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Sunday, March 26, 2023

When Mainstream Bollywood Films Address Patriarchal Hypocrisy

Bollywood is changing. Once upon a time, it was conventionally recognised for the exuberant colours and larger-than-life dance sequences.

We are now seeing more realistic films with strong social backdrops. As such, there has become a new bridge between the mainstream and non-commercial cinema.

Of recent, there has been a rise in female-centric/gender-equal films, which is a shift that has been keenly awaited for.

Over time, however, there have been several well-known Hindi movies which outline the double-standards by male characters and society. Filme Shilmy explores some of these traits.

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998)

Surprised to see this one? Well, don’t be.

KKHH is recognised for its hilarious sub-plots, the poignant romance, great performances and foot-tapping songs.

But what some fail to recognise is that the film subtlely calls out to the double-standards of men.

Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) falls in love with Tina (Rani Mukerji) because of her being a stereotypically visually appealing girl, who doesn’t easily fall for his charms.

Rahul, however, ignores and mocks his androgynous friend Anjali (Kajol) due to the fact that she does not act or dress like a girl-next-door.

Years later, he finds himself attracted to Anjali because she dresses up in a sari, has long hair and adapts the mannerisms of a traditional woman.

The attraction might’ve developed more after Tina’s death… Almost like a rebound effect.

One may find the Rahul character highly objectionable. He constantly believes that girls cannot play basketball and his general attitude reeks of narcissism.

Since his male ego cannot tolerate the defeat by a female, he cheats by either pushing her or intimidating by pulling her sari.

After identifying these chauvinistic tropes, one wonders why did Anjali fall in love with Rahul in the first place?

Devdas (2002)

After his wealthy family prohibits him from marrying his childhood sweetheart Paro (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), Devdas Mukherjee (Shah Rukh Khan) consumes alcohol to numb the pain.

He seeks solace in a famous courtesan Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit), who loves him unconditionally.

Eventually, he gets consumed so much by liquor that it prohibits him to think or act rationally and finds himself in a circle of guilt, self-destruction.

Paro and Chandramukhi’s urge of him to stop drinking fails and there is nothing that can stop him from suffering a tragic consequence.

The titular character is considered to be controlling, irritable and foolish because he simply could not accept that a woman rejected him.

After the song, Kalibabu (Milind Gunaji), Paro’s son-in-law, makes a public spectacle of how the two women are together.

He tries to humiliate Chandramukhi for revealing her true identity as a prostitute, but her response is powerful.

She blames the male upper-classmen, like Kalibabu, who frequently visit brothels.

Furthermore, she also highlights the possibility of how illegitimate children are also born there.

A line which sticks with us to this day is:

“In the soil at the courtesan’s doorstep is moulded the image of the goddess. The soil is not impotent.”

The scene exhibits the double-standard of men.

It conveys how men use prostitutes for their enjoyment and yet insult/criticise them at the same time.

But by Chandramukhi speaking out, she upholds her respect… Not only as a woman but also as a human being.

The Dirty Picture (2011)


This Silk Smitha biopic is a cinematic gem and an iconic film in many ways.

Throughout the movie, we see a romance between Silk (Vidya Balan) and superstar Suryakanth (Naseeruddin Shah), who has an extramarital affair and reduces her presence to be a ‘dirty secret’.

Suryakanth’s brother Ramakanth (Tusshar Kapoor) admires her as a person, not just for her body and sex-appeal.

However, he breaks off the relationship because of her not portraying a ‘girl-next-door’ image in front of the parents.

Vidya Balan’s performance is outstanding, but more than encompassing women empowerment, it makes an unapologetic address to the double-standards of society.

The award scene still gives goosebumps in which Silk addresses how all so-called honourable people watch sexual content but yet they fault her in doing so.

However, the fact that she does not stop making her ‘dirty pictures’ exhibits her chutzpah and fearlessness of society’s perceptions.

Cocktail (2012)

Cocktail is a slice-of-life and feel-good film and is considered to be the breakthrough performance of Deepika Padukone, who plays Veronica, a vivacious and out-going girl. 

But besides the excellent soundtrack, performances and settings, the movie portrays the reality of society.

After Veronica finds out her friend Meera (Diana Penty) is in love with Gautam (Saif Ali Khan), a man whom she was sleeping with.

Subsequently, they go to a club.

At this point, Veronica speaks of people’s perception of her being ‘available’ for sex but not when it comes to marriage.

It conveys the regressive view that boys have the liberty to sexually explore which will be applauded to be more ‘stud’ like.

They don’t get the blame for their character and eventually get the respect/love from a homely girl.

Whereas, if a girl tries to do the same thing is done by a girl then the same kind of boys negatively label her.

It is also shocking to see a female character like Gautam’s mother (Dimple Kapadia) blatantly favouring Meera due to the fact that she is a traditional, domesticated woman.

But she feels repulsed by Veronica’s dressing sense and lifestyle.

Rather than mostly being a judgemental ‘aunty’, she could’ve stepped in as a compassionate, maternal figure.

Dil Dhadakne Do (2015)

Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do is one of the finest Hindi ensemble films.

It seamlessly shows how regressive the elite society are, despite their modern lifestyle.

The spotlight is on the dysfunctional Mehra family and a narrower focus on the sibling relationship between Kabir (Ranveer Singh), Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra).

In the film, the family believe that son-in-law Manav (Rahul Bose) and daughter Ayesha can stay together.

Their family want them to have children, maybe hoping that a child will fix all their problems. Nevertheless, the problem is between the couple.

If Ayesha cannot feel anything towards her husband, a child cannot bring love between them.

Instead of listening to Ayesha’s request, her mother (Shefali Shah) ignores her and tells her to ‘stop boasting about her problems, and focus more on the family’.

There is immense hypocrisy in how Ayesha never wears a single sari or piece of traditional Indian clothing.

She cares for her husband but aspires to be independent because she is a career-driven woman.

Ayesha does not depend on anyone, especially men and that is why it is easier for her to break away from societal norms and ask for a divorce.

She is more developed and has previously been in a patriarchal situation from which she was going to break away from.

Dangal (2016)

Dangal is inspired by true events and if there is a film which outlines the correct use of patriarchy.

It revolves around Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan), a wrestling coach who trains his two daughters Geeta (Fatima Sana Shaikh) and Babita (Sanya Malhotra) to become world-class wrestlers.

Mahavir bravely embraces criticism from the orthodox society, surviving with a lack of money, apathy from officials and more.

But he doesn’t give up, just to see India win Gold and see his daughters succeed in life.

At a time where child marriages were common and women had long hair, the father ensures that his daughters do not suffer a similar fate.

In fact, the haircut symbolises how these two girls have gone against society’s norms to continue their father’s legacy and perfect themselves as wrestlers.

Even when the young Geeta and Babita beat-up a boy for condescending comments, Mahavir hones that fighting spirit.

Plus, if anything, the dialogue: “Mhari Choriyan Choron Se Kam Hain Ke?” empowers gender equality.

Veere Di Wedding (2018)

Whilst many slated Veere Di Wedding to be inspired by Sex and the City, the film has been appreciated for breaking the glass ceiling of so-called ‘female-centric’ films.

Seeing a group of women talking about sex openly, using profanity, smoking and drinking is something which we are not accustomed to seeing in Bollywood.

We have seen such representations in male buddy films like Pyaar Ka Punchnama. But this Shashanka Ghosh film covers a fresh angle.

Several female characters speak and act against the norms – one of those characters is Sakshi (Swara Bhaskar), who lives with her parents after her marriage fails due to frequent arguments. 

Constantly, she is taunted by upscale aunties for overstaying at parents and gets upset at the taunts she has to hear from neighbours for going to clubs.

Plus, it is bemusing how her husband divorces her after catching her masturbating – when it would not have been as repulsing for him if he was involved in the act. 

His disgust could be considered to highlight the hypocrisy of men towards sex and at the same time, it embraces female sexuality. 

But eventually, she openly tells her parents about why she got divorced – which showcases how she is no longer ashamed of it and can progress in her life.

Final Word

On the whole, these are just a few examples of how mainstream Bollywood films outlined the patriarchal hypocrisy.

The sad thing is that in a few of the examples, the address of double-standards has led to an unfortunate consequence.

For instance, in Devdas and Cocktail, Paro, Chandramukhi and Veronica lose their love.

Plus, Silk in The Dirty Picture becomes doomed to a life of self-destruction due to industry ostracism and the disrespect shown to her by ‘honourable’ men. 

Having said that, there are some positive aspects to this – like Geeta/Babita pursuing a non-stereotypical lifestyle, making way for a successful career in Dangal.

In Veere Di Wedding, Sakshi eventually comes to terms with her life circumstances and is no longer ashamed of embracing her sexuality.

Perhaps it’s high time that we see more such optimistic outcomes of addressing the chauvinistic double-standards.

Now that times are evolving and positive changes are happening in society, we sincerely hope to see more progressive pieces of cinema.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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