What a girl wants…the Bollywood edition

by Aishwarya Subramanian

Ah Bollywood. For decades now, it has entertained us, made us fall in love and created unrealistic expectations about the power of moonlight. The very fabric of Indian culture is now intertwined with Bollywood for better or for worse. And Bollywood most definitely has also confused millions of men (and women) for decades about love.

In a land where most of the directors, scriptwriters and producers are men with very few women in the playground (do Farah Khan movies really count?), Bollywood, has staunchly positioned itself as the sole voice for women in India. Except for those of us who have claims to being actual women on this planet, the Bollywood version of true love, feels a little off. Here’s why:

Boy eve teases girl after spotting her in a bus. Girl ignores him and sits with her friends

What Bollywood says: She is clearly very interested in you. She is completely affected by your masculinity. That’s why she is ignoring you.

What girl thinks: I like my friends. I shall sit with them and talk about Ryan Gosling’s baby news.

Boy stands behind girl. He calls out to girl. Girl turns around and looks at the boy. Then she walks away looking slightly puzzled.

Bollywood says: She LOVES you! She turned around dude. Obviously she would never ever turn around if she didn’t want to fall into your arms and marry you and have babies with you. You are set boss.

What girl thinks: Did someone yell at me? Who is this dude staring at me like that? Why is he grinning at me? Do I have something in my teeth? This is weird and creepy.

Boy now follows girl everywhere she goes. Girl tells the boy to back off. Boy smiles indulgently licking his lips.

Bollywood says: Girl is playing hard to get. She wants you to try harder. Follow her to her house. Stalk her parents now. You should also listen in on her calls. She is your future wife and she knows it.

What girl thinks: I should call the police right? What if this guy attacks me? I think it’s time to order pepper spray from that online store. I can get it on discount.

Boy grabs the girl and plants a kiss on her. Girl slaps him. Boy grins licking his lips.

Bollywood says: Nope! She didn’t mean to slap you. She liked being kissed. Now, she will sit by her balcony and dream about you and sing songs while basking in the moonlight. Oh and her voice will sound like Alka Yagnik or Shreya Ghoshal. And the song will be a poetic masterpiece. Something Javed Akhtar will write.

What girl thinks: I have been assaulted.

Boy yells at the girl for not responding to his advances. Girl looks stunned.

Bollywood says: Girl needs to be tamed. So, yell at her. Tell her off for being an independent woman. Slap her if you must. She has “over attitude”.

What girl thinks: This qualifies as persistent sexual harrassment right? Why did I leave my pepper spray in the other bag? I need to get away and call the police.

Boy- Girl have a nice conversation. Girl laughs at boy’s jokes. Girl tells boy that he is a good friend

Bollywood says: Nonsense. Men and women can never be friends. She loves you. If she doesn’t, then she clearly used you by being friendly with you. How dare she think of you only as a friend? If she spent time with you, then she needs to marry you and fuck you too.

What girl thinks: Ah. It is so refreshing to have a nice chat with a friend.

Girl holds a drink at a party. The boy tells her that drinking alcohol is wrong for women while holding a glass of clear whiskey. Girl stares.

Bollywood says: Damn straight! By drinking alcohol women invite the satan into their souls. Men can drink alcohol because they are cool (unless it’s the villain who drinks the alcohol….which means the next scene would be a rape scene because Bollywood is very original like that)

What girl thinks: Um…dude I just want my fricking drink. Can you return it already?

Boy asks girl about her dreams and goals in her career. Girl says she wants to work after she leaves college.

Bollywood says: The girl’s real dreams is to marry you. She doesn’t want a “high flying” career. She only wants to sit at home, raise your kids and do pooja with your mom. This is what she wants.

What girl thinks: Wait. I went to school for fourteen years. And then I went to a prestigious college. I studied hard. Graduated. And now I genuinely want to work. That really is my dream. Why do you think I secretly want to sit at home when I have already specifically told you otherwise?

Boy and girl eat icecream. Boy asks girl if she wants to have kids. Girl says that having kids is not really a priority for her in life. In fact, she doesn’t think she will ever want kids. She doesn’t like children.

Bollywood says: Ha! Bollywood would never have a heroine ever say something like that. Are you sure you are watching a Bollywood film? Is this girl a heroine or a secret villain out to strike the real heroine when she gets a chance?

What girl thinks: I don’t think I want to have kids. If you aren’t fine with that then we both need to find partners who want what we want and support us in our decisions. Also, are you sure this ever happened in a Bollywood film ever?

Girl breaks up with boy. Says she is going to marry someone else.

Bollywood says: She will never ever want to break up with someone like you. You followed her and stalked her and kissed her against her will. Obviously you love her the most. Now, go crash her wedding, pick her up and carry her away from her own marriage. Come on dude…trust us. We know women.
What girl thinks: I have been kidnapped. Dammit I left my pepper spray in the other bag again!

And finally….

Boy asks a girl out. She says no.

Bollywood says: She is being cute. With a woman, a no does not really mean no

What girl thinks: A no is a no. A capital N and a capital O.

 Aishhwariya Subramanian (that’s her legal name and it’s a long story), hates patriarchy and spends far too much time on the internet looking up Panda videos. She loves pop culture and cares about your views on unicorns. When she isn’t running away from all of life’s problems, she writes about issues through a feminist perspective. You can catch her fawning about Arsenal and Taylor Swift on her Twitter account: hyper_aice. 

 

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Mard ka Sar: Getting Man Head

When I watched Kuch Kuch Hota Hai as a young, impressionable cis-female tween, I learned several things:

1. Girls can love boys and have their hearts broken.

Kajol sad

2. Girls can love boys and not have their hearts broken.

Rani Happy

3. The right man will love you when you finally stuff yourself with femininity and other gender attributes.

As with Anjali:

   

And with Tina:

4. Thoughtlessly leaving people at the altar is the best way to show how in love you are.

5. Even if you are 100% doucheface man, if you get a woman to love you, you will be 100% fine and societally accepted. Karmic romantic redemption is not a necessity for men.

 

Doucheface Man

 

6. College is basically wearing colourful clothes and hanging out everywhere, watching 2-3 people live their lives.

(No picture necessary)

7. “Pyaar dosti hai”: Love is friendship

Pyaar Dosti Hai

8. “Ek mard ka sir sirf teen auraton ke saamne jhukta hai. Ek apni ma ke saamne, ek durga ma ke saamne aur…”: A man bows his head only in front of three women – in front of his own mother, in front of Goddess Durga

 

But also:

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, tum nahin samjhoge. 

 

Pictures with text from: http://perilsofbeing.tumblr.com/post/19027506016/bollywood-recap-kuch-kuch-hota-hai

Moving on from Gendered Entitlement?

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.

With inputs from Varun Tandon, a fellow movie buff.

 

What are women singing about themselves anyway?

by Iswariya

Context: A couple of weeks ago, Genderally Cinema ran this piece: https://genderallycinema.com/2016/03/09/six-tamil-heroine-introduction-songs-actually-about-the-heroine/ about Tamil movie songs that introduce female protagonists, and actually describe them and their feelings, vs being used as prop to further a cis-male focused story. One of our readers wrote in this excellent piece, she questions if women in Tamil cinema are really singing about themselves the way men do. 

I completely agree with your commentary on the positioning of women in cinema: “Often, they are characterized to sing about men, or about having to experience love or romance, and are often used as a prop for the male protagonist in the film”. I hardly get to see heroines playing roles of significance or roles that break the female stereotype in existence today.

However, to be honest, I am not very sure if the list of songs that have been put together here portray or cherish womanhood. In some sense it also falls prey to the stereotype of how lyricists pen down women in their poetry. Whilst songs such as ‘En Peru Padaiyappa’, ‘Naan adicha thaangamaate’ ‘My name is Billa’, and ‘Maari’ describe the power and strength of men and depict them as the superheroes with no force standing a chance against them, women are always characterized to see themselves as as a happy-go-lucky blissful girl who seems to care only about her day to day living or her unison with nature.

Jyothika in ‘Kushi’ is all about stopping the rain at her will; yes, she does compare herself to the wind with no wings (a.k.a limits) but in the movie, right after this song she is seen forced into marriage. “Konjum Mainaakale” from Kandukonden is an all-time favorite melody, sadly again the song talks only about the woman’s association with nature; where all Aishwarya Rai wants is to celebrate Diwali and to see through that her roses bloom right after she plants them. I am not saying that it is wrong as a premise, but all the song is conveying to me is women are soft, innocent, gullible day-dreamers who live in a world of fantasy where men can walk right into us and our lives.

With cinema creating a huge impact on people’s lives today, it is sad to see songs such as, ‘Adidaa Avala Othadaa Avala Vidra Avala Thevayae Illa’ and not the ones like ‘Uyire Uyire Vanthu Ennodu Kalanthuvidu’ capturing the audiences.

One cannot just blame the Indian entertainment industry, songs from the Western world also describe women as lost in love or waiting for love. But at least, there, I can name a few songs that promote female empowerment where women are shown as strong and independent beings, who have their own accomplishments. Just on top of my head: “Independent Women” from Destiny’s Child, “Confident” by Demi Lovato, “Warrior” by Kesha, “Roar” by Katy Perry, “Run the world (Girls)” by Beyoncé, “Girl on fire” by Alicia Keys and of course not to forget Pink!
I would like to sign-off with one last question with reference to a famous quote: “Behind every successful man there is a woman” , but where is your success story Girl?

 

Iswariya is a researcher; Chennaiite at heart, German by profession. Chocoholic and shopoholic.

Six Tamil ‘Heroine-Introduction’ songs actually about the ‘Heroine’

It’s Women’s Day! Yay! Okay, that’s all the enthusiasm I can manage, without making this about me and my complex emotions.

 

Chinna Chinna Aasai

I am not saying this happens all the time, but many times, women are not singing about themselves, in cinema. Often, they are singing about men, or maybe about waiting for love, or romance, often used as props for the male protagonists in the film. So, to celebrate Women’s Day, we thought we’d put together a list of Tamil film heroines who just want to sing about themselves, à la En Peru Padaiyappa; Naan adicha thaangamaate;  My name is Billa ; Maari; Vethala pota shokile

Here’s a great, definitive sample, Thalaivar himself:

To make it into the list, we wanted the song to pass the following test: Does it, introduce the female protagonist, describe her character, her life, her dreams, her ideologies, the way many ‘hero-introduction songs’ describe male protagonists? Here’s what we have.

  1. Megam Karukuthu, Khushi 

This song gave me the idea, for this list. The director of Khushi, infamous SJ Suryah once said during a promotional interview for this movie, that he wanted his heroine to ‘dance like Amitabh Bachchan’ in a song, and that was what led to this song being what it is. Unabashed,  optimistic, the protagonist sings of herself, her beauty, her will, and her strength.

Excerpt:

Kaatrai Pol Enakkumkooda Sirahondrum Kidaiyaathu
Tharai Mela Sellumpothu Sirai Seiya Mudiyaathu

Loosely translates to: “Like the wind, I don’t really have wings, when you move on the ground, there is no prison”

2. Chinna Chinna Aasai, Roja

Roja takes about 2 or 3 minutes to tell you that the protagonist, Roja, is spirited, ambitious; light-hearted, but determined.

Excerpt:

Maegangalai Ellaam, Thottuvida Aasai
Sogangalai Ellaam, Vittuvida Aasai
Kaarkuzhalil Ulagai, Kattivida Aasai

Loosely translates to: “I want to touch the clouds, I want to leave my sorrows behind, I want to bind the world with my long black braid”

3. Maargazhi Poove, May Maadham

In one light A.R.Rahman-powered breeze, Maargazhi Poove tells us the story of Sandhya, the female protagonist of May Maadham. With a distinct theme of loneliness, the song speaks of Sandhya’s yearning for a sense of belonging, longing for a sense of adventure, and her unease at living a protected life.

Excerpt:

Vazhkayil Orupaathi Naan Endru Vasipaen
Vazhkayil Marupaathi Naan Endru Rasipaen
Katriloru Maegam Polae Naan Endrum Mithapaen

Loosely translates to “I will live as half of my life, and the other half, I will enjoy, as myself, I will float in the wind as a cloud”.

4. Konjum Mainaakale, Kandukonden Kandukonden

Meenakshi, one of two protagonists of Rajiv Menon’s Kandukonden Kandukonden, sings of herself and her dreams in Konjum Mainaakale, describing her strong, stubborn, generous self, her intrepid desire for life, her abundant optimism.

Excerpt:

Indrae Varavaendum En Deepaavali Pandigai
Naalai Verum Kanavu, Adhil Naan Yen Nambanum
Naam Nattadhum Roja Indrae Pookkanum

Loosely translates to: “My Deepavali should be celebrated today.  Why should I believe in tomorrow, it is just a dream. My roses should bloom as soon as I sow them.”

5. En jannal Vandha Kaatre, Theeradha Vilaiyaatu Pillai

The song, believe it or not, is from Theeradha Vilaiyaatu Pillai (link to plot summary), and it introduces the male protagonist, as well as the three female leads, describing each of their personalities. It is incredible to me that I found this song in this misogynist movie. Incredible, but interesting.

6. Paadariyen Padippariyen, Sindhu Bhairavi

Set to introduce Sindhu, one of the two female protagonists of Sindhu Bhairavi, Paadariyen describes Sindhu’s personality, her perspective, registers her as a strong-willed, intelligent, immersive, compulsive person. Sindhu sings of herself, of what she believes in; with wit, humour, and unmistakable chutzpah- an attribute the character displays throughout the film.

Excerpt:

Aettula ezhudhavilla ezhudhivechchup pazhakkamilla
elakkanam padikkavilla thalaganamum enakku illa

Loosely translates to “I didn’t write this down, I didn’t study grammar, I am not headstrong”.

If you think of other songs that fit our criteria, or would like to create a list of your own, with entirely different criteria, write in, on genderallycinema@gmail.com, or leave a comment here!

 

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Emergence of men as the second sex

*Major spoilers ahead* to Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Finn abandon their imposed responsibilities as men and flee. They are not protectors of “their” women anymore. They find it difficult to protect themselves and are often stranded and beleaguered. The movie starts with Finn wanting to flee the coup, unable to take the slaughter of innocents. Clearly insufficiently armed for a fight against the regime, Finn chooses to run. He also turns to a childlike charade of heroism when he is posed with the challenge of protecting his woman the first time. This is how he is represented, and it is a sign of things to come. The traditionally feminine characteristics of unyielding, stoic behaviour under imposed morally contradicting choices has been assigned to men. Finn chooses to flee again later, leaving behind his woman, as he finds his role in protecting himself more essential than protecting any other.
The women settle into the role of protectors, guardians and authority figures with ease. There are no real dilemmas as to where their loyalties are, but the men seem confused, and because of the childlike representation, attention seeking. This goes with the traditionally female argument that “all men are children”. The onus is still on men, but it is one of ridicule. Han Solo is represented as an older Finn, pursuing crazy endeavours, often self-sabotaging. Luke Skywalker is simply absent, for whatever higher purpose or for want of courage in facing the consequences of his actions. Rey, Maz and Leia build their fortresses and fight for all who will take their help. The enormous pressure of fighting against fellow men and the weight of being identified with the same gender as the oppressors seem to deeply unsettle every man.
The men in Star Wars: A Force Awakens are taking responsibilities for men previously represented in movies, not as individual characters. These are the sins of their forefathers and contemporaries who are represented as chauvinistic, heroic or anti-heroic because they are men. Their representation is not merely an apologetic caricature,  but a sign of gender oppression turning on itself. Either men are represented as reckless in their guilt-ridden escapes, or as simply evil oppressors. There is no action that seems redemptive for men; the women emerge as leaders with poise. The transition of men as the second sex with roles supporting women in their fight against tyranny and evil is strained, but it does happen.
While the men are abandoning their posts at the first sign of existential crisis, women are not over compensating, or even compensating. This is a role women have played for centuries. They are battle-hardened and self-assured about their ideas and skills. Their only doubts are regarding which course of action to take. Whereas the men are frozen in the face of action; undermined by their history of oppressive behaviour, doubtful of their stained identity as men genderally. They are pushed into possibly thinking that the only course of action is fleeing because they want to protect the women from themselves. This is just the beginning. The women are motherly, nourishing, supportive of this freezing and fleeing. This is natural for women, to accommodate for the men and fight the war.
Luke Skywalker is offered the lightsaber at the end of the movie. Will he overcome his existential crisis and second “his” women in the fight? The force has awakened,  we will find out how it transforms and endures.

Associated Links:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars:_The_Force_Awakens
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bytDctZ2g6o

Image link:
http://cdn.slashgear.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/starwarstheforceawakens_teaser_trailer2_12.jpg

Contribution by: H. Prasanna