The Image of Women

Jinga Desai in her article “Planet Bollywood: Indian Cinema Abroad” talks about how movies help the different generations, mostly the second and third generations, learn about their culture and get more connected through movies. There was one paragraph which I found to be especially interesting. Towards the end of the reading, Desai talks about how it is usually the women who save the males from “Western contamination” by being traditional and culturally authentic Indian women. They embody “Indianness” and are the ones who are the ones used to create connections to the nation, between families, and the culture. This could be an ideology of how Indian parents want their daughters to be, and they hope the daughters subconsciously learn by watching these movies.

However, in “Bollywood Confidential” by Sonia Singh, I almost got the opposite feeling. The main character, Raveena, goes to Bollywood for a main role, which is considered a step down compared to Hollywood. It is often thought that in order to get the main role, the actress sleeps with the director (much like what Bani Sen automatically thought was going on between Raveena and Randy Kapoor). This almost seems to show a woman’s weakness, and how she is disrespected by men. It is also said that during movie screenings, males are stomping their feet, whistling at the actresses on the screen, or even at times shouting crude remarks at them. This in part is because women in these movies are portrayed to be more seductive and scandalous. In “Bollywood Confidential”, I never got the idea that Raveena was embodying “Indianness”, or doing anything to show the real Indian culture. The change in the style of dancing and outfits they wear further enforce the idea of them almost being visual objects.

Being Indian and having watched Bollywood movies growing up, I could slowly see the transition from older, more cultured movies to a more scandalous generation. Perhaps Indian movies are having their women get more scandalous and less traditional because of the difference in ideologies by the generations. While older generations may have focused on women being gentle and cultured, newer generations may want a newer type of woman. This idea of a woman being more crude and almost sexual in a way could show womens’ dominance. The fact that these types of outfits and new roles lead men to act in ridiculous ways shows that while it is true the image of woman may be slightly tarnished, she has a power over men. This could be a major reason that older and newer generations clash. Older generations almost seem to want the women to be less dominant and to listen to their husbands and parents, while newer generations like a more outgoing woman who can take care of herself. It is definitely sad that Bollywood movies have come down to this, but with the way the generation is and the popular demand of these movies, I do not see them going back to the way they were any time soon.

3 thoughts on “The Image of Women

  1. My understanding of the Bollywood article is still vague, so I will opt out on your analysis in that particular area. But your interpretation in the first paragraph regarding how the women are expected to preserve tradition is an interesting point. Indeed with all the domestic housework characterized with women in general, I see the logic behind why women should be the embodiment of what it means to be Indian.

    As far as Raveena is concerned, I see her as a hybrid figure who is characterized with both American and Indian attributes. According to the eyes of Randy Kapoor, she is sexy, talentless, and immoral. She is sexy because Randy either finds her exotic with the Asian or American background, a common orientalist assumption. More specifically, Randy’s later exclamation on how he recruited Raveena solely for her attractiveness directs to Randy’s skewed opinion on how the westernized female is inexperienced and not valuable. This would correlate to a detail I found in the article, that ” nonresident Indians were seen as corrupt.” Yet, you could also argue that Raveena’s assumed mediocrity is drawn from women’s need to preserve culture and tradition. From this standpoint, Randy is antagonistic against both females and America. Either way, I see Randy as a rather unlikeable figure who is exactly what Raveena has described him as.

    I enjoyed seeing your analysis on the cross-section of generations because it can also be seen in “Bollywood Confidential.” Clearly, Raveena has taken refuge in the more ‘scandalous’ spectrum of what you have referred to. She and her friends seem to have moved a fair distance away cultural values, originally deeming this offer in Bombay as a step backwards. Interestingly, the figure whom I saw as the most prominent figure was the Uncle. He certainly qualifies to be what you called the ‘culturally authentic Indian woman’, and this could very well touch on the topics of the feminine Asian male. And as far as Raveena’s cultural values go? Not so much…

  2. Definitely agree with the analysis on this page regarding the representation of women in Indian culture versus the representation of women in American culture. I, too, really like reading about your analysis on the differences of representation of women in Bollywood film throughout the years. It is really interesting to see a transition of sorts in the culture to portraying women in different ways, and could be a trend that can be analyzed a numerous amount of ways.

    Like you, I also found the paragraph in the article about how Indian women “save” the Indian men, a very interesting paragraph. To me, it speaks a lot about the pride they have for their culture, and that they really want to preserve it rather than let it be changed by foreign influence. Hollywood films really do have a strong influence around the world, and it is easy to see that when you observe the pop culture in different countries. But the fact they see Western pop culture as a ‘contamination’ makes me think that they see Western culture as a disease, ready to infect their own culture and kill the unique traditions they cherish so much. It’s also interesting to see that the women embodied their culture and traditions, and how they were safe guards against the threat of Western culture.

    Overall, I think there is a lot more debate about the direction that Bollywood is headed, as you mentioned. I do think that the direction might be influenced by a desire to grow revenue and profits, hence a shift to a change of their depictions of women in movies. I could be wrong, but after seeing Hollywood films reach record revenues in the box office in the hundreds of millions, maybe Bollywood also wants a piece of the pie. And by doing so, it might mean sacrificing the philosophy of their films in the name of the almighty dollar.

  3. I liked your analysis regarding the change in Bollywood films over the years. It’s interesting to see the transition of these films and the portrayal women in more non-traditional ways.

    One line also stuck out in particular to me in the article, when Jinga stated that Indian women were meant to “save” Indian men from Western contamination. It shows how much respect they have for their culture and values and the strong ties they have to their family. It’s interesting to compare how Indian women are portrayed in traditional Bollywood film versus the portrayal of Asian women. In traditional Bollywood films, whereas Indian women are meant to protect the Indian men from Western influence to preserve their unique culture and identities, the role is reversed for Asian females. Asian females have much more exaggerated roles as conniving dragon ladies or “lotus flowers” who are easily manipulated and used by Western men. To me, it’s empowering that Indian women can hold their ground and stand up for their culture and values.

    I also agree that the generation gap have contributed to the change in more recent Bollywood films. Since the newer generation probably feel less connected to tradition Indian culture and customs than their elders, Bollywood wants to make films geared towards that demographic. For example, in many newer Bollywood films such as “Bend it Like Beckham”, Indian women don’t fit their traditional role to “save” their culture but end up falling for a Westerner.

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