​New-age films script brave new world

Written By Unknown on Kamis, 11 April 2013 | 22.23

MUMBAI: Hindi films have often reinforced the stereotype of the Indian woman by placing her on a pedestal as the self-denying housewife, but of late there have been a few movies that have broken the mould. They are influencing women's lifestyle choices, self-image, indeed their very perception of the world, in new ways.

Trainee designer Nisha Mehra arrived in Mumbai from Jamshedpur two years ago, inspired by a film. "Films, like fashion, encourage small-town women like me to follow their dreams even as they warn them of the pitfalls ahead. My father has worked a corporate job all his life and he believed I would take up a career in academics or engineering. It was not easy for me to break free from his expectations, but Priyanka Chopra's example in the film helped," she laughs. "Modern cinema treats women like they are real people, not perpetually suffering housewives who sacrifice their all at the altar of a patriarchal society."

In fact, the coffee-shop meeting that kick-started Chopra's career in that picture became a reality for Nisha a few months later. "It was there that I met my new roommate, networked for assignments and learnt the ropes of the trade. In fact, you have so many actresses playing the part of journalists these days that my little sister wants to follow me and make a career in television," she says.

Heroines in new-age cinema prompt Indian women to explore uncharted territory, from wearing outfits that may have been frowned upon in a puritanical era to entering into live-in relationships. "The morals we talk of belong to the Victorian era of British society. Indian culture and Indian cinema have always been tolerant and inclusive. There are critics who love to blame all the ills of society on heroines and vamps who wear skimpy dresses or actors who smoke and drink on screen. But take a look at our ancient sculptures in Khajuraho, Konark or Ajanta-Ellora and you will realize that India was peopled by aesthetes as well as ascetics," says Dr Amit Kumar Sharma, associate professor at the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

There are others who feel the pervasive influence of cinema entrusts it with a fair amount of social responsibility. In the aftermath of the Delhi gang-rape, actor Shabana Azmi was among those who advised the Hindi film industry to introspect into the objectification of the female form, particularly through item numbers.

Entrepreneur Riddhi Shah was shocked to see three-year-olds at a playschool do a near-perfect imitation of 'Chikni Chameli', complete with pelvic thrusts, at a school programme while their parents proudly applauded. "A few years ago one saw the odd Rakhi Sawant or Shefali do the same thing and one could explain it away by saying they were item girls. But how do you explain to your children when mainstream actors like Katrina Kaif and Kareena Kapoor sing 'Chikni Chameli' or 'Fevicol'?"

However, actor Kareena Kapoor Khan, who has been in the eye of a storm for her 'Fevicol' item song, counters such fears. "Everybody will have a take on this. I feel you cannot blame the behaviour of ignorant people on cinema. We have been seeing murders in films since 40 to 50 years, it does not mean that cinema influences people to commit similar crimes," she says.

Kareena recommends that society stop judging cinema or entrusting it with the responsibility of conscience keeper. "Let's not take films so seriously and dissect every scene and shot as if it were rocket science. Cinema is a means of entertainment. Let's just calm down and focus on removing ignorance," she says.

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