THE PROGRESS OF NATIONS: WOMEN IN FILM

“Besides over-regulation of the filmmaking practices, apparent limitations of female casting, and unnatural opposition to subject matters such as love, […], the real problem perhaps resulted from the filmmakers of that era who were more political than cinematic. […] The film makers of the war era were either the directors of pre-revolution film-farsi’s [film-farsi is a pejorative term used to describe low-quality B movies], or those who, because of prejudice, ideology or opportunism, treated film as a propagandist medium.” (In an analysis of the wartime cinema industry, Homa Tavassoli, IRAN criticizes the complete absence of women (nurses, mothers, widows, victims) from the battlefield films) CINEMA IS INCOMPLETE WITHOUT WOMEN! Among the millions of movies that have ever been made, there have been millions of actresses that have been a part of them. AUDREY HEPBURN was not only a brilliant actress; she could have been the cynosure of all eyes. Anyone that has ever seen “MY FAIR LADY” would attest to this statement. And I’m sure co-starring with the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Gregory Peck didn’t have many drawbacks for her! You remember “GONE WITH THE WIND”…The indomitable pair of VIVIEN LEIGH as Scarlet O’Hara and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. That was one Mills & Boon portrayal of Romance…and what I would personally consider the beginning of a trend in HOLLYWOOD. Then there was the famous (or rather infamous) THE BLUE LAGOON, with highly erotic nee sexual IMAGERY, especially the scene in which the child suckles on the mammary glands of the actress played by BROOKE SHIELDS. In another famous scene, the actress starts menstruating and the lagoon water turns red. “AND GOD CREATED WOMAN” (1956 FILM), a French drama film directed by Roger Vadim and starring BRIGITTE BARDOT, caused much of a stir when released in the United States in 1957 pushing the boundaries of the representation of sexuality in American cinema, making Bardot an overnight sensation. It was condemned by the Catholic League of Decency. To this day, the scene of Bardot dancing barefoot on a table is considered by some to be one of the most erotic scenes in the history of cinema. Film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote, “The breezy erotic drama was laced with some thinly textured sad moments that hardly resonated as serious drama. But as slight as the story was it was always lively and easy to take on the eyes, adding up to hardly anything more than a bunch of snapshots of Bardot posturing as a sex kitten in various stages of undress. The public loved it and it became a big boxoffice smash, and paved the wave for a spate of sexy films to follow. What was more disturbing than its dullish dialogue and flaunting of Bardot as a sex object, was that underneath its call for liberation was a reactionary and sexist view of sex.” “EYES WIDE SHUT” a 1999 drama-mystery-thriller film directed, produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick is infamous for similar reasons. The story, set in and around New York City, follows the surreal, sexually charged adventures of Dr. William “Bill” Harford (Tom Cruise), who is shocked after his wife, Alice (NICOLE KIDMAN), reveals that she had contemplated having an affair a year earlier. The scene in which Kidman dances naked in front of a mirror has been zoomed in on DVD copies after Tom Cruise enters the room. But there have been moments when FILM HAS NOT BEEN ENTIRELY UNFAIR TO THE FAIRER GENDER! There have been actresses that have carried their cinema with them, like JULIE ANDREWS in “THE SOUND OF MUSIC”, MERYL STREEP in “OUT OF AFRICA”, KIM

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BASINGER in “NADINE” (1987) & “BATMAN” (1989) and in more recent times JODIE FOSTER in “THE ACCUSED” (1988). What are the limits of justice? Of social responsibility? The Accused takes a powerful and thoughtprovoking look at human nature and individual failings. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan, Foster was awarded the 1988 Academy Award for Best Actress and Golden Globe Award for her performance.

Based on the real-life gang rape of Cheryl Araujo that occurred at Big Dan’s Bar in New Bedford, Massachusetts on March 6, 1983, this film was one of the first Hollywood films to deal with rape in a direct manner. THE QUESTION IS OF Aestheticization of violence, and this question has been raised while discussing Kaplan’s use of a violent rape scene in The Accused.

To be honest with you, the portrayal of Women as RAPE OBJECTS IN FILM disgusts me. I find such representation unobtrusive at the least and revolting at the minimum. How can we AESTHETICIZE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN? Such RAPE-FOR-PROFIT FILMS CANNOT BE HEALTHY ENTERTAINMENT FOR THE FAMILY! I will not comment on CENSORSHIP? But the meaning and concept of Censorship needs some rethinking? Increasing portrayals of sex and violence in cinema may not add to an already-soaring crime graph in the country, but it doesn’t help things either, or does it? “At the premiere screening of Bandit Queen in Delhi, Shekhar Kapur introduced the film with these words: “I had a choice between Truth and Aesthetics. I chose Truth, because Truth is Pure.” Such blatant lies I find disgusting! I, as a Woman, found this portrayal in Film of Phoolan Devi unobtrusive at the least and revolting at the minimum! Certain portrayals are really not necessary. Bandit Queen was surely overdone. The use of Rape in Cinema simply cannot and should not be justified, no matter who no matter what. AESTHETICS IS ONE THING, BUT ETHICS IS ANOTHER! Bandit Queen surely crossed all limits. Trust all this clamor and clout over ethics in cinema! Definitely a certain degree of accountability and transparency is truly needed! As a grown-up adult, when I was in my mid-twenties, I had watched “MOTHER INDIA” (STARRING NARGIS) with my parents. Mother India is truly an epic in the annals of BOLLYWOOD CINEMA. Why? Because the ethos and the Indian societal conditions projected in the film almost 50 years ago (the movie was released in 1957) have not changed much. Some of the key issues that Mother India touched are overindulgence in celebrating marriage; illiteracy and ignorance and accidents and helplessness but the pivotal part of the film was the DEPICTION OF THE STRENGTH OF WOMAN. Unlike normal Indian movies where the film ends with reunion of the hero and heroine, Shamu’s departure early on in the movie is the end of his role. Yet, Radha gains strength from the faith that he might come back. It is not merely a melodramatic presentation by Director Mehboob but an almost factual rendition when he shows problems after problems including floods and destruction to the harvest. The rural India even today is at the mercy of nature’s bounties and fury. In the course of the floods Radha’s two children die. Hunger of her children is unbearable and it is at this juncture that Radha the mother overcomes the ideal Radha the woman and agrees to trade her body with Lala for few morsels of food. Eventually, however, the honor, strength, character and womanhood of Radha the woman prevails and she returns back to her hungry children with honor and dignity. The rural backdrop, the songs based on folklore and an overall

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directorial effort by Mehboob makes Mother India the epic movie. While the movie touches upon the various social prevalent ethos, the core idea revolves on the honor and integrity of womanhood. Dr. Arup Ratan Ghosh reveals how Satyajit Ray had portrayed Indian women in the milieu of sensitive time and space in his films. “The Bengali Renaissance in the 19th Century, acquiring knowledge and progressive culture, the helping hand to set up the identity of woman instead of the male dominance, dissolving the barrier of someone’s inner and outer life due to the strong feeling of love and many other elements are integrated beautifully in “CHARULATA” (1964). To Satyajit Ray the village women are also very nice. The various women-centric dimensions like poverty, teenage, Indian womanhood, social changes are reflected in his films. Sarbajoya or Durga (in “PATHER PANCHALI” or The song of the road, 1955 and “APARAJITA” or The Unvanquished, 1956) are brilliant examples of all these.” I remember “SHATARANJ KE KHILARI” (The Chess Players, 1977). Showing different facets of woman in separate films in a disentangled way Satyajit Ray turns towards the mainstream of human life. Actually Ray traces the flow of life from the primitive ages to the contemporary era. Today’s modern woman is also it’s out put or consequences. One generally would not expect women in our films to be represented the same way that they might be in a modern European or American film; I think the major challenge before the filmmaker is to take into account those features that are now recognized as universal in women and apply them in a manner that ACKNOWLEDGES & RESPECTS THE CULTURAL CONTEXT, THE PLACE where the film is set and the TIME PERIOD in which the film is set. What I mean by that is that we do not blow issues such as FEMINISM out of proportion! Where both women and men are treated or represented the way they should ordinarily be WITH DIGNITY & RESPECT, rather than simply conforming to norms/standards that may be otherwise out of place… Every moment is to be relished, because every moment is indeed a masterpiece in the WORLD OF CINEMA! But what has made each defining moment truly a masterpiece is the role Cinema’s actresses, her WOMEN, have each played indeed under the best duress of their respective times, to the best needs of their times, something modern contemporary girls and women would find it difficult to come to terms with! Each era has seen definitive portrayals of the fairer sex, from Scarlet O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) in ‘Gone With the Wind’ to our very own ‘Mother India’ (Nargis) to ‘Umrao Jaan’ (Rekha) to Hollywood’s famous (or infamous) ‘The Blue Lagoon’ (Brooke Shields) and in very recent times, ‘Charlie’s Angels’ (starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu) I greatly admire Rekha, my favourite Indian actress of all time. I really haven’t seen much of Madhubala because I was pretty young then but I have deep respect for Sharmila Tagore, Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi and offcourse, Rekha and more recently, Dimple Kapadia as my favorites on the screen. In order of each actress mentioned, I can recall Kashmir Ki Kali, Namak Halaal, Mirch Masala, Junoon, Masoom, Umrao Jaan, Bobby, Saagar and in more recent times, Dil Chahta Hai. Although woman-centric cinema is on the rise, women, actually most of us, need time. What was a Norm yesterday has ceased to be a norm today. Therefore, women ought not to be treated with disdain for a failure to conform to general social expectations. So far as the representation of Women in Cinema were concerned!

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