March 19, 2010

Is Bollywood male dominated?

Call it perfect timing. On March 8, International Women’s Day, at the Oscars Sandra Bullock was awarded the best actor for her performance in The Blind Side and Kathryn Bigelow at 58 years of age became the first woman director to win for The Hurt Locker.

Earlier, Hillary Swank for (Million Dollar Baby) at 35 years, Reese Witherspoon for (Walk The Line) at 33 years and Kate Winslet for (The Reader) at 35 years of age were awarded Oscars for best actor category. Age is not a dirty word in Hollywood. Contrast this with the Hindi film industry where the female actors have to get married or plan alternative careers after they hit their late 20s. Otherwise why do you think actors like Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit-Nene, Rani Mukerji, Preity Zinta, Tabu, Shilpa Shetty with the exception of Kajol, have either settled for marital bliss or delved into alternative careers.

Actor Urmila Matondkar who shifted base to Panchgani says, “Getting good scripts everyday isn’t possible. Honestly, I have reached that point in my life where I don’t want to get out of my house unless it’s worth it.” Shilpa Shetty Kundra who is busy handling her IPL team at the moment says, “There came a time when the scripts offered to me were not only foolish but completely impractical. There was no other choice but to move on.” Actor Shefali Shah had to act as Akshay Kumar’s mother in a film. Winning a National Award last year in the supporting actor category for The Last Lear, she says, “Everyone knows it’s a male dominated industry. So you can only wait.”

Says scriptwriter Kamlesh Pandey who wrote the script for Rang De Basanti, Tezaab, Dil, Beta, Chalbaaz, “With an exception of Umrao Jaan, even a talented actor like Rekha gets wasted here. She had great potential but she always played second fiddle to male actors. Vidya Balan, Kareena Kapoor are talented actors but the corporate houses and producers are at the mercy of male superstars so there will be few scripts for them.”

On the challenges for budget and the fact that a 45-year-old Aamir Khan plays a 23-year-old college boy in 3 Idiots and makes it a super duper success, definitely says something. Says filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar, “It’s only after my films got rave reviews and worked at the box-office, people felt that Madhur ki picture chalti hai to karte hai iske liye investment. Let’s hope that the women’s bill will bring in some change.” Says actor Amrita Rao who is facing dearth of good scripts already, “The film industry still suffers from a conservative cobweb wherein typical mindsets will take a few generations to change.” Says filmmaker Vikram Bhatt, “A lot of times I have suggested the name of an actress and the reaction has been, ‘Role ke liye bahut glamourous hain boss!’ Did there have to be a distinction between glamour and talent?”

Bollywood today is crying for new kind of films. Says filmmaker Kunal Kohli, whose film Fanaa got Kajol her Filmfare award after she got married, “As long as the male superstars use their star power to make the right films, we are a long away from making films
which will have women equally standing chance.”
Anybody listening?



Caulfield said...

I agree that BW is a male dominated industry. But I disagree with this article to some extent. I don't think Rekha was wasted in this industry and that her Umrao Jaan was her only film where she did not play second fiddle. She had equally important roles in films like Kalyug and Ijazzat. Infact I find her character in Kalyug to be the strongest character. Vidya Balan played the mastermind in Ishqiya. So even Bollywood has films that sees woman in a powerful role. Bandit Queen is another example. Women seems to be wasted in a film when they films try to force in a love angle in the story when the story is supposed to be about something else.

Pardesi said...

There are many recent films that are female dominated, Laga Chunari Mein Daag (Abhi was in guest role), Aaja Nachley, Ishqiya, even Dulha Mil Gaya. BUT other than Ishqiya (and Dil Bole Hadippa to some extent) I doubt ANY female centric film has even broken even at the box office. And that has to do with the audience, they usually do not show up. Why blame the industry alone - the audience mindset is also to blame.

Pardesi said...

And then we have the curious case of
It's Aishwarya Bachchan all the way!

Who said married actresses have no place in Bollywood? At least Aishwarya Bachchan and Kajol have proved that marriage has nothing to do with their career. Believe it or not, Aishwarya has nine films in her kitty while her counterparts are starving for roles in this recession-hit industry.

Buzz up!
She has Action Replayy opposite Akshay Kumar. This action film
produced by Vipul Shah is releasing in June. Then she has Rani Laxmibai, a historical film directed by Ketan Mehta. Her other films are Raaste by Ekta Kapoor and Suniel Shetty, Happy Birthday to be directed by Sriram Raghavan, Dhun for Eros Entertainment, Guzaarish by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Crooked by Abhinay Deo, Enthiram, a Tamil film opposite Rajinikanth, Biscuit and Raavan by Mani Ratnam.

With so many films on hand, Aishwarya won't have time for rest. She seems to be following the saying 'No rest till ever rest'!

Rajiv said...

In my opinion only a few top female stars have managed to rival male chauvinism in Hindi film industry - Hema Malini Sridevi, Rekha and Madhuri Dixit - the remaining cases of success, such as Juhi, Kajol and Rani Mukherjee were perceived as mere acessory items of their male counterparts - SRK/Juhi, SRK/Kajol, SRK/Rani, Abhishekh/Rani.

On the other hand stars like Madhuri Dixit provoked unparalleled craze among the crowds, to the point of single handedly transforming dull movies in big hits.

Pardesi said...

Agree with Rajiv - Those were the 4 stalwarts in the actresses. Madhuri was more important than the hero in most of her films and this was the Dhak Dhak era, imagine what she could have accomplished in the current era with better films..

Actresses who were successful even after having children were Hema, Sharmila, Rakhi and then Kajol. But perhaps Aishwarya may be the most successful married actress, her filmography remains interesting, packed and varied.

Minnie said...

I strongly believe cinema mirrors the society...Our audience is still not ready to see women in strong roles in mainstream commercial cinema. They would rather see scantily clad heroines for the oomph factor or the innocent virtuous helpless woman screaming "Bachao, Bachao"! In my opinion, the subject of women's issues today is generally seen as a very niche segment which does not interest big commercial film makers. There are of course exceptions like Lajja, Shakti-the power and Bandit Queen; but I didnt see any of these movies breaking box-office records.

Pardesi- I'm sorry but I am not as optimistic as you are in thinking that Madhuri could have accomplished much more in today's times than the Dhak Dhak era. As far as the heroines are concerned, I see a a very disturbing trend in Bollywood today than compared to the early years of Indian cinema. Celebrated directors like Bimal Roy and Mehboob Khan gave us some of the most poignant women-centric movies like Parineeta, Sujata, Bandini, and Mother India. We had heroines like Nutan, Meena Kumari and Nargis play substantial roles dealing with women's issues. This trend was later on continued by Shabana Aazmi and Smita Patil, but by then the marginalization of these subjects had already started by terming them as "art" movies. But we still had the occasional Hema Malini play Seeta aur Geeta and Rekha play Umrao Jaan; however, even actresses as accomplished as these were playing the love interest of Dharmendra and Amitabh most of the time. Then came the terrible 90s where the heroine was just a centerpiece and either had to do the song-and-dance routine or be beaten and raped.

With the ushering in of the new century, things have taken a turn for the worse, instead of improving. The glamor quotient has been significantly upped and skirt size considerably shortened! Where are the movies today that don't make the heroine look like an empty headed glamour doll? As far as I can see, the state of women in our film industry is not likely to change any time soon as long as our audience only wants them to keep singing item songs!

Pardesi said...

I agree that cinema is a mirror of our times, and absolutely agree on the great films of the past that showed strong female protagonists and manged to engage the viewers. Sujata and Bandini rode on the shoulders of the same leading lady - Nutan, and Rekah did Umrao Jaan, Khoon Bhari Maang. So a lot depended on the leading ladies of he time also. Thus the Asha Parekh and Mumtaz types were mostly decorative, while Waheeda, Nargis and Meena Kumari could carry a strong role.

IMHO Madhuri was one leading lady who carried films right from HAHK days. To her misfortune the films were being made at a time when the material was nothing much to write home about.

Today the heroine is ONLY a pinup and might as well be a photo on PinkVilla or Santa Banta pages. Is she even required to act? And the dancing is mere callisthenics. The clothing is brief and the skirt size is inversely proportional to the success of the leading lady. And once the leading lady is past 30-35, there a general clamor from the male population that she looks like an Amma and should retire. It is a sad state of affairs and I see no end to it.

The Illusionist said...

Minnie - Agree with you on all counts !

I doubt whether Madhuri or Sridevi could carry a movie now, as they did in their days, because of the demographical shift in the movie watchers and the emergence of Multiplex culture. I think this is what hurt 'Aaja Nachale'.

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