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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Miss Representation

Only a filmmaker should decide how his female character comes across

Published: November 11, 2013 5:44:25 am

In Hollywood right now,on an average,female actors have 32.6 per cent of speaking roles in films that are nominated for prominent awards,which means their male counterparts in a top-grossing mainstream movie speak at least twice as much as they do. In the Indian film industry,historically,female actors have always been treated as arm candy,with the producer firmly banking on the broad shoulders of the hero to hit the Rs 100 crore club; Krisshh 3 being the most recent example. This can be seen as unfair,undoubtedly,and that determinedly progressive country,Sweden,won’t stand for it. After introducing a gender-neutral pronoun,‘You’,and banishing ‘He’ and ‘She’ from pre-school so children can avoid the pitfalls of stereotyping such as ‘girls play with dolls,boys play with cars’,some Swedish movie theaters have introduced a ratings system for films,based on how they portray women.

The Bechdel Test is designed to assess whether a film treats its female characters like people,or props. In its support,the bar is abysmally low,Does the film contain two or more female characters,with names,and do they have a conversation about something other than a man? It’s shocking how few films pass muster and,by this logic,some of the greatest cinema the world has ever seen,such as Casablanca and even Dr Zhivago that have strong female leads,fail miserably. Ironically enough,even Lara Croft,a film named after a tough and adventurous super girl,doesn’t pass. With the sole exception of The Dirty Picture (which also probably fails),I can’t think of a single Hindi film that could remotely even qualify for the Bechdel Test.

One can only admire a country that,from its core,is so thoroughly liberated,especially considering that we live in one which is horrifically chauvinistic,where women are routinely discriminated against. Lately,there have been a spate of bestsellers and essays in the West with lofty titles such as The End of Men that exaggerate the progress of women and promise that over the next half-century,women will lord over the demoralised and fast diminishing male. It is hardly indicative of the ground reality of women everywhere. A lot of it is enthusiastic bluster and Sweden is one of the few countries that is genuinely and constantly striving to make society more equal or better in many different and subtle ways. But applying this type of gender equality requirement to cinema is a bit extreme.

There are all sorts of films made around the world about all sorts of situations,and it’s entirely the prerogative of the director and scriptwriter,how many men or women he chooses to have in it. He shouldn’t be judged for it,and this sort of rating is a judgment,hinting at misogyny. The Bechdel Test totally ignores the fact that cinema is a reflection of reality,as the filmmaker sees it. Sweden is hardly going to eradicate gender bias in film with this yardstick and,if the idea is to spread awareness of the shallow characterisation of women,there have to be less oppressive ways to do it,foster an environment where there are plenty more women writers and directors in film. Their stories would reflect a new perspective and automatically the characters they create would turn into something more substantial. Till then,we’ll have to settle for women characters as men see them.

Like,in the thoroughly enjoyable Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep conforms to the stereotype that,if you’re a woman heading a major corporation,you have to be a boss from hell. Or the two-decade-old Disclosure where Demi Moore,again the female boss,is an exploitative predator. Should these films not have been made because they perpetuate a stereotype? Like the Indian Censor Board that thinks the public can’t handle kissing and clumsily chop off bedroom scenes,the Swedes are underestimating the intelligence of the audience by coercing viewers to watch cinema that’s aligned to a set of prescribed ethics. Viewers universally exhibit a preference for good cinema; ratings and morals be damned.

Leher Kala

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