Soon the viral video ‘The Bollywood Diva Song’ starring Kangana Ranaut was released, the video gained widespread attention for a number of different reasons. And one of them was the highlighting of the rampant sexism and objectification in Bollywood. Let’s discuss this in the context of the video briefly. The whole mock dance number shows the stereotypical way in which female actresses are treated in the Bollywood industry. Ranaut’s character, despite being a physicist, is given demeaning lines for the upcoming dance number and is dismissed by the director for bringing up this problem. However, the director seems to have no problem when the male actor brings the same problem up. The stark contrast in the way each actor is treated is clear to see.
Sexism in Bollywood is not a new issue, but a long-standing one and swept under the carpet constantly. There are numerous ways in which sexism displays in Bollywood. This article will look at three in greater detail – the media, movie portrayals and the translation of sexism in Bollywood to life.
Sexism in the media
Bollywood actresses are no strangers to sexism in the media. They face a constant barrage of news articles, online critique, and irrelevant press conference questions. For example, a leading Indian newspaper decided it was appropriate to tweet a photo of Deepika Padukone’s cleavage, captioning it “OMG! Deepika Padukone’s cleavage show”. In a fitting response, Padukone tweeted back saying that yes she has cleavage – she’s a woman. That exchange in itself is revealing. You rarely see high-profile media outlets objectify men in such detail, but women are given opposite treatment. The chests of men are something to salivate over. Subsequently, unless it is for male entertainment and then woe betide any woman trying to take ownership of their body.
Press conferences play out in a similar, recognizable fashion. An actress is asked questions about their weight, relationships etc. This perpetuates the notion that there is no brain behind a woman’s face. Anushka Sharma has pointed out that male co-stars do not get asked the same questions about weight, marriage, and relationships like she does.
Twitter is a particularly gold mine to find examples of misogynistic individuals who seem to have been born in the 18th century. You find users on social media engaging in objectification and comparing the butt sizes of actresses. You find users who resort to sexist remarks if an actress dares to voice their own opinions or disagree with something. Social media is a hotbed for casual sexism against actresses thrown around by ordinary people. It is concerning. Consequently, it highlights the fact that actresses are objectified even down to the most common level.
Objectification in movie roles
Bollywood has thrown around blatant sexism ever since conception in its plotlines. You have a powerful, strong male lead and a doting submissive female. There is a particularly objectifying item song. The female protagonist is called “a firecracker or a piece of meat” The hero manhandles her and touches her. The typical plotlines we think to be innocent have deeply sexist undertones. The way the male protagonist usually pursues the female, for example, is in no way healthy. The Bollywood Diva Song addresses a few of the ways in which actresses experience sexism in the industry. When it comes to movie roles, there are few strong female leads. Stereotype is rife. Subsequently careers crumble for actresses who refuse to conform. Replacement is easy.
The industry is so disgusted with women and yet so afraid, that it even bans ‘lady-oriented’ films such as Lipstick Under My Burkha. Reasons include it containing ‘audio pornography’ and ‘sexual scenes’, despite the standard Bollywood film containing such scenes and much more. As mentioned, strong female roles are few and far between. It is worth noting that the lack of female-oriented movies and stronger roles may be due to the fact that a large proportion of the movie-going population in India is male. Single theatres aid movies breaking the 100 crore barrier. In these, the gender ratio flips. The sexism in the Bollywood industry is multi-faceted, it is experienced directly by actresses themselves. The industry also perpetuates sexism against women.
Bollywood sexism translated in reality
People may mock actresses. They may argue that movies are just movies and have nothing to do with perpetuating the objectification of women. But the fact remains that film is a soft medium capable of being very influential on peoples’ opinions. This is evident in the high number of crimes against women reported in India each year. This is evident in the fact that Indian men especially find it acceptable to post misogynistic polls and questions on the bodies of actresses. They find no problem in responded in sexist ways to random women on Twitter. This online abuse towards women stems from the portrayal of women in Bollywood film as flimsy. and willing to fall into the arms of men. This is a dangerous narrative that Bollywood continues to put forward simply in order to maximise profits.
The standard plotline, as mentioned above, often plays the hero ‘stalking’ the female as something normal and even desired. But in real life this is terrifying. No woman wants to experience this. No woman wants this. The objectification and borderline sexual harassment shown in Bollywood movies translate to the behavior of men in real life. While there is no definitive correlation between movies and crimes against women in India, films reflect our society and online attacks easily turn into physical ones. Society thinks women must submit to men. Subsequently, women should have covered up, not been out that late etc., there is a whole host of victim blaming. This is directed at the woman and almost never the man. The plotline lapped up by the audience rarely plays out in real life.
The failure of Bollywood
This is what Bollywood fails to recognize. Sexism oozes out from every facet of the industry, affecting all women who interact with it. Actresses are rarely given the opportunity of strong female characters who can hold their own. They are subjected to roles for the male gaze and replaced and criticised if they dare to rebel. Bollywood is merciless against the female population of India. It influences its population of 1.2 billion on how women should act and on how they should be acted towards. Objectification in Bollywood continues if changes are not made to the roles available and the treatment actresses receive. Consequently, the underlying consensus needs to change.
About the Author
Jasmine Khatri is an International Relations student at the University of Birmingham. She has many interests and is aiming to work to champion women’s rights across the globe and make a positive, practical change. She is passionate about creating awareness of issues like gender stereotypes and in her free time enjoys reading and watching anime.