A new book titled Mother Maiden Mistress – Women in Hindi Cinema, 1950-2010 is out in the market. The co-writer of the book, Jigna Kothri, writes about it and shares an excerpt from it.
The first woman protagonist in Hindi cinema was Taramati, in Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra (1913) enacted by a man since cinema was considered a profession beneath the dignity of ‘respectable’ women, even if she was playing a pious, and ideal wife on screen. It would seem Hindi cinema has come long way since then, though, the journey that Mother Maiden Mistress makes through six decades of cinema, finds that the more things have changed, the more they have remained the same.
The book brings to life the women characters that peopled cinema and the popular imagination, and shaped fashion and culture. The book records and reviews the woman in Hindi cinema – the mythical, the Sati-Savitri, the rebel, the avant-garde and the contemporary. To get a better idea of where these characters come from, the book shows the society that the the filmmakers lived in, the socio-political milieu of the particular decade. We look at what kind of films were made during that decade and what were the dominant features of women protagonists at that time. In this context, certain protagonist are chosen and dicussed in detail.
It’s not just the character that is discussed, one section of the chapter, looks at the way women were dressed in the films of the decade, the high and lows of fashion in Hindi cinema. There is also the first-person narratives of a leading actress from each decade – Waheeda Rehman, Asha Parekh, Hema Malini, Shabana Azmi, Madhuri Dixit and Rani Mukherjee – all close-up examinations of how some of the iconic characters of Hindi cinema came to be.
The following is an excerpt of Chapter 3: Seventies – Look Back In Anger. These paragraphs are from the section that discusses the roles accorded to women characters in the popular films of the decade and attempts to record and review not just the stereotypes but also the exceptions.
“Films dominated by male superstars often reduced women to uni-dimensional figures. The action films of the seventies revolved around action/angst-ridden, disenfranchised hero/heroes who took over all the rasa/bhava of the narrative. The women were passive constructs whose fate and circumstances lead to the hero’s heroism. The multi-starrer phenomenon – films like Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar
Anthony, Suhaag, Dharam Veer and others – further reduced the woman’s impact on the narrative. Love stories and big-budget musicals were no exception. The same was seen in buddy films where the so-called feminine emotions and feminized virtues of love and sacrifice usually accorded to the heroine were taken over by the heroes.
In Hindi films, friendship among males always involves tender emotions. The friends are separated by circumstances or a woman, and the film usually ends with one sacrificing his life/love for the other.
The men would have their respective romantic interest keeping in mind the interests of heterosexuality. Sholay (1975) became the definitive and probably the first ‘action-buddy’ film in which the two heroes, united against the forces of injustice, carried the narrative.
To seek a definitive feminist or even a progressive representation of women characters in mainstream cinema in the seventies would be futile. However, several traits were seen in women characters that were definitely a breakthrough in commercial cinema.
Yash Chopra’s heroines were well-sketched, realistic individuals who could compromise but never suffer to be victims. In Kabhi Kabhie (1976), Pooja (Raakhee) and Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) choose duty over love and decide to part. Pooja accepts the new relationship in her life and grows into the role of doting mother, wife and career woman whereas Vijay continues to nurse his hurt over his lost love and neglects his wife. His wife, Anjali (Waheeda Rehman), married to an indifferent man and forced to play second fiddle to her own daughter, has also to come to terms with the guilt of abandoning her first-born child. Her instinctive reaction on meeting, for the first time, her adult daughter born out of wedlock is to hide the truth from her husband. Pinky (Neetu Singh), that daughter, puts her marriage plans on hold when she learns about her biological mother and embarks on a journey to meet her.
In Trishul, the heroines Geeta (Raakhee) and Sheetal (Hema Malini) have their individual personalities, being neither subservient to nor dependent on the heroes. Kaala Patthar, a film about a man’s cowardice and redemption (the story is partly based on Dhanbad’s Chasnala Colliery tragedy in 1975 that killed 372 miners and on Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim), did find space for characters such as Anita (Parveen Babi), a photo-journalist investigating the conditions of coal miners, Dr Sudha Sen (Raakhee), who serves the mining colony, and the street vendor Channo (Neetu Singh). Nisha (Raakhee), a single woman and successful professional in Doosra Aadmi (1977), falls in love with a much younger, married man who resembles her late beloved.
Significantly, most of these characters were created by Salim–Javed, whose iconic creation in Sholay – the loud-mouthed tangewali Basanti (Hema Malini) – was a departure from the stereotypical village belle. Earning her own keep, she certainly does not believe that women should be seen and not heard, and does not surrender to her fate, choosing to fight instead. Hema Malini, dubbed the ‘Dream Girl’, was one of the rare heroines who pulled off action scenes in films such as Seeta Aur Geeta (1972) and Paraya Dhan (1971) in which the heroes occupy the usually feminine passive space.
Films in which the women not only take control of their life and their space but are active participants in the fight against the system are rare. Usually, the heroines either hold the hero back or garland and send him off to the battleground. There were rare examples, such as some roles essayed by Asha Parekh, which often broke away from the stereotype. In Aan Milo Sajna (1970), the lead character pretends to be betrothed to the villain but falls in love with the hero and actively pursues him, complete with an eve- or rather Adam-teaser of a song: ‘Palat meri jaan’. It is the hero who is suspected of immoral behavior and has to prove himself to the heroine – a reversal of Sita’s taint.”
DETAILS : Written by Bhawana Somaaya, Jigna Kothari and Supriya Madangarli.
Publishing Date: 2012. Publisher: Harper Collins. Number of Pages: 272. Language: English. Price – Rs 299