When they are not suffering, weeping or praying before a deity, they are singing songs, frisking about in public parks or uttering promises of everlasting love. “Dil” and “pyar” are the only two words on which they seem to live.
They are suffering mothers, wives or sisters or sexy sirens who wear scanty clothes and their heart in the sleeveless blouse. They are cabaret artists, spies running errands for the foul-mouthed, lousy smuggler, or golden-hearted creatures doing dirty things for an ailing parent or education of a junior who is always in a convent at a hill station.
If they are good, they are good to the point of incredibility. If bad, they are worse. There is no human dimension to them. They are caricatures.
Emancipated women are depicted as freaks or revealed in grotesque proportions. Reena Roy in Apnapan, supposed to be a symbol of Women’s Lib, carried her emancipation too far, resulting in the ruin of her marriage.
A wide chasm divides real from reel life. Love affairs in our society are still frowned upon. On the screen, our women live and die for love affairs.
They think, breathe, drink and eat love. Rape sends waves of horror and indignation in society! on the screen it is pure amusement. Eve-teasing is a despicable social evil but on the screen it is sheer fun because the heroine after being teased in restaurants, parks, university, college or roadside fall into the arms of her tormentor.
One does not expect serious treatment of pressing problems facing women. Senseless glossies being churned out from our film studios seldom touch problems like dowry, status of woman, the hardships of single woman cities, the problems of working women especially of those who have sacrificed their own marriage or home to build up the family, or have undergone suffering, passed through a jungle of leering males, yet have not compromised their values or virtue.
When a film does take up a serious theme, the treatment is so frivolous that the whole thing is reduced to mockers. In Palkon Ke chaon Mein, the woman (Hema Malin ji blunders by secretly marrying an army officer who dies soon after in action. The dilemma and agony of such a woman could have been converted into a first-rate film of social significance. Instead, the problem is solved making the heroine fall in love with a cycle-pedaling postman.
Orthodox standards of our society are senselessly upheld by our film-makers. The standards demand that women’s exaltation lies in suffering. They are shown as capable of untold suffering as in Mother India. The suffering mother and the suffering wife are stereotypes that countless films fling on mindless viewers. Nirupa Roy has played this role in several films. Waheeds Rehman did a similar role in Trishul.
The suffering syndrome is carried to illogical limits. In Sahib Bibi aur Gulam, the suffering and pining Meena Kumari even goes to the extent of drinking liquor to woo her errant husband. The suffering “Sharda” who marries her lover’s senile father, is meant to elicit applause for her sacrifice.
That is true Indian woman. She accepts her lot like a lamb in the slaughter house. She is not a human being in her own right. She has no feelings, no aspirations. Her salvation lies in giving happiness to the man in her life.
In Ankur a simple woman is exploited by a rich landlord with false hopes of marriage and is then consigned to the dustbin like a bit or rubbish. Search and social acceptance is echoed in Chetna and Pakeeza. The latter attempted the rehabilitation of a fallen woman but it was conveyed in too stylised and glamorous style to be realistic.
Once in a while, one comes across a film that sincerely tries to grapple with a problem. If some compromises are made to ensure the film’s run at the box-office, this could be ignored.
Gulzar has made at least two commendable efforts in this direction. His Mausam attempted a rescue operation for a fallen woman. Kinara essayed another important aspect of woman’s life: how to get out of lost love blues. This must be considered as a significant film considering how our dream-selling sex merchants of cinema have vitiated the minds of woman for whom “pyar Sachimohabbat and dil” are the only real things in life.
Gulzar tried to show that life is more important than a love affair. That to waste away precious life in nursing memories of death-dealing past is a folly. That one must take another chance and do something constructive, worthwhile rather than wither away in misery.
Another sensible film with a woman theme is Ghar. What should the husband do when his wife has been raped? It is a highly sensitive issue. Ghar did a reasonably sensible job by showing the husband taking the rape as just an accident without attributing any pollution to his wife. The “ghar” is saved.
Another dimension of the woman’s image on the screen concerns adultery. Here too the scales are loaded heavily against women. Take Pati Patni aur Woh. The husband goes astray but is accepted when he returns to the wife. Could we imagine the wife being as readily acceptable after a flaming affair?
The usual cry would have been: Do not forget that even Sita Mata had to undergo a fire test to prove her purity. In Aavishkar the wife is insulted and slapped by suspicious husband whom she accepts after his affair
Women on the screen have no identity. Even when they are playing a role like that of a teacher, artist, doctor, nurse or secretary the professional label is a mere formality. Their professional qualities are seldom brought to the surface. They are there to provide the romantic foil to the hero. Rakhee in Trishul played such a role.
The insufferable swollen head of a male in our society must get the better of the woman even though she is more talented gifted and successful. In Abhiman the wife (Jaya Bhaduri) gives up her successful singing career to win over her envious husband.
The sick, often feverish imagination, of our filmmakers stretches the romantic fantasy to absurd limits. The human characters become phantoms or colourful ghosts.
In Khamoshi a nurse falls in love with a mental patient and she turns insane when she discovers that he does not respond on having been cured. In Red Rose the wife (Poonam Dhillon) runs away from the hubby’s house on learning that he is a psychopathic murderer.
Yet in the end she is shown outside his cell with the words. I have just prayed to God and I am confident. The sindoor in her “maang” reveals the absurdity of romantic fantasy.
Behind every successful man, it is said, is a woman. Not so in our films. The woman in our films is either a nag or a cog. In Burning Train, the educated wife knows full well that her husband is engaged in a very ambitious project.
Yet she is shown as a nag who is more concerned with her physical fulfillment than inspiring the husband, lending him moral and emotional support during his crisis. Mercifully, she returns repentant.
In many films the women take risks and even sacrifice their lives but you cannot shed the impression that they are doing it for the hero rather than out of their own conviction. Their contribution is always subservient to man’s.
Can woman’s image on the screen be improved? What can bring about a realistic freshness to the silver screen image? Women themselves. They must enter the film industry not merely with the intention of getting roles at any cost but for producing and directing films. Until then we will have to depend on stray attempts by a Gulzar, a Shantaram or Basu Chatterjee.