Over the years, Bollywood might’ve failed miserably whenever it came to representing reality in accordance with the laws of physics or not torturing the audience with terrible CGI effects; but it never gives up the ghost when it comes to objectifying, sexualising, and generally demeaning women on the screens. Here are some of the grossest tropes Bollywood has been honouring for decades by laws of ‘parampara’ while portraying female characters in films:
Trope 1: A for Apple, B for Bat, H for Hypersexualisation
Apart from ensuring that the majority of background dancers in the songs are White, commercial Bollywood films seldom focus on other stuff, such as plot (what even is that), character development, and especially, introducing a female role as an actual human being instead of a decoration for the male lead’s toxic masculinity or a sex icon.
This trend has gone through changes so minuscule over the decades that at this point, if the creators bothered to invest even 1/10 of the effort they spend in cementing the male protagonist’s toxic masculinity into depicting a woman as a creature with thoughts and inner tidings, I might consider popping a bowl of corn kernels in the oven.
After all, who hasn’t had enough of watching SRK playing rugby and racing an aircraft (?!), while Kajol just goes around singing “Mere khwabon mein jo aaye, aake mujhe chedd jaye” (the latter lyric literally means that her dream guy harrasses her, what on earth?) — under a shower of rain wearing an outfit clearly meant to sexualise her character?
Also, does every single film really need an item song with a woman infused in it? Sure, the dancers are astoundingly talented. But the extent to which these songs are full of racy imagery and suggestive lyrics —always with women at the center — is revolting.
Trope 2: Bollywood’s Solar System — Male Lead: The Star, Female Lead: A Planet
I know, I know. As if displaying storylines mostly from the perspective of a thickheaded macho fellow who worships his mother, but disrespects every other woman and tries to romance his next door neighbour’s younger daughter by stalking her isn’t enough, Bollywood always has to ensure that the female protagonist’s life revolves around her male counterpart.
Every single decision she makes (that, if she is even given the scope for), every single action she chooses, is because she loves that one guy who starts lip-syncing to annoying love songs every time they share a somewhat romantic moment. What’s even more infuriating is that a lot of times, the women that are portrayed to be witty, strong, and powerful characters in the first half of a movie, are reduced to the same old Planet Role in the next half.
In Bajirao Mastani, for instance, Mastani — despite being a warrior in charge of the soldier troops of an entire region — leaves her responsibilities and home behind just to chase after a man she’d met…what? 3 weeks ago? Help me out a little. Should I go bang my head on a wall, or should I go bang my head on a wall?
Trope 3: To be (Sangskari) or not to be (Sangskari)
According to Bollywood, there are two types of women. The first type wears traditional attire, lets her parents take every important decision for her, doesn’t speak up much, is very meek and so on — is what we know as the sangskari one.
The second one is either a tomboy or wears western outfits, is free spirited, breaks societal norms by smoking and drinking (!?), is straight-forward with her words and speaks up whenever needed (so insolent!) — is the one we know as the femme fatale. Not only does this ridiculous trope imply that women must be judged based on their clothes, but also paints traits such as ambition and individualism as something akin to venom in a woman, when the same traits are worshipped in a male protagonist. Not to mention that the women from the second category are portrayed as the kind who are seductive and fit for dating, but undeserving of love.
No matter what happens, the stupid male lead always ends up with the sangskari woman despite having had relationships with the femme fatale ones previously. Like in Cocktail, when Gautam ended up with Meera despite his history with Veronica anyway, while Veronica’s whole personality was completely downplayed?
On top of that, at the end of the film, Meera literally sheds her western outfits and dresses up in a salwar kameez to seem more desirable as a wife. And do we even need to rant about how in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Anjali was never deemed as attractive until she discarded her tomboy-ish clothes and personality and went for the same sangskari line of traits? So exhausting.
Trope 4: Career-Oriented Women? GET AN EXORCIST!
Except for a meagre number of recent films, Bollywood has always portrayed career-minded women as selfish and mechanical, emotionless beings. Every time a career oriented or ambitious woman is introduced to a film, she gets dragged through the mud because —
a) the male lead starts feeling insecure because oh, it restrains her from focusing her entire existence on his childish tantrums and saviour complex,
b) This comical idea emerges out of the blue that being a breadwinner automatically turns a woman into a bad mother or a bad wife, or
c) she’s made to feel guilty just because she prioritised herself over others (the audacity!).
I mean, have you ever heard a man being labelled as career-minded? No, because men are expected to be so, naturally. But when it comes to women, the scene pathetically is quite different, isn’t it?
Not to mention that on top of that, Bollywood only keeps putting such female characters under the category — villainous; a stark depiction of which can be seen in the film Aitraaz, where the male lead leaves his wife just because she’s powerful and ambitious, and got an abortion due to relevant reasons.
But hey, who cares? As long as we can keep blaring Sheela Ki Jawaani in wedding ceremonies and acclaiming Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast as an evergreen music track, all is well. Haha.
The writer is a part of the TDA Editorial Team.