The nature of portrayal of women in Indian cinema has brought forth a new revelation. In a recent United Nations sponsored study conducted by a leading California-based journalism school, Indian films topped the chart in sexualised portrayal of women onscreen. The study also states that 35% of female characters in Indian movies are shown with some nudity, the study reports. That's not all. The study found that female characters in Indian cinema make up less than one-quarter of all speaking roles!
This isn't the first time stereotyping and sexualisation of women in Indian cinema has been talked about; however, the fact that it has ranked so high on an international survey has come as a surprise. Objectification of women is rampant across all film industries in the country and mana Tollywood is no exception. Whether it's "eye-popping skin show" or innuendo-laden lyrics which are all about female sexuality, the references are overwhelming. "The objectification and sexualisation isn't restricted to clothes alone. The manner in which a female character is addressed in some of the dialogues and songs, clearly suggest references to her sexuality and how the man is going to exploit it. It's akin to raping a woman with words," actress Taapsee avers.
Making the ladies cater to male fantasies is apparently one of the dictates of commercial cinema. "Once I had a director telling me about my role in a film and all he had to say was 'you'll play a glamourous role'. It doesn't really matter what her profession is, as long as she looks glamourous. The other day, when I was watching a film in Mumbai, the audience wouldn't stop screaming or whistling when there was a kissing scene onscreen. We still have a long way to go in terms of portraying sexuality, in a certain aesthetic sense; however, I don't think the current scenario will change in my lifetime. The best we actresses can do is to put our foot down and clearly explain where you want to draw the line," Taapsee adds.
Filmmaker Nandini Reddy echoes similar sentiments saying, "Actors or actresses are chosen based on their physical attributes. Most films today are male-centric and actresses just serve a decorative purpose and every actress is aware of this reality." The target audience, which is overwhelmingly male dominated, seems to fuelling the trend. "Today, almost every big film is aimed at the male audience in the age group of 16-35 in the first week of its release and only after that do family audience and young women come into the picture," Nandini says, adding, "Moreover, most of the female-centric writing has shifted to television and it's perceived to be more family friendly than most films are."
Apart from nudity and sexy attires, the UN-backed-study also throws light on the prevalence of speaking female characters, which is alarmingly low. The screen time which actresses get is limited o just the songs and few scenes here and there. "The writers are vexed with this situation because we are forced to stick to formulaic characters for actresses. Every time someone writes a female centric story, the first thing a producer asks is who's going to suit the role. Our options are so limited that even if we approach one of the big heroines, they don't want to take such a big risk. And one of the problems with casting a new face from Bollywood is that they don't know the language or the nuances in acting. Yes, some of them work really hard and make an attempt to do justice to their roles, but their number is quite low," screenwriter Gopi Mohan reveals.
Of late, a series of big ticket films have bombed at the box-office and even the fans of big stars have been expressing their displeasure, about formulaic stories and stereotypes, on social media.Have we reached a saturation point? It certainly seems so. "No one wants to take a risk when it comes to films which cost more than `30 crores.However, if we have more low and medium budget films, there's plenty of scope for writing good characters for actresses and you can see already see that in some of the recent romantic films like Oohalu Gusagusalaade, Uyyala Jampala among others," Gopi Mohan says.
It remains to be seen if this trend of objectifying and sexualisation of actresses is going to change anytime soon and until then, our filmmakers and actors will continue to tease, stalk and gawk at women in the name of 'romance', much to the amusement of the audience.