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Bollywood's troubled relationship with women

January 31, 2018 4:20 pm

2017 was a good year for strong female characters in Bollywood, says film critic Shubhra Gupta, but does that mean it’s finally starting to change the way it portrays women?

No sex please, we are Bollywood.

But come to us and we will give you, in no particular cringe-making order, a collection of thrusting pelvises and heaving bosoms in our songs and dances, and a dispiriting series of female leading ladies bringing up the rear.

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These are the visuals which swim up whenever there is any kind of conversation around the portrayal of women in Bollywood.

Actually, not just Bollywood. The female lead as a decorative prop has been a mainstay in all major film industries in India. If there is a hero, he is at the forefront; a heroine’s chief job is to worship and adore, and get out of the way when the heroes come out to play.

It wasn’t always like this.

Just like the feisty yesteryear ladies of Hollywood, there were Bollywood heroines standing up and being counted. Those were the early years of cinema, and filmmakers were using movies as a tool to explore taboo topics like caste and class.

But things changed after the socially-conscious 1950s. During and after the 1960s, when entertainment became the chief metric of the movies, the gaze has been so primarily male that female actors became, largely, secondary citizens.

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