PORTRYAL OF WOMEN IN HINDI CINEMA AND ITS IMPACT ON INDIAN SOCIETY – Introduction

Posted by on Sep 9, 2012 in Indian Cinema

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Entertainment and Cinema are synonymous with each other. Cinema clearly opens a most useful window onto a culture and by studying a culture one acquires deeper understanding of the customs, behavior patterns, values, arts and crafts and also the practices of everyday life of the people inhabiting that culture.                        .

India is the largest film-producing country in the world; producing over 900 films annually. Indian cinema, thus, are gaining popularity like never before. These are screened not only in Asia, but also in East Africa, Mauritius, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Britain, Canada, Australia, the United States and the countries associated with the former Soviet Union. The world of Indian cinema is a very fascinating one that has mesmerized every person, on a global platform. Indian cinema, like many of the other cinema industries in world, both reflects and is reflected through the country’s political, economic, social and cultural aspects. Since, its inception, the Indian cinema has concentrated on various subjects that have been the important aspects of the films. Such subjects have highlighted the problems, complexities and the various aspects of the Indian society in general. And such subjects have indeed created ripples in the past and hence have acknowledged notable Indian films and filmmakers throughout the world. A more sophisticated approach to caste can be seen in
Sujata (of high caste), produced in 1959.

Hindi cinema has been a major point of reference for Indian culture in this century. It has shaped and expressed the changing scenarios of modern India to an extent that no preceding art form could ever achieve. A deeper insight into the complex processes of modernization, colonialism, nationalism and freedom for women can be acquired through the Indian cinema.


“The film’s business is to create populist images. These images ostensibly celebrate the heroine’s eroticism, while reducing her to be a passive sex object. The heroine, today seems to be questioning the image of fixing her into a slot where any display of desire was seen as negative and very unlike the values of Indian women”Shabana Aazmi


Mainstream Hindi cinema, pretends to establish the autonomy of women through its narrative, but the image it depicts is far from the reality. The model of the Goddess in Indian mythology always remains present very subtly to create this image. The Mother Goddess “Durga” and her counterparts “Radha” and “Sita” are the most popular icons from the Indian (Hindu) mythology to construct the image of woman in Hindi cinema. Though the Hindu Goddesses do not necessarily serve as paradigms for present social values, they do demonstrate certain suppositions about female behaviors, powers, desires and characters.
Whatever may be the icon “Durga”, “Sita” or “Radha”, each and every one is also the object of sexual pleasure. The details of their physical charm and their sexual encounter depicted in the mythology prove that these power-women are there to please the sexual desire of patriarchy. Portrayals of women in Indian cinema are also constructed in this frame. The male icon could transfer itself from ‘Devdas’ (1955) to ‘Deewar’ (1973) to adjust with contemporary social and political perspective but the female characters are never spared. In ‘Awara’ (1951), Raj Kapoor portrays the typical urban dream-woman of the Nehru-era as a traditional motif. In the form of a beloved “Radha” and “Sita” combined, she excites and inspires at the same time. Nargis’s role in ‘Mother India’ (1957) celebrates the traditional motif of womanhood in a different context. As the narrative expands, she metamorphoses into a strange blend of Mother Goddess “Durga”.
The most exploited image of womanhood in Hindi cinema is based on the mythological icon “Sita” from the great Hindu epic the “Ramayana”. ”Sita” is the eternal favourite to the Indian mass because of her sheer power of tolerance and acceptance of all types of humiliation from the patriarchy. “Sita”, the neglected wife of “Rama” is the inspiration for building the perfect image of womanhood of Indian cinema from its very beginning.
Following are the socially accepted roles of Hindi cinema actress’s, which are constructed and supported by the Hindu mythology and the epics like ”Ramayana” and Mahabharata”:


  • Kamini: – A woman who seduces
  • Bharya: – A woman who is supported and fed by husband
  • Ramani: – A sex partner
  • Jaya: – A woman gives birth to children


Love affairs of “Radha” and “Krishna” provided by the Hindu mythology have got a wide mass support. “Radha” is the illegitimate beloved of ”Lord Krishna”. She is passionate, intense, possessive, emotional, physical and sensuous. Their love affairs, though child-like playful on the surface level, but in depth it’s the story of erotic passion. On the contrary, “Meera” the other icon in love with “Lord Krishna” is based on a real life story from the Royal family of Rajasthan, who was devoted to “Krishna” with spiritual love. “Radha-Krishna” love story has been depicted in hundreds of films, in some of which even the characters are also named as “Radha” and Krishna”. In Prakash Mehra’s ‘Mukaddar ka Sikandar’ (1978), Rekha’s unrequited love with Amitabh Bachchan is a good example of “Meera”-image.
‘Marriage’ is an institution, which enforces the patriarchal values on women. Before marriage she could expose her body and seduce with sensual body language, but after marriage she is preferred to wrap herself in costly and colorful ‘Sari’. The ideal wife as played by the famous actress Nutan in the films ‘Gauri’ (1968); ‘Devi’ (1970) and ‘Karma’  (1986) is still popular. Song in the lips of Nutan “tum hi meri mandir, tum hi meri puja, tum hi devta ho, tum hi devta ho..” is still very popular amongst the mass audience.
Rape and Prostitution is glamorized keeping behind its reality of sub-human exploitation. Rape victims and prostitutes are generally destined to commit suicide or are killed in the popular cinema. In ‘Adalat’ (1976), Amitabh Bachchan dramatically changed when his sister commits suicide following a rape. Popular cinema generally does not allow the rape victims and prostitutes to survive to a decent life. Right from Dada Saheb Phalke’s silent film  ‘Devdasi’ (1925), V Shantaram’s ‘Aadmi’ (1941), P C Barua’s ‘Devdas’ (1955), Guru Dutta’s ‘Pyasaa’ (1957), Basu Bhattacharya’s ‘Teesri Kasam’ (1966), Kaamal Amrohi’s ‘Pakeezah’ (1971), Shyam Benegal’s ‘Mandi’ (1983), Meera Niar’s ‘Saalam Bombay’ (1987) to Basu Bhattacharya’s ‘Aastha’ (1996) – prostitutes play a very vital role in the Indian cinema. In B R Ishara’s ‘Chetna’ (1970), the heroine, a prostitute, paradoxically named as “Radha” played by Rehana Sultan commits suicide pushing the film to a great success in the box office. In other box office super-hit, Prakash Mehra’s ‘Mukaddar ka Sikandar’ (1978) Rekha is a courtesan and in love with Amitabh Bachchan. Even to the latest version of Sanjay Leela Bansali’s ‘Devdas’ (2003) the hero Shah Rukh Khan is in love with his child time playmate Aiswarya Rai and the other heroine, of course a prostitute Madhuri Dixit who is in love with the hero.
Vamp characters are riddled in Hindi movie plots. The “vamp” is overtly sexual, as if that alone shows strength.  Though stories may demand certain types of characters sometimes, most of the time in Bollywood, the modern, and often “bad,” woman becomes the one in less clothes and the “good” woman is the sacrificing, loyal one, even if it means being humiliated.  Women fare better in the indie cinema scene, like “Dor” (2006) or “Fashion”(2008).

Although woman in mainstream Indian cinema has undergone so many changes in respect of dress code, body language, moral values, style in song and dance sequences, romantic scenes, but all are in surface level. The inherent characteristics of the basic role of “Kamini – Bharya -Ramani – Jaya” have not at all been changed. Whatever may be the development at the outer sphere as could be seen in the contemporary films; she has to submit herself to the patriarchy. Even she is not allowed to think or take any decision independently.

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