Khan (as Sanjay), presented as an aggressive character in the film. Besides the portrayal of female characters as powerless, women are also shown as carriers of tradition. Films like Kuch Kuch Hota hai suggest that traditional women are more pleasing to men. In Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Anjali as a college student is Rahul’s friend, outspoken, and a good sportsperson. However, when they become older and meet, she is portrayed more traditional, caring, and shy.
At that point, Rahul becomes romantically interested in her. Tina, on the other hand, is presented as a ‘modern’ woman. However, later she proves her ‘Indianness’ by singing a Hindu traditional religious prayer that shocks Rahul and his college mates. It shows how to be more ‘Indian’, a woman needs to uphold religious and cultural traditions. While Rahul – a man – was never questioned on his dressing. A similar notion of women as ‘carriers of traditions’ is shown in the film Chennai Express where the female lead experiences pressure from her father to marry the man her father wishes because he will get power over other villages nearby. She becomes an object of trade and barter. Shahrukh Khan, the male lead, falls in love with her when she convinces him to fulfil his “traditional” duties of flowing the ashes of his grandfather in the holy river.
The increasing popularity of the item songs is used as a powerful apparatus to market the film. However, along with marketing, they also portray the feminine sexual desires through the articulation of female bodies. By hyper-sexualizing female dancers, their bodies are showcased as erotic and sexual fantasies, promoting male gaze.Often times, item songs are hardly related to the plot of the film. Thus, the capitalist logic of objectifying bodies to publicize films in the global market is visible in the item songs. The stereotypical representation of women in item songs shows female bodies as objects for men. Item songs also portray ‘ideal’ images of women and promote false ideas of how females should look like, obsessing them with thin slim figures with enormous breasts and buttocks.
Since the 21st century, Bollywood item songs have gained popularity in all corners of the world. Actresses like Malaika Arora Khan and Yana Gupta have reached new heights of popularity through their item songs. Katrina Kaif performed an item song in her film Tees Maar Khan, which was not directly related to the plot of the movie. The item songs also use dialogues that contain sexual connotations, reflecting women’s inferiority. For example, Kareena Kapoor, who performed an item song in Ra-One, used the name Chamak Challo that means “arrogant but easily accessible woman”, expressing subordination, ‘womanliness’ and ‘feminine sexual desires’ of females.
Such films aim for the maximization of profits by using female bodies as commodities, objectifying them to attract an audience in the global neoliberal economy. Deepa Mehta’s film Fire is considered a cultural landmark in the history of Bollywood film industry for presenting a taboo topic first time in the society. Sita and Radha’s homosexual relationship is contrasted with Ashok’s asceticism and Jatin’s extramarital affair.Woman characters are generally portrayed with surface-level qualities—attractive, beautiful—whereas men are represented as “strong” and “successful” associated with them. “… verbs like ‘kills’ and ‘shoots’ occur with males while verbs like ‘marries’ and ‘loves’ are related with females,” the analysts noted. In trailers, women appear to be considerably happier and less angry than men.
This representation is in accordance with research from 2012 which found that comercial Hindi movies depict “ideal women” as docile, benevolent, chaste, and controlled, while the “bad” woman is “individualistic, sexually aggressive, westernized, and not sacrificing.” The data also revealed that during introduction sequences, descriptors for males are profession-driven though females are associated with physical appearances, emotional states, or their connection to a male, for example, the “wife of” or “daughter of”. Male Introductions – a fair government representative, a yearning vocalist, a renowned educator, individual from an exceptional wing of the Indian Army. Female Introductions – an excellent young lady, girl of Mr. Saxena, is grief stricken.
In many storylines, guys had unrivaled occupations: Over 32% of male characters were specialists, contrasted with only 3% of ladies; for female characters, the most well known professions were educators or secretaries. Parts of attorneys, CEOs, and cops were overwhelmingly played by male on-screen characters. “While 80% of the movie plots have more male mentions than females, surprisingly more than 50% movie posters feature actresses,” the researchers noted, citing examples of movies like GangaaJal and Raees.In these movies, the males have more than 100 mentions in the plot and females have none, yet the posters feature females “very prominently.””They want to publicise through (the actress) but when it comes to actual story, she has been sidelined,” said Nishtha Madaan of IBM India. Madaan co-wrote the paper with Sameep Mehta of IBM and researchers from the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi, and Delhi Technological University. Meanwhile, the lack of attention paid towards women extends beyond actresses, too.
A soundtrack analysis of film songs released since 2010 showed that women sing consistently fewer songs than men—a trend that leading female vocalists have spoken out about. “If one takes into account the actual part of the song sung, this trend will be even more dismal,” the researchers said. Madaan acknowledges that while this stereotyping is a reflection of “how people think,” it is also a testament to “how the thinking is changing.” With many mainstream actresses like Anushka Sharma of NH10 fame and Kangana Ranaut and Vidya Balan, who opted for female-centric scripts like Queen and Kahaani respectively, things are changing on-screen.The proportion of female-centric movies has risen in recent years. “Our system discovered at least 30 movies in last three years where females play central role in plot as well as in posters,” the study said, referring to movies like Neerja, Nil Battey Sannata, Margarita with a Straw, Dear Zindagi, Akira, and more.Between 2015 and 2017, females were the central characters in 11.
9% of Hindi movies released between 2015 and 2017. Back in the 70s, this figure was closer to 7%.Almost all major movies find some way to work in romance as if it is a necessary part to create a successful conclusion.
The re-marriage of divorcees has been a complicated issue. There is the mentality that there must be something wrong with the person if they could not make their marriage last. Our society being a patriarchal society works in worse ways for women rather than for men.
Divorce is considered a taboo since everyone hopes for the couple to make a few sacrifices but not come to the decision to divorce. In Dil Dhadkne Do, the family believe that Manav (son-in-law) and Ayesha (daughter) can stay together. Their family want them to have children, maybe hoping that a child will fix all their problems. Nevertheless, the problem is between the couple. If Ayesha cannot feel anything towards her husband, a child cannot bring love between them. Instead of listening to Ayesha’s request, her mother ignores her and tells her to ‘stop boasting about her problems, and focus more on the family’.
Kamal (father) and Neelam (mother) also think the idea of divorce is inadequate. They themselves have stayed together for years, although they have no love and connection left between them. In earlier days and even today, childbirth was considered a sacred part of one’s life because the family name would continue. In the film Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, divorce is a major issue: a film about infidelity, and the people who cheat do not go back to their spouses.
In fact, they get divorced and they are remarried. One of 2015’s biggest hits Piku, refreshingly shows the struggles of a young independent woman balancing her personal and professional life. Piku loves both of these aspects of her life and doesn’t want to give up neither. She’s a loving and at times irritated daughter, depicting her as the reality of many professional women today.
Traditionally, Indian women have been homemakers only and their only source of livelihood has been their parents before marriage, their husbands after marriage and their sons if the husband dies.There have been many exceptions, of course, but this is mostly how it used to be and still is in large parts of India. Rarely any of the films made by filmmakers presented women as professionals. However, only the women who had failed in their love life were shown taking up a career.
While the male characters in the film had identities apart from their romantic ones, the females did not have any identity of their own. There is huge hypocrisy in how Ayesha (Dil Dhadkne Do) never wears a single sari or piece of traditional Indian clothing. It is not that she does not care for her husband, but makes the choice to move forward in her career and become independent because she is career-driven. Ayesha is independent, and that is why it is easier for her to break away from societal norms and ask for a divorce. She is more developed and has previously been in a patriarchal situation from which she was about break. Why should only a woman make sacrifices and change herself? Why can men and the rest of society not change their ways of thinking? Simran’s mother explains the sacrifice a woman has to make; she declares that while she promised herself she would secure happiness for her daughters.
Although her mother later reverses her position, stating that her daughter will not sacri?ce her happiness, and encourages Simran to flee with Raj. The feudal family romance has traditionally had a conservative member, whereby the couple – though romantically constituted had to be incorporated into the governing ideology of the extended family feud. This usually took the form of reconciliation between the hero and the patriarch. The very modern, independent, and hip girl before marriage suddenly blossoms into the most traditional and conservative girlfriend or wife to the male protagonist.
The closure is of about the old generation changing its traditions so that a new generation can create its own. As more women’s issues come to the forefront of the patriarchal Indian society, the more varied women’s roles have become in Indian cinema. The greatest deterrent to female entrepreneurs is that they establish themselves as equal women. It is difficult to come to a uniform conclusion on the portrayal of celluloid women. Considering the fact that women in India are not a homogenous group – they belong to different religions, castes, class, socioeconomic status and have different kinds of ambitions and desires as a result of which they lead different lives, it is improper to conclude that women on Indian silver screen have been portrayed in an identical manner. The portrayal of course has to be sensitive to the category to which they belong. For eg: An urban middle class woman’s story would be entirely different from that of a woman in a village. Films, thus have to be responsive towards the context in which they locate women characters.
Women characters should possess agency to dismantle the existing power structures as well as be able to negotiate their own position within this structure. It is time that cinema seeks a redefinition of women as objects of male gaze. Women’s experiences and dilemmas as points of narration are the need of the hour. Going beyond the stereotypes will do a great help to the cause of women in Indian society.
Cinema has to create a separate and independent space for Indian women to help them realise their dreams. Cinema’s only end is not to entertain. It must begin a quest for social change through entertainment. As a media product, identified to accelerate the process of modernity, cinema should not stick to its conventional type; it should come up with more progressive representations of women. Such portrayals would do justice to women and their role in the society.