It Took a While But.. B’wood’s Travelled From ‘Parampara’ to PINK
We’ve come some way from Bolly dads telling their daughters, “Raat ke nau baje koi time hai ghar aane ka?”
An idle pastime of mine is to watch old movies and reflect on the current mood of the nation. It may seem like a silly indulgence because I’m not even sure if movies imitate life or otherwise. But the idea is to observe gentle winds of change. Look around – what do you see? Acid attacks, groping, stalking, harassment and molestation.
Given that the world is not a friendly place for women, it is somehow comforting to observe any silver lining that beams through ominous clouds of reality.
There are many ways to go about it. One of them is to observe the characterisation of women against diverse social backdrops. How and what characters say is equally effective. As is the theme of the movie.
Long ago and far away, Nasir Hussain, the quintessential filmy dad of the sixties used to admonish his salwar kameez clad daughter, “Raat ke nau baj rahe hai, ye koi time hai ghar aane ka?” (It’s nine at night. Is this a respectable time for you to come home?) The guilt ridden heroine would hang her head in shame and rush upstairs. We have come a long way to Amitabh Bachchan in Pink where he says, “Hamare yahan ghadi ki sui character decide karti hai.” (In our society, we judge a girl’s character by the hand of the clock.) As an ageing father figure, Amitabh goes on to rip several bogeys in his signature stealth style – “If the girl is at a rock show, it’s a hint but if she’s at a temple or a library, it’s not a hint? Will the venue decide the girl’s character?”
Change. It’s Inevitable.
I’m fairly certain that even Amitabh cannot identify with his Mohabbatein lecture of ‘Parampara, Pratishtha and Anushasan’ delivered 16 years ago.
Growing up in the late seventies and eighties, the leading lady used to be ‘paraya dhan’ and not a kudi who would insist on ‘Saturday-Saturday’. It was a time when the widowed sister and the blind mother were captured for negotiation (Karz). Cinema that revolved around women was either so-called ‘parallel cinema’ (Mirch Masala, Arth) or directed by the likes of Basu Chatterjee and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. It was also a time when the heroine’s character remained untouched by any ambition to walk up the corporate ladder or desire for sexual fulfillment.
And, if the leading lady ventured into grey areas (Tabu in Astitva), the immorality of her act was painstakingly justified.
The song belted by Kangana in the recent movie Queen (Maine hothon se lagayi to hungama ho gaya) was picturised on Helen – the bar dancer in Anhonee. Because the monsters of drinking, smoking and dancing in pubs used to claim the evil women. Why, even two decades ago in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge when Shah Rukh opens a bottle of Cognac – ostensibly to beat the cold – a dazed Kajol says, “Sharm nahi aati ladki ke samne sharaab peete hue?” (Aren’t you ashamed to be drinking in front of a girl?)
This was 1995, when Gurgaon had not heard of fresh breweries, when pub hopping was restricted to Brigade Road in Bangalore and when Deepika Padukone had not had her moments of cinematic tipsiness.
Change. It’s inevitable. Today we have Pink where Amitabh says, “Sharab ko yahan kharab character ki nishani mana jata hai, ladkiyon ke liye. Ladko ke liye nahin. Ladkon ke liye ye sirf health hazard hai.” (If a girl drinks, she is of questionable character, however if a boy drinks, it’s only a health hazard).
While most leading ladies continued to be decorative items in the nineties, there were intermittent sparks of Rajkumar Santoshi’s Damini and Prakash Jha’s Mrityudand. Later, with the success of diverse stories like Chak De! India, Fashion and Kahaani, directors realised that women centric movies were commercially viable. As for me, the landmark movie where a woman was unapologetically ambitious and unabashedly vocal about her sexual urge has to be Aitraaz, followed by Dirty Picture.
As India began celebrating women characters, a slew of movies like Queen, Mardaani, Piku, Pink and Parched became mirrors of a new world. This is a world where characters point towards changes that define new boundaries. Even as I write, glimpses of Aamir Khan’s upcoming Dangal indicate that women in this sport-based movie are fierce protagonists unlike pretty cheerleaders of Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander (1992).
Another minor, yet significant change that has unobtrusively seeped in after the Nirbhaya incident is the gradual demise of the customary ‘item song’. While rapes and murders continue unabated, the public anger against the Nirbhaya incident ensured that filmmakers tone down the objectification of women. The bust heaving item songs like ‘Sheila ki Jawani’ or the pelvic thrusting ‘Munni Badnam’ have somewhat paved way for foot thumping party songs like ‘Ladki Beautiful’ and ‘Kala Chashma’.
To say that women have broken all ceilings would be presumptuous. Because eventually it’s the story that clinches the deal. Nonetheless, the audiences have evolved and so have the directors and script writers. Today, directors are emphasising a woman’s freedom of choice – a phrase hitherto unheard of. No wonder the iconic “‘No’ apne aap mein ek shabd nahin, poora vakya hai” (No isn’t just a word – it is a whole sentence) dialogue from Pink blazed into history.
Amidst all the gloom and doom, these bright sparks of change are worth celebrating. And for this reason alone it’s fun to indulge in my pastime.
It gives me hope that, like all Bollywood movies – end mein sab theek hi ho jayega.
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