Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Merry Wink and a Warm Smile




An idle pastime of mine is to watch old movies and reflect on the current mood of the nation. It may seem like a silly indulgence because I’m not even sure if movies imitate life or otherwise. But the idea is to observe gentle winds of change. 

Look around and what do we see? Acid attacks, groping, stalking, harassment and molestation. Given that the world is not a friendly place for women, it is somehow comforting to observe any silver lining that beams through ominous clouds of reality. 

There are many ways to go about it. One of them is to observe the characterization of women against diverse social backdrops. How and what characters say is equally effective. As is the theme of the movie.

Long ago and far away, Nasir Hussain, the quintessential filmy dad of the sixties and Aamir Khan's uncle used to admonish his salwar kameez clad daughter, “Raat ke nau baj rahe hai, ye koi time hai ghar aane ka?” The guilt ridden heroine would hang her head in shame and rush upstairs. We have come a long way to Amitabh Bachchan in Pink where he says, “Hamare yahan ghadi ki sui character decide karti hai.” As an aging father figure, Amitabh goes on to rip several bogeys in his signature stealth style. “If the girl is at a rock show, it’s a hint but if she’s at a temple or a library, it’s not a hint? Will the venue decide the girl’s character?” 

Change. It’s inevitable. I’m fairly certain that even Amitabh cannot identify with his Mohabattein lecture of ‘Parampara, Pratishtha and Anushasan’ delivered sixteen years ago. 


Growing up in the late seventies and eighties, the leading lady used to be ‘paraya dhan’ and not a kudi who would insist on ‘Saturday-Saturday’. It was a time when the widowed sister and the blind mother were captured for final negotiation (Karz). Cinema that revolved around women was either so called ‘parallel cinema’ (MirchMasala, Arth) or directed by the likes of Basu Chatterjee and Gulzar. In Naram Garam (1981) directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, AK Hangal keeps repeating, "Ladki kya hai, gale ka kanta hai. Na andar jata hai, na bahar aata hai." And the girl in question was Swaroop Sampat, a Miss India. Imagine Priyanka Chopra playing that role?
It was also a time when the heroine’s character remained untouched by any ambition to walk up the corporate ladder or desire for sexual fulfillment. And if the leading lady ventured into grey areas (Tabu in Astitva), the immorality of her act was painstakingly justified.

It is telling that the song belted by Kangana in the recent movie Queen (Maine hothon se lagayi to hungama ho gaya) was picturised on Helen – the bar dancer in Anhonee. Because the monsters of drinking, smoking and dancing in pubs used to claim the evil women, not the sanskari girl. 
Why, even two decades ago in ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ when Shah Rukh opens a bottle of Cognac, ostensibly to beat the cold, a dazed Kajol says, “Sharm nahi aati ladki ke samne sharaab peete hue?” This was 1995 when Gurgaon had not heard of fresh breweries, when pub hopping was restricted to Brigade Road in Bangalore and when Deepika Padukone had not had her moments of cinematic tipsiness.

Change. It’s inevitable. Today we have Pink where Amitabh says, “Sharab ko yahan kharab character ki nishani mana jata hai, ladkiyon ke liye. Ladko ke liye nahin. Ladkon ke liye ye sirf health hazard hai.” But wait. Wait. This is not to say that young girls should drink but to underline a social shift of sensibilities. 


While most leading ladies continued to be decorative items in the nineties, there were intermittent sparks of Rajkumar Santoshi’s Damini and Prakash Jha’s Mrityudand. Later, with the success of diverse stories like Chak De India, Fashion and Kahani, directors realized that women-centric movies were commercially viable. As for me, the landmark movie where a woman was unapologetically ambitious and unabashedly vocal about her sexual urge was Aitraaz, followed by Dirty Picture.

As India began celebrating women characters, a slew of movies like Queen, Mardaani, Piku, Pink and Parched became mirrors of a new world. This is a world where characters point towards changes that define new boundaries. Even as I write, glimpses of Aamir Khan’s upcoming Dangal indicate that women in his sport based movie are fierce protagonists unlike pretty cheerleaders of Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander (1992).

Another minor, yet significant change that has unobtrusively seeped after the Nirbhaya incident is the gradual demise of the customary ‘item song’. While rapes and murders continue unabated, the public anger against Nirbhaya incident ensured that film makers tone down the objectification of women. The bust heaving item song like ‘Shiela ki Jawani’ or the pelvic thrusting ‘Munni Badnam’ have paved way for foot thumping party songs like ‘Ladki Beautiful’ and ‘Kala Chashma’.

To say that women have broken all ceilings would be presumptuous. Because eventually it’s the story that clinches the deal. Nonetheless, the audiences have evolved. And so have the directors and script writers. That they are brave enough to emphasize on a woman’s freedom of choice indicates that the concept echoes with the audience. No wonder the iconic Pink dialogue 'No....means no’ blazed into history, right?
Amidst all the gloom and doom, these sparks do leave a merry wink and a bright smile. And for this reason alone it’s fun to indulge in my pastime. It gives me hope that like all Bollywood movies – end mein sab theek ho jayega

Image courtesy : From here

36 comments:

  1. Beautiful synopsis Alka. Loved reading the way you have taken change in Cinema over the ages. Also interesting is the way regional cinema is. I have also been intrigued by the way different language cinemas have portrayed women in Cinema vis a vis their actual standing in society. Which also led me to ruminate if changing the way we portray women in Cinema can lead to a social change.

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    1. I have not followed regional cinema, my loss entirely. Glad you stopped by because I love your series on cinema.
      Above all, always a pleasure to see you here.

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  2. Being the ardent movie lover that I am ( at least, my school and college teachers think so ), it is refreshing to know that you took movies as not just entertainment material.
    They never were just that.
    They are just like politics, only with louder and meaner actors. Or wait...

    I can only imagine what life would have been in the 70s and 80s ( when I was passed on as a football :\ ). But I remember 90s fairly well, and for that reason, could relate to a lot of what you said. Life for women have been not-so-easy since time immemorial, but maybe that is so because even they have internalised the status quo. I loved Pink, but then people liked OMG as well. Of course, it is not something that changes in a blink of an eye ( like they show in movies...hriday parivartan- in Munnabhai ). So, maybe one needs to assess it as a process and not an outcome.

    The other day, I watched "Pay it forward", and it ruined the only thing that was good and adorable in Salman's Jai Ho. It is not bad to borrow from any of the -woods, but if you do it- make sure it is better than the original. Off topic!

    So, yes. At least, people are able to talk about things they couldn't earlier, and girls find it cool to utter the slangs which have been the monopoly of my gender.
    I hope people watch Spiderman though- Great power, Great responsibility :)
    What they do with this newfound sense of freedom, is entirely upto them. I sincerely hope they don't fritter it away in settling scores with my gender and do something more worthwhile. Making careers, reading more books and better mothers might be a good start..I think.

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    1. Good to see you here. About Pink, though I loved the dialogues and the intent behind them, the courtroom scenes in the movie were technically lacking. And you are right about power and responsibility. While change is inevitable, not all changes are desirable. Or perfect.

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  3. What is really interesting for me, personally, is the way you've charted the evolution of Hindi cinema through the last 30 to 40 years and if you think about it, change has been good. It's necessary for the shift to happen. I for one, want fewer item songs and more songs and dialogues of substance. I want the movie to help me think, make me ponder long after I've left the theatre. You've captured the almost imperceptible shift in tones across the ages so very eloquently, as only you can, Alka.

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    1. The picturisation of songs has also changed overtime. But you are right, some topics are better handled without the customary song and dance.
      A pleasure to see you here Shailaja.

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  4. This post mirrors the change the society has undergone but unfortunately the rise of women in all spheres of life especially working and rubbing shoulders with men is yet to be touched. Only the sexual, and permissiveness has been portrayed by the bollywood with a few exceptions like 'MaryKom' and in yester years 'Aandhi'. A nice read like always, Alka:) Wishing you and family a sparklinng Diwali!

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    1. Thanks Rahul, wish you the same.
      Happy Diwali.

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  5. Brilliant observation Alka! I share your passion for Hindi movies and I have seen all the movies you've mentioned. Indeed there has been a gradual shift in the perception and portrayal of the leading lady. From the regressive, helpless, widowed mother on the sewing machine, the mute oppressed sister, to the sanskaari bahus, the over-the-top item girls and now finally to the stage of a woman's life as it is, indeed we've come a long way. Reason enough for a merry wink and a warm smile!

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    1. Thanks Kala. There are so many examples and so many movies. One can go on and on....
      Your RTs mean a lot.

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  6. True art is always a mirror of the times. You have correctly identified the two streams of Indian Cinema of yesteryear and aptly linked them to the psyche of the bygone days. It is fascinating how you made 'Pink' a pivotal point for today's mood and have carved out parallels in the world out there. I wholeheartedly acknowledge the message thumped in by Pink; kudos to the team behind the milestone movie. Hope it helps make real world Deepak Sehgals out there.

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    1. There are so many new movies that could have been a pivot here...Piku, Parched, Dangal. And that's an encouraging thought.
      Thank you for stopping by.

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  7. Wonderfully written, Alka... I like the way you have shown the shift in portrayal of women in Indian cinema. Yet, we do have a long way to go, and movies like Pink are necessary to put in front of Indian audiences. Even educated people tend to judge women holding a cigarette, or a glass of alcohol, or wearing short clothes.

    Do drop by my blog too :-)

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    1. Good to see you here. Just stopped by at your blog. Was not aware you were active there. Do share the link on FB.

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  8. This is a nice choice of topic to write about, and you have done it justice.
    I cannot relate to DDLJ anymore or any love stories from the past in which parents are involved.

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    1. It's amazing that we can't relate to DDLJ, when both SRK and Kajol are still in the fray, no? A lot has changed.

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  9. A well scripted trip down history Alka.Yes,we do see symptoms of change in movies.I could never tolerate those sati Savitri characters.It is refreshing to see capable,confident girls in movies today.
    But this very change has rattled misogynists.It is coming out in the form of increased violence against women.

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    1. Thanks Indu, yes some changes are very refreshing.

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  10. I loved this post, Alka. I remember how movies used to make me flinch especially when a sister after tape had to kill herself or a woman in a physical relationship before marriage was almost always doomed. How far have we come and rightly so. But the mindsets, l wonder how much they have changed for women. Even today we would ask our girls to not go out to late at night if nothing else but for safety.

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    1. Thanks Rcahna. A long way to go....the child rapes, stalking and acid attacks continue unabated.

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  11. I loved how you played with dialogues to exemplify the shift in favour of women in Indian cinema. But as you said, cinema imitates reality. And its the women who refuse to take shit anymore that are responsible for this change.

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    1. Women deserve the credit too. And a long way to go....

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  12. Nice snapshot of the cinematic journey for female characters in Bollywood. Being an ardent fan of Hindi cinema, I appreciate your knowledge and efforts referring to so many characters/movies from different eras and all so very well connected. As far as subject matter is concerned, change has happened but not easy to assess its pros and cons, atleast in this space. :)

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    1. True. The canvass is huge as there are so many films I couldn't include. We can go on and on ....while women deserve credit, some extraordinary men must be applauded too :D
      Thank you for stopping by.

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  13. I love watching hindi movies but sadly off late some are just made for the sake of it .. but that is a discussion for some other time :)

    you are so right all this change BUT still I feel that we have a long long way to go.. the basic mentality needs a CHANGE ..

    Bikram's

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  14. So agree with you...I loved the way you portrayed through the different eras of Hindi cinema :) It kept reminding me of all those scenes..hehe..I totally loved this post :) On a different note, I liked PINK. At least for the message it send to both men and women. Good to see your post after a long time :)

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    1. Equally glad to see you here Prudhvi. Thanks dear.

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  15. I must appreciate the way you have expressed your feelingsthrough your blog!..
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  16. I love the poem in PINK. Yesterday, was showing on Star Plus and loved the climax in court. The power of Cinema in ushering change for a generation content in the status quo and believe more such films be encouraging in changing times. Your post gave me goose bumps. How hypocrite we are!

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