Updated: October 7, 2016 5:02:38 pm
Will Calendar Girls, releasing Friday, be any different from his other ‘woman-as-victim’ films?
Over the years, Madhur Bhandarkar has often expressed his happiness that more women-centric films are being made. He has long maintained that his stories come across better from a woman’s point of view and that is why the protagonists of his films – Chandni Bar, Satta, Page 3, Corporate, Traffic Signal, Fashion and Heroine – have all been female. His latest – Calendar Girls – releasing on Friday, also features five new female actors in the titular roles. We could take the filmmaker at his word and applaud him for being one of the few men in a male-dominated industry who cares about what women say and how they feel about issues.
A closer look at these assumptions, however, reveals them to be exactly that: assumptions. The most we can say about Bhandarkar’s ‘women-centric’ films is that yes, they do have women in them. In the most basic sense, many of them also pass the rather simplistic Bechdel Test, in that they have more than one female character who do scenes together in which they talk about something other than the male protagonist.
But that’s where Bhandarkar’s feminist zeal stops because, as it turns out, his women are mostly all victims of circumstances beyond their control. Mumtaz in Chandni Bar, Meghna and Shonali in Fashion, Nishigandha inCorporate, Madhavi in Page 3, Mahi in Heroine – they can all be described as victims who fail to rise above their misfortunes
Bhandarkar claims that he is merely using the women’s perspective to explore the underbelly and seedy side of various industris but why must these women be victims for their perspective to hold value? If the filmmaker does indeed want female protagonists for his stories, surely there can be redemptive tales such as Vikas Bahl’s delightfulQueen?
The overarching theme of all Bhandarkar films is the rise and fall of women: Mumtaz who dreams of a normal family life, Madhavi who tries to retain her integrity in a corrupt system or Shonali, Meghna and Mahi who want to control their careers and sexuality. They’re all punished for failing to realize that they are women and should, therefore, never stray from the straight and narrow path.
At least from its trailer, Calendar Girls doesn’t seem to be any different, and all the tell-tale signs of a typical Bhandarkar entertainer are all too evident – glamour shots that verge on the exploitative, seduction scenes and desperate women looking for the worst way out of a bad situation.
Perhaps it’s time we stopped labeling these films as ‘women-centric’ and started seeing them for what they really are – ‘victim centric.’
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