I remember plonking down on the sofa one day to watch T.V., only to switch it off in disgust because the first movie I saw was titled ‘Manalane mangayin baagyam” (A husband is a woman’s blessing). Later, I came to know that the movie was about a princess who fights for the life of her husband against an ichaadari nagin (clichéd, I know but isn’t that the basic premise of most Indian movies?); but at what cost? A princess who is forced to leave the comforts of her palace and live in a thatched hut because she now “belongs” to her husband. I understand that the whole concept of marriage being “pious” and “saath janmon ka rishta” (a bond of seven lives) was well embedded in the society back then, but this is taking it a bit too far.
Literature was never short of strong feminist roles, and many such gems have been converted into masterpieces in this era, such as ‘Kannagi’ but, at the same time, movies that are considered to be classics do portray woman, who would be called strong willed and self sufficient today – as head strong and arrogant.
Then, we have the 80s and 90s where the predominant theme was ‘the sister’ who had to be avenged, because either she was raped or murdered. This theme has been repeatedly used, and I must agree, rather creatively, in super hits like ‘Panakaran’ (Tamil), ‘Sakalakala Vallavan’ (Tamil), the famous ‘Garv: Pride and Honour’ (Hindi), and even Bollywood cult-classic ‘Gunda’. This was also the time, where the portrayal of woman as the property of men was rampant. “tu meri hai”( you’re mine) is a common term you can find in many songs. One such example is the ever famous song from Darr that goes along the lines of “tu haan kar, ya naa kar, tu hai meri Kiran” (you may say yes or no, but you’re still mine, Kiran). I agree, these were the pangs of a psychopath; but throw in anything with a catchy tune and the song is a guaranteed hit.
Another recurring theme in this era can be seen in movies like ‘Taal’, where a girl pines for her ‘loved one’ even after he has dropped her like a hot potato, and in the end gets married to him and such movies are deemed to be classics. One movie that took it too far was ‘Pukar’, the premise of which was, if you thwart a girl’s advances, she wouldn’t mind endangering the safety of an entire nation. Whoa, where did you come up with that? Kudos to you!
On to movies that are of relevance today, you have amazing movies with a strong willed woman playing a pivotal role such as, ‘Mozhi’, ‘36 Viyathinile’, ‘Neerja’ and ‘Mary Kom’ to name a few. But at these same times, there are movies such as ‘Ki and Kaa’, which mastered the art of portraying feminism incorrectly, and in bad light. But, even today, there is any Salman Khan movie, where the job of the heroine to dress up like a doll, and play the quintessential damsel in distress, who “Bhai” saves.
During an era in which we are exploring severely undiscussed themes like homosexuality, there are brilliant films like ‘Aligarh’ and ‘Margarita with a straw’ or even an average family entertainer like ‘Kapoor and Sons’, that dealt with the topic with so much ease, we definitely have come a long way from where we started, but we still have a long way to go.
By Harimohana Narayanan
With inputs from Varun Tandon, a fellow movie buff.