One of the hottest debates of the 14th edition of FICCI Frames delved on the portrayal of women in films and television. The panel discussion, titled 'Perception and portrayal of women in film and television' and moderated by film critic Anupama Chopra, focused on the industry's role and suggested that the industry needs to work together for reform. Rather than regulation, a change in mindset is the call of the day, agreed the panellists.
There are so many women in television. Why is there regressive portrayal of women? Even in films, for that matter, we don't see many things happening to change the perception of women in India.
The recent gang rape incident in Delhi triggered the discussions to a higher level as they also involved opinions on how and what women should wear, when they should go out and where they should go. Farhan Akhtar, in one of his interviews, suggested that films are responsible for propagating the mindset that one can get away with such crimes like rape. Is there a need for regulation to creep in from outside? Who, otherwise, among the industry can decide that a 'bidi jalaile' is fine but a 'Fevicol' is not?
Gurinder Chadha, film maker
There is something that I noticed in India and abroad - females do make a powerful combination and stories are being demanded from the female perspective.
Women, liberal and empowered, propose a very powerful image of society. If we talk about the item numbers and their importance in creating hype about a movie, I believe it's not true. The one movie that I recently heard being praised in the western countries was Vicky Donor. It had humour, entertainment, a strong plot and no item number.
We need to change the mindset within the industry.
Vandana Malik, executive director, TV 18 and board member, WIFT India
It's a little of both, a liberal woman and a docile one. While there is one being bashed by her mother-in-law, there is someone who talks about empowerment. I will talk about Colors' show, Balika Vadhu. The protagonist in the show has been fighting against child marriage, and for education, widow re-marriage and other such things.
Yes, they still wear sarees, but that is because the plot is set in a rural background. It will always be a combination of the two. It is actually a mirror of the society. These stories depict what our society breathes.
I remember we had a small girl at auditions of one of our dance reality shows. She did all the raunchy moves on the item number taught by her mother. It's a very big decision as to what we take away from the content (on-air), as a society.
Sonia Singh, editorial director, NDTV
As somebody who is outside the film industry, I don't think we can blame films entirely but the responsibility must be taken by the huge set of advertisers. Today, the advertisers in the news genre don't see women viewers to be a part of their demographics. They consider 25+ males. So, it has women anchors and Shabana Azmi on many panels, women-centric topics of discussion, but the advertisers presume that the females aren't watching the channel.
In fact, my point is that 'women asserting sexual identity' don't terrify men with Indian mindsets like 'women with brains' do. We need to work on this. When they show an item number, it's not about the dancing or the clothing, but the problem is that she is dancing at someone else's tunes. We always know what one should wear and what one should not, but we never think of the reasons that go behind that decision.
However, it is also true that within the working environment, the barriers are breaking between the male and female spaces. The hard hitting news from politics or crime are being equally being reported by women and men.
Shabana Azmi, actor and social activist
The most interesting thing in the recent Delhi rape case was that men were also on streets and the victim said that she wanted to live. Here was the first time probably when the shame was not on the rape victim, but it was on the perpetrator. Otherwise, ours is a strongly patriarchal society and the society's mindset determines what is portrayed on the screens.
Earlier, there was a clear differentiation between a vamp and a heroine. A vamp was a clear westerner with blonde hair and shorter clothes, while the heroine was a traditional Indian woman. This was so that you would not have to attribute any sexuality to the Indian woman. Then, there was conflation of the two identities. It was expressed in what we see as an item number today. My contention is that, under the guise of saying that this is a celebration of sexuality, it's actually surrendering to the male gaze.
This difference (between celebration of sensuality and surrender) is what we need to change. I think this change will come only when the leading ladies of the industry start understanding this and saying no to something that isn't a celebration of sexuality, under the guise of the new liberated woman.
We surely can't ban them, but we can put up contrasting images.
Sudhir Mishra, film maker
The sensuality corroborates the values of society. I don't think they cause it to surrender. I think there is a lot of danger in asking for a ban. The reality exists in the society and, hence, there can be a debate, but not a ban. Also, I believe that regulation cannot come from outside.
The way out of this wrong or stereotype portraying of women is debatable. It is a distinction between bidi jalaaile (better picturised) and tandoori murgi (too raunchy). It is for the filmmakers to not be naive and put work out there. The marketing crowd also uses those images to promote the product.
There are new portrayals on TV too, which are very encouraging. There is a girl who isn't afraid of going to the police station and getting her complaint registered. There are films like Kahaani that work, and work in a big way. The audience is ready to watch. But who will offer them the content?