You and I may watch movies for different reasons – riveting storytelling , our favorite celebrities , the songs and dance . But the popular cinema is called so precisely because it cuts across audience from geographies and cultures irrespective of their expectations from a movie watching experience . So if there’s one thing we love our movies for then its their ability to transport us into a different world.
When our favorite celebrities become characters in the larger plot unfolding on the screen – their ‘look’ defines how seamless that transition is. Technically speaking , unless the men are playing a character that needs an elaborate packaging [ an emperor , a cop or a musician etc] they can make their fans swoon in even a pair of distressed jeans. But , when it comes to see our leading ladies win hearts , now that’s no child’s play .
Well researched custom made costumes , hair and make up perfect for the intricacies of the storyline , the accessories , the works – all sound good as long as they are towards a purpose . But how many times have you walked out of a movie hall wondering why was it necessary for the female lead or supporting actress to be dressed in a certain way when it didn’t add any value to the movie’s narrative. You may squirm at the awkward camera angles & the inappropriate innuendoes centered on ‘how women look on screen ‘ rather than ‘what part they are playing’ . You might also realize how some movies reduce them to only an eyeball grabbing accessory than a real breathing living person , then you aren’t imagining it , that’s largely the truth.
As per the Gender Bias Beyond Borders study of Gender representation in popular movies across 11 counties that I have been quoting in all my posts [ Read more about in my Theme Reveal here] India ranks significantly high when it comes to portrayal of female characters who are thin , attractive and wear revealing clothes. When it’s five times more likely for a woman to be referred by an appearance related comment on screen than a man , it builds on the global obsession of looking at women through an aesthetics lens. Amongst other consequences , as per this study ‘exposure to sexualized and thin content can contribute to or reinforce body shame, appearance anxiety, or internalization of the thin ideal among some females’ .
But there has been a recent spate of contemporary movies starring new age female actors who don’t blink an eyelid when the camera zooms in close enough for the world to see their imperfections , when the layers of make up comes off and the clothes don’t look straight off a paris runway collection , my heart particularly soars .
Meera [ Tamasha] & Kaira [ Dear Zindagi ] with their every day wear and a make up free look could be the beautifully imperfect friend we all know . Sandhya [ Dum Laga Ke Haisha] was twice the average size of your typical female enchantress and was married to a less educated much thinner husband . Piku was your girl next door and Geeta [Swades] the more relatable urban educated , now settled in a village version of women we find easier to digest than those couture ethnic wear girls we often see being passed of as the lower strata. Vidya Bagchi or Durga Rani [ Kahaani 1 & 2] saw the lead actress literally camouflage into pregnant and physically awkward women respectively. All these examples are of leading ladies that weren’t a percentage of screen space , they were in most cases more than half.
When I went ahead and thought about all the women in recent popular and well received movies who weren’t objectified , weren’t shown as benchmark of some impossible beauty and body imagery standard and thankfully weren’t there in the movie for a dance item , my list ran into double digits and more.
Perhaps the times are changing and from a femme fatale that we had little chance of running into in our lifetime , we are comfortable with the idea of watching onscreen someone who is remarkably close in appearance and appeal to the person we are watching the movie with . Those leading ladies are stepping down from the pedestal and merging with the idea of women off screen .
I am collaborating with Jaibala Rao who is blogging about Iconic movies of our generation here . Click here to Join me in my #AtoZChallenge journey this April as I explore Women representation in contemporary movies. If you are participating in AtoZ too , do leave your link and I’d try my best to drop by .