'Representation of women in Indian films has been largely stereotypical'
Stating that the representation of women in the mainstream Indian cinema has been "coquettish" for far too long, eminent filmmakers and actors say it is important to question such stereotypes
Renowned Bengali actor turned director Aparna Sen, who made Parama in 1985 where an elderly woman had an affair with a man much younger to her, explained how her attempts to portray the desire of a woman drew a lot of flak.
"Now this is fairly commonplace, but at that time I was in for a lot of flak. Halfway through the premier of the film, several young men came up to me and raised questions about my idea of women liberation. But some women thanked me in person for telling the story. After having finished making the film, I realised how the women in the country have been deprived," Sen said at a discussion.
"By going over the line to break these cliches about women, you always take that risk. But what is the alternative? Staying inside a box? That's no fun," she pointed out.
Taking the cue from Sen, film and theatre artist Ratna Pathak Shah, whose recent film Lipstick Under My Burkha courted controversy for its topic, blamed the country's popular media for representing women in a stereotypical way and said any unconventional story about women's aspirations or desire is still not well accepted.
"It is odd that Aparna ji was talking about such resistance while making women-centric films and it is a pity that we are still stuck in the same quagmire. Fighting over the stupidest things possible like cutting a line, a work, a gesture, a name or even an alphabet from a film," Shah said with an obvious reference to the censor board.
"The women in the country have always been represented as the Sati or Devi (the goddess). There was no exploration of woman as a person. If we can put out the idea of woman as epitomes of sacrifice, it is sold everywhere in India and the popular art is particularly guilty of that," she claimed.
Famous Bollywood filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, however, claimed that the condition of women in Indian film is changing. But he stressed the importance for men to come forward to put an end to suppression of women in the society.
"There was a time when the producers used to cut down the budget by 40 per cent in case of a woman-centric subject, but now things have changed. I think we as an industry are coming more towards equality in terms of gender," said Bhardwaj, who has made women-centric films like Saat Khoon Maaf.
"The suppression of women has been going on in society for a long time. I think the onus is on men to come out and protest against the suppression of women," he added.