Anyone with a movie experience would hardly deny this. Films can be either viewed as a lucrative money minting business or can be perceived as an art. The general world view is dominated only by the former. The world of cinema commercializes its products to the audience with two primary ingredients; sex and violence. In Indian cinema, with relatively rigid censorship, exhibiting flesh or glorifying violence directly isn’t easy. Nonetheless the movie makers always find a way to exploit the regulations.
India tops the chart in film production all over the world, with over a thousand films produced yearly. Even the more glorified Hollywood can’t come near it. Irrespective of the language, cinema on the whole is hero- centric. Glorification of masculinity is therefore something that every cinema caters to. The space for a male and female character in the Indian fictional cinema universe can never be compared, for it glaringly is dominated by the males. All the films are male centric and the sexism in cinema is loud and clear. The place of the female lead often addressed as ‘heroine’ in Indian filmdom and the portrayal of the character is a quintessential example of exploitation of women in Indian cinema.
The mundane role of a female lead in any Indian film is primarily two- first to fall madly in love with the hero and next to glorify his incredible masculinity whenever she appears in the frames. Though you might think this is a picture of yesteryears that I paint here, it still holds as effectively as in the past. Only the methods of its portrayal have changed over time. Let alone the sentiments that have been permanently reserved for the women, if we try to figure out the caricature template of a heroine in cinema we might better understand the gender bias.
Let us see some of the usual scenarios in the main stream cinema, least bothering about the language because with this there is always unity in diversity, to understand the portrayal of woman in cinema. Love and Indian cinema are inseparable. Love blossoms between two but it’s almost always the woman who falls in love with the hero, while he is busy saving the poor or tackling the villains. The heroine spends a moiety of her screen presence in wooing the hero and craves for him in the rest. The female lead is primarily used for exhibiting skin and her character definition is so void that the plot remains unharmed even if her character is absent, except for the skin shows in skimpy cloths. This is the place of a female character in Indian cinema.
There are quite a few movies where women play the lead roles. But they are once again predominantly intended to showcase flesh in the adult filmdom. Films of Supernatural or horror genre also center on female leads often. Hardly evil takes the male persona in Indian horror flicks. Almost all the evil presents itself walking in white sarees amid the smoky background as if it’s their national uniform.
While a hero is capable of performing any adventure on his own as if it’s a personal trait hidden within him waiting to be revealed at the right moment, a heroine is always portrayed as one who is incapable of performing anything of this kind on her own. There are films that show a woman doing extraordinary deeds, not by self but by a divine intervention or over the procession of an evil spirit. The psychological message inherent in these film plots reiterates the predesigned social picture of dependence of women on someone or something. A woman can never be on her own, she needs men for their survival.
The only place where women get equal space or perhaps even dominance is in the film posters for promotion.