Women unchanged!

Call it lack of imagination or inherent vision, most key directors are prey to stereotypes at least where their women characters are concerned, says Shubarna Mukerji Shu.

Women unchanged!

It is in your face, occurring with alarming regularity and, by the looks of it, our filmmakers are in no mood to change. Call it idiosyncrasy or lack of imagination, the best of them have their women trimmed to be clones of their previous works…
‘Dhoom macha le…’ Katrina Kaif in a two-piece – no, not her still spoken of red-n-whites – but a bikini top and hot-pants, gyrating to the beats in her big bang film, DHOOM: 3! She has killed it where the song is concerned… the men, they are all left panting but somehow, I cannot shake that feeling of déjà vu! I have most certainly seen this before – the same attitude, the same boldness and pretty much the same outfit! I don’t know if I am mixing up Katrina Kaif with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan of DHOOM: 2 or Karisma Kapoor in DIL TOH PAGAL HAI… I probably could have felt she looked similar to the Eena-Meena-Anju-Manju in MOHABBATEIN or was it PYAAR IMPOSSIBLE or LADIES V/S RICKY BAHL or TASHAN or JAB TAK HAI JAAN?! I cannot for the life of me understand which – they all just looked the same; they all spoke a mile-a-minute and had pretty much the same attitude towards life and men and clothes and blah. Why, because they were strung from the same YRF umbilical cord! That the Chopras see women in binary-glasses is old news. Their women are either seen skinny-dipping in unjustified locales or demurely batting eyes in chiffon saris. There is no middle path and certainly very little space for character graph or modifications… Why do you need it, when your role was written and perfected many films ago, for some other film and has been thus adapted with a different permutation/ combination for each of the successive films! Sometimes the same character is broken into three sub characters; at other times, it is a blend of the binary belles. But under that big shimmering banner, they are all the same!
Like the Bhansali Babes – yes, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has a pattern too! He loves them flagrantly sensuous with their scarlet lips and smart mouth. He likes a good tease. Why, don’t you remember Nandini from HUM DIL DE CHUKE SANAM taking the stairs, delectably oscillating her derriere all but in the face of her ‘Kachcha Nimbuda’? Other than Annie in KHAMOSHI, all his women bear comparable characteristics. Though his Paro from DEVDAS and Leela from RAM-LEELA might have had nothing in common, they both looked so similar in so many frames. He may have been accused of not meeting the soul of the literature epics he translated onscreen but never once could anyone say that his girls lacked the Bhansali ‘chaap’– bright red lips – in at least one frame of the film. Rani Mukerji in BLACK missed the bus but Bhansali more than compensated for it in SAAWARIYAA, if not with her red lips at least with that ever blooming scarlet flower (the only colour in many frames of that film). Considering Rani was a nautch-girl in SAAWARIYAA, the flower didn’t look out of place, but he insisted Aishwarya in GUZAARISH, despite being a nurse to a quadriplegic, also sport one at least occasionally. How did he explain the look? It simply came from his heart… like everything else.
He also has a fascination for women dancing in the throes of emotions, with the hair left loose to signify unrestraint. He made Kirron Kher do it, then again Aishwarya Rai… and now Deepika. To his credit, despite the same thought and the similar outcome, his work has been acclaimed. Why shouldn’t it be? He owns the copyright; it is only fair for him to redeem the royalty like perhaps Imtiaz Ali could take from Incredible India.
Imtiaz Ali has often said that he is in love with travel, even if it means to just go to the other end of Mumbai. Watching any of his films, this is amply evident. But what does that say about his idea of the fairer sex? Nothing, obviously. Does that mean he doesn’t show a pattern? Well, he does and not just in his women, but his idea of love and romance… For one, Ali’s women are always pretty but essentially the girl-next-door, with the aspirations of the girl-next-door. Whether he can make a film on a woman of today with aspirations and ambitions is really a virgin-thought; completely untouched! I doubt he even finds their kind appealing. Actually, it is unimaginable when it concerns Imtiaz. In all his films, including those he has written like COCKTAIL, the pattern remains the same – a fun, spirited girl on an holiday/adventure/run… chances upon a boy who aides the journey of life and awakening and then, at a wedding or sangeet or sometimes on her very own honeymoon, it occurs to the girl that she is in fact in love with that boy, and not the one she is intended to go marry! It is Imtiaz’s idea of love… it has to be unapologetic and it has to hit you in your solar-plexus when you are not expecting the blow. A complete knock out… and always a success.
But then every man has his own idea of a woman, like every woman has her idea of the perfect Mr. Right. Why should esteemed directors be any different? Sooraj Barjatya likes them dressed in yards of tradition and non-demanding, Vishal Bhardwaj likes them rustic with an edge of unpredictability, Rajkumar Hirani likes them righteous, Ram Gopal Varma likes them available…Even greats like Mani Ratnam aren’t above succumbing to stereotypes either… His women are often called the epitome of innocence and grace. There is often a touch of rustic rural rasps in their personality but that doesn’t take away from their grace. And yet, they always turn out to be a pillar of strength leading the path on their own whim. A Roja might be a simple village belle but won’t accept a marriage as if she were a consolation price. Neither would a Shaila Banoo (Manisha Koirala in BOMBAY) accept her husband’s lie when he refuses to read a letter out to her, verbatim. And yet, if you are ever to be a Mani Ratnam woman, you will speak in whispers, with a tremor in your voice and sound rather unsure from time to time. Why a Ratnam woman can’t be gregarious, we will never know… perhaps Ratnam himself doesn’t realise how he tones them all down.
After all, not all are like Mahesh Bhatt, moderately tweaking a few characters and making more than a dozen films claiming, as always: ‘This is a my story, this is how it happened’. His women characters, he claims, have always been inspired by his lovers or his mother, and those are the only types he is comfortable talking about.
What excuses do the others have?

Shubarna Mukerji Shu.

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