Monday, June 14, 2010

In Praise of All Filmi Women Who Have My Respect

It's entirely possible that my DNA slept in when the feminism gene got distributed because I can't bring myself to ever be much of a feminist. In fact I often find myself siding with the guy, even when he's a jerk (granted, only if he ends up redeeming himself somehow), so women tend to get overlooked by me.

In light of a few recent conversations about female roles in cinema - and not necessarily in Indian cinema - I started thinking about what can be said in defense of the depiction of women in Indian cinema. (I will unfortunately have to talk exclusively about Bollywood, because given the nature of the action packed, hero-heavy Southie movies I have watched so far, the women in the South have not yet managed to impress me.) And I reached the somewhat surprising conclusion that I like certain Indian ladies much more than their American counterparts. While in North American movies (and TV shows) being an independent, powerful woman has become synonymous with being a bitch, or hating men, or at least with being a cheeky brat (can you tell the latest HW movie I've seen was Prince of Persia?), the few characters that did impress me in Bollywood in the strong woman avatar achieved that without hitting any of the above pre-requisites. I have more respect for those few Women in Indian cinema than for the million females in Western cinema because for me being an attractive woman implies managing to balance smarts with sensitivity and sweetness.

(played by Kajol) in Fanaa and Dia (played by Madhuri Dixit) in Aaja Nachle are the first women who come to mind that strike that fine balance.

Zooni knows how to put relentless Rehan in his place but without once becoming snarky or cheeky. She manages to rebuff him (with poetry too!) while still remaining accessible and interesting. And she does wonderfully as a capable single mother in the second half of the movie. This is a woman who will not let destiny tell her what to do and where to be, and it's almost ironic that Rehan teases her in the beginning about only doing what her parents advised her to. Boy does she prove him wrong! Regardless of how many ways to interpret the ending of the movie there are out there, one thing is for sure: Zooni sticks to her principles throughout the entire journey, all while living life to the fullest, and I for one respect that.

I have very similar feelings for Madhuri's character, Dia, in Aaja Nachle because despite being just a little bit on the snarky side, she graciously dances her way through being a single mother and a successful professional in the US while not losing that feminine side of her personality. Even if she sometimes manages her own interactions with men "the American way", her Indian feminine side comes through when she coaches Anokhi to get the attention of the man she loves. I suppose it also helps that this is the sexiest Madhuri has ever looked too!

There are other great examples of women being dealt a bad hand and proving that giving up is not an option, but that neither is turning bitter and resentful. However, not all women become strong because fate doesn't give them a choice. Some Indian ladies are wonderful, cool, uncompromising women from the very beginning. In this category I have also picked two favourites: Aisha in Wake Up Sid! and Jodhaa in Jodhaa Akbar.

Aisha lives by herself, makes it on her own terms and despite not having many friends in a new city, she doesn't rely on anyone to rescue her. Most importantly she's capable of seeing and appreciating the change in Sid when other women would have probably walked away. She can be playful and sexy as needed, and when she makes a mistake in evaluating a potential relationship with a man, she is confident enough to call it. I liked that even when she is upset or displeased with Sid (and there's a lot of that, let me tell you) she still communicates without excessive bitterness or unnecessary spite. What is there not to love? One of my favourite Konkona Sen Sharma roles.

Jodhaa is my last entry on this short list that is just the tip of the iceberg. The Rajput princess won me over with her determination and valour, spiced by a little bit of mischief and just a sprinkle of flirt to complement her majestic beauty. She stands her ground in front of the most powerful man on the continent and wins every battle without having to become a man or behave like one.

I realized after giving this some thought that as much as we always point out that Bollywood is eons behind when it comes to empowering the fair sex, they have a knack for getting it exactly right when they do put their minds to it. The last female character that charmed me so completely in Hollywood was Baz Luhrman's Juliet, and guess what: neither Baz nor Shakespeare hail from Hollywood!


Nicki said...

Great...I started a post for you and it froze and I am re-typing....urgh!!!!

I love your thoughts! You should've been a philosopher! Always picking at our brains :D

Honestly, I thought the women in South Indian have stronger roles than in Bollywood. It could be that we're too busy watching (drooling) Allu Arjun's films :D

However, a few films I am going to mention, you should check out...

You should've mentioned Konchem Ishtam Konchem Kashtam too.

Anand - Kamalinee stood her ground and to me, was a strong, independent woman.

Godavari - Kamalinee again, she was playful, fun, sexy, stubborn, wasn't the whiny type.

Although the bromance was stronger in Gamyam, I thought Kamalinee's character wasn't weak either.

There are three girls in Autograph but felt each one represented in their own way.

That's all I can think of right now but will think of more :D

Dolce and Namak said...

Sorry about your lost post, Nicki, I hate it when that happens :(

And LOL @ the movies I (we) tend to give preference to. Well, for sure I would never claim to even notice a woman in an Allu Arjun film (unless she's horribly ugly and annoying like the one in Bunny or... ahem, ok, I won't mention the other one because I know you like her). And it's unfortunate that he has so far never been paired up with someone who would really catch my eye - I decided lately that Kajal can't act, therefore as much as I love her midriff, she's off my list of favourites :( Here's hoping Badrinath will fill that void :)

Anand and Godavari are two movies I have been meaning to see, so it's encouraging that you recommend them for the female characters too. And yes, I almost included Janaki in Gamyam, but it didn't feel like a central character to me, so that's why I left her out in the end. :( She would have been a good one though. Was Anushka in Vedam a good candidate?

And did you think Tamanna's character in KIKK was strong? I thought she mostly only did what daddy told her, she was stubborn and determined in relation to Siddhu, but when it came to her father she didn't exactly put up a fight. If I didn't hate the movie altogether, I'd say Genelia's character in Bommarillu was much more on the independent side (come to think of it, I really liked that character, it was the acting that ruined it for me).

Now that I'm starting to watch more... um... diverse Southies (read: branching out of Arjun, Prabhas and dishoom in general), I'm sure I'll find more there too. :) But don't be shy to add if you think of more!

Nicki said...

I think Tammannah in KIKK was just as equal as Genelia in Bommarillu though. I would include both. When I think of independent, I also think of not the whiny type. Even though Tamannah listened to her dad, she still didn't do everything he said, she had a personality too.

Anuksha in Vedam is good, so is Anuksha in Arundhati.

How about Sneha in <a href=">Madhumasam</a>? Check out my review and let me know if you're interested.

See, even thought the female may not have a big role, I think her role is strong enough. When I think of weak character, I think of the ones who are silent, the damsel in distress - I hate those characters :D

Dolce and Namak said...

Totally hear you about the damsels in distress. Not sure why that is supposed to be feminine. Well ok, I do get it, I suppose, I think there's a big difference between what the Western men want to see in a woman and what the Indian men want to see (a more vulnerable, more delicate woman). That could be the reason why we see the superhero paired up with a whiny heroine in so many Indian movies... Sheesh! :)

And speaking of other good candidates from the South, I was recently watching Vaaranam Aayiram (Tamil) and Meghna's character definitely rocked! :)

So yes, you're right, there are cool ladies in the South, it's just a matter of managing to take my eyes off Arjun and Prabhas to find them :P I have to put this Madhumasam in my queue too, but Godavari and Anand are definitely first in line.

Gauri Radha गौरी राधा said...

Nice list!! I think it will continue to improve, we'll slowly see more and more female characters that are individual and interesting and just unique overall.

Dolce and Namak said...

Cheers to that, Gauri! I sure hope it does grow! Otherwise we're stuck watching the heroes (not that that's a bad thing at all :P).

Anonymous said...

I obviously have a different take on feminism to you, but I love this post Dolce :-) You should make a 2011 version of this list, strong, sweet female characters from films you saw this year.


Dolce and Namak said...

Haha! That would be the understatement of the year, Sanyogita! :D

But that said, Totally Filmi has proposed March as the month when we celebrate women in Indian films, so there's no reason why this list would not get redone then! And just off the top of my head, I think Anushka's character in Ladies vs Ricky Bahl would get a mention, as would Parineeti Chopra's. There were a few moments where jealousy could have turned into cattiness in this film, and... *gasp* it didn't! So proud of them! :)

And back to YOUR take on feminism, I think you'll be pleased with the balance between the generous male objectification versus the token female objectification in this one. Funnily enough (because God knows my brain was supposed to be somewhere else completely), I was thinking about you during the really long shots of a shirtless Ranveer in the Goa scenes in LVRB! :D

Anonymous said...

"I was thinking about you during the really long shots of a shirtless Ranivr in the Goa scenes"

Hahaha :-) Sorry if that prevented you from fully appreciating Ranvir's physique.

And in my defence, I'm really all for equal opportunity objectification :-P The problem I have is when sexually objectified female characters have nothing to do but be sex objects, while male characters always have something cool and interesting to do apart from walking around shirtless. I had no problem with the objectification of Kat in MBKD or Vidya in The Dirty Picture, for instance.

But I can't wait to watch LVRB, not so much for Ranveer (who is really not my type of eye candy) but for the ladies, whom I've heard are all fabulous :-D Are you going to do a review?

Dolce and Namak said...

Oh, in that case, scratch that, Ranveer totally fits the description of that kind of objectification you don't like. :D It's totally ALL about walking around shirtless. At least in those scenes.

And no worries about my enjoyment, I find Ranveer sexiest when he smiles, his shirtless muscle flexing scenes don't do much for me, which is probably why I had the mind space to be thinking about other stuff (I know, I'm weird :-/).

I don't think I'll do a review, but it is in the run for my "fluff of the year", so there will be some chatter about it before the month is over on this blog. The ladies ARE indeed pretty fab! :)

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