FTN: Time for cinema to introspect on how it portrays women?
What role should cinema play in a country where crimes against women seem to be an epidemic?
Sagarika Ghose discusses with the team of 'Inkaar' - including director Sudhir Mishra and actors Chitrangada Singh and Arjun Rampal - whether it is time for cinema to introspect on how it portrays women.
Below is the full transcript of the show:
Sagarika Ghose: Hi there. We are continuing our focus on 'Agenda For Change', looking at what long term changes we can bring to reduce crimes against women. Now what about the role of cinema, what role should cinema play in a country where crimes against women seem to be an epidemic? A new film 'Inkaar' to be released on January 18 looks at sexual harassment in the workplace. A note of disclosure at the very outset, 'Inkaar' is distributed by Viacom18 which is an affiliate of Network18 of which CNN-IBN is a part, but we're not just doing publicity for the film on this show. We're also asking is it important for popular entertainment and cinema to raise such issues and also introspect on how it portrays women.
Joining us tonight the actors and director of 'Inkaar'. Sudhir Mishra, director of Inkaar. Chitrangada Singh and Arjun Rampal, the actors of 'Inkaar'. Thank you very much indeed for joining us. Let's kick it off with you Sudhir Mishr. Farhan Akhtar has said, "There is definitely something wrong in a society where men feel they can get away with sexually harassing or raping a woman. As a filmmaker, I must also look inward to see if the industry that I belong to could be partially responsible in propagating this kind of mindset. And I must say, sadly so, the answer is yes."
We will come to the discussion of 'Inkaar' in just a bit, but before that I want to get your general comment on cinema and crime against women. Is Bollywood promoting violence against women?
Sudhir Mishra: Is Bollywood propagating communal amity, it was, but did it have any effect, no. Bollywood often reflects prevailing trends of the society.
Sagarika Ghose: So what is the responsibility that cinema has?
Sudhir Mishra: There are filmmakers and filmmakers, there always have been. They make all sought of films. There are many songs which people talk about, promoting this and promoting that.
Sagarika Ghose: As a social scientist said 'jumma chumma' is a musical gangrape.
Sudhir Mishra: That is an overreaction.
Sagarika Ghose: Let me ask you Chitrangada Singh, why do female actors, serious female actors like yourself, like Katrina, Kareena, do item numbers?
Chitrangada Singh: First of all I don't understand serious top of the line. And how does that change your options of what you want to do.
Sagarika Ghose: Well why do you have to do item numbers as a serious actor?
Chitrangada Singh: I have to. I choose to.
Sagarika Ghose: But why?
Chitrangada Singh: Because songs and dance are such an important part of Indian cinema. Right from Madhubala, or Waheedaji, even Helen for that matter.
Sudhir Mishra: I think Bollywood sometimes commodifies women just as society does.
Sagarika Ghose: Let me just broaden this and bring the male actor on the panel. Now what about men, you know, there is also this argument that male actors encourage to harass women, or stalk women or even molest women on screen. 'Koi haseena jab rooth jaati hai to aur bhi haseen ho jati hai', which is again a social scientist has written is promoting harassment of women. Is that seen like a hero like behaviour, when a man harasses a woman?
Arjun Rampal: No, let me just go back to the first point where you talked about Bollywood and its responsibilities. I think a creative field is your freedom of expression. Any place you go for a form of entertainment is a form of release.
Sagarika Ghose: But it has to be responsible.
Arjun Rampal: No it has to be a form of release. Now I'm telling you, is Michael Jackson vulgar, how many children have learned to dance like him.
Sagarika Ghose: No that is a different point because we are looking at a situation where song and dance is actually promoting harassment
Arjun Rampal: Sagarika we don't have rock stars in this country. We don't have pop stars in this country where music albums are made. The only form of dance and music our country, which is also musically inclined towards happen through our films. Some people make it very provocative...
Chitrangada Singh: What do you think about France where they celebrate sexuality, where they celebrate women, what would you like to say to them.
Sagarika Ghose: But celebrating sexuality is different from defying a certain violent act on women.
Chitrangada Singh: How is 'jumma chumma' a violent act.
Sagarika Ghose: In the film Hum, Amitabh Bachchan and a gang of maybe 300 leering males demand a kiss from Kimi Katkar in the hit song 'Jumma chumma'. Katkar sings back that she will not give a kiss. The male leerers insist on a kiss and douse her with a hosepipe. Ultimately, after several refusals, the song ends with Bachchan finally getting his kiss. He emerges grinning from the melee with lipstick smeared across his face. There could hardly be a more graphic message: if only you harass a woman enough, no matter how often she says no, she will ultimately say yes.
Chitrangada Singh: It is playful, it is romance.
Sagarika Ghose: But how will let us say masses watching this interpret this message.
Chitrangada Singh: They have to understand she is not crying, she is not screaming for help. She is actually enjoying their attentions, and there is a kind of play between them. You have to understand the picturisation; you can't say this is similar to getting raped. Then you probably have to see a video of someone getting raped to understand how it is different.
Arjun Rampal: This is regressive thinking why are we oppressing everything. Ok, there is a rape case in Delhi, what do you do, you clamp everything. You shut down nightclubs, you shut everything. And you say Oh! My city is safe.
Sagarika Ghose: But doesn't art has a responsibility to understand that is an endemic violence against women.
Arjun Rampal: There are people who make such kind of films.
Sagarika Ghose: But don't you have to be careful about what kind of message are you giving out?
Chitrangada Singh: Then what about khajuraho temple.
Sagarika Ghose: Khajuraho is a different thing. That is ancient culture. We are looking at messages at what urban cinema is giving out. You don't believe that there is any sense of responsibility?
Sudhir Mishra: No there is a sense of responsibility and I think most of the time it is done. There is a certain sense of playfulness in a song, or something that celebrates a sense of sensuality.
Sagarika Ghose: But do you also regret that there are not many women centred movies. That there are not many movies being made that have women in intelligent roles. That women are being cast stereotype in sexy roles all the time.
Arjun Rampal: Because that many intelligent roles cant be written on women. I'm just joking.
Sudhir Mishra: Of course women's roles have not been written, of course they used to say if you make a film with woman at the center it will not work. Of course there are films which we tried to make with women at the center, which didn't work. But I don't think if you can put responsibility on creative lot here. It is the marketing forces that dictated.
Sagarika Ghose: So you are passing the buck to the marketing people. So you are saying that marketing people asked you to put the nudity in.
Sudhir Mishra: No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying marketing forces dictated a certain who paid the piper called the tune. Now if you see the kind of films that are being made, the way Vidya Balan has opened the drawers, the 'Kahaani' works. The way Sridevi is coming out, there is a kind of change that is happening in cinema. And also there is an entertainment product that has been made.
Sagarika Ghose: There is a change happening. But Arjun would you be free, suppose your director would want you to do a scene with a women which to you looked sexually violent, which look as if you were molesting a women and which was being portrayed as a romantic scene, would you be free to say no.
Arjun Rampal: If Sudhir tells me to do it, I would do it because I know he would get that right emotion out. And what would be the right emotion is a person watching it say oh! I don't want to do that. So I think that will be the message that will be going across in a film like that.
Sagarika Ghose: So you believe that in fact the creative process must not be stopped by political correct dictates. But let me get you some twitter reaction that are getting in. Maina says, "Cinema definitely influences mindsets. It endorses conditions, numbs and also awakens the mind."
Shubhra Gupta writes, "Yes, Bollywood objectifies women. But are we, the viewers, any better?"
Nadia Jamil is writing, "No to language, cinema, art, music, any popular culture which objectifies women and glorifies violence in men."
Amit Dixit writes, "I don't understand the need of item numbers in our films. Have you seen any such song taking the story forward?"
Why should we have item numbers?
Chitrangada Singh: See I seriously believe that dance and songs are very important part of Indian cinema and we have all enjoyed that. How does it every take a story forward, I don't know if it does, it just has an entertainment value.
Arjun Rampal: And why are you only pointing towards top heroines. So if a top heroin does it, it is wrong, and if other girls do it, it is ok.
Sagarika Ghose: Because they are role models. They are role models to billions of young girls.
Arjun Rampal: You tell me, my kids watch a song and they learn it and they perform it...
Sagarika Ghose: But as i already asking if a Meryl Streep, Julia Foster, or Julia Roberts...
Arjun Rampal: Look at a musical like Chicago. When she comes to the jail and she dances like that, what is that?
Sagarika Ghose: So you are saying they are also item numbers. So the film personalities here say let's not be preachy about item numbers.
Sudhir Mishra: There are films and there are films. Song like 'beedi jalaile' is a dam good song. It shows a sense of sensuality which is great, objectifying woman is terrible.
Arjun Rampal: What is offensive to you must not be offensive to others.
Sagarika Ghose: Let us now talk about the movie 'Inkaar'. In 'Inkaar' sexual harassment is seen as a matter of perception, as the male character says there is a thin line between harassment and flirtation. So what are you doing in the film, Arjun, is your character harassing or flirting?
Arjun Rampal: Well first of all my character is not a male chauvinist pig. He meets Maya who is an intern. He teaches her, brings her up and suddenly there is a clash. The film spans over 7 years, the relationship that happens in this office over 7 years and what happens between these two. You start the film with him being accused of sexual harassment. Now what Sudhir has done very nicely is that he has brought two distinct points of views, the male point of view and the female point of view. And you don't know who is right or wrong till the end of the movie. And maybe they both are right in their own way, or maybe both of them are wrong.
Sagarika Ghose: So why does your character think that he is harassing her? Is she simply using the law to settle professional scores or why what he perceives is flirtation, your character sees as harassment?
Chitrangada Singh: That is the situation in the film, I mean, you actually have to see the film to know why she does what she does.
Sagarika Ghose: But does she cynically use the law?
Chitrangada Singh: I wouldn't be able to tell.
Sudhir Mishra: What I tried to do was to enter the film, like there is a committee screening, and many progressive companies have committees. So if you enter like that, where you see two people who seem to be perfectively reasonable. One has put harassment case against the other and then you investigate what has happened. So both of them seem to be right, kit is just the way they see it.
Sagarika Ghose: So as far as the woman is concerned, what if she is just usingthe law.
Sudhir Mishra: No she believes she is being harassed.
Sagarika Ghose: And why does she believe that, why is there so much miscommunication.
Sudhir Mishra: Well that is the film.
Sagarika Ghose: Are you showing in the film how working women are misunderstood?
Sudhir Mishra: First of all let me describe 'Inkaar' for you. It is an urban relationship fable. It is how urban relationships are now, when men and women will work together. When women will find their place in work place, when men will have to confront independent women, when other women will make snide remarks on their success. So we have tied to take a story about two complex, very charismatic individuals and then we show you a film which deals with all kind of these issues.
Sagarika Ghose: But it is not a black and while morality play.
Sudhir Mishra: No, that is the film I avoided making. And I think it becomes much more interesting and the questions it kind of puts up in the air is far more interesting. It is not a morality play.
Sagarika Ghose: And do you think it is important not to have morality play. Arjun because men are having this sympathy deficit, it is the fault of the man, the man is the potential rapist.
Arjun Rampal: Yes, but it will always happen because man has been completely insensitive from generations. So obviously it is going to be that the woman is right. But times are changing, the biggest problem with sexual harassment is the more we have explored it through the films, there is no defining law to say that you can do this, you can't do this. When does flirting become harassment? When have you crossed those lines because we don't discuss them in schools? We don't discuss them in colleges. When you go to a workplace nobody tells you how you can behave and how you can't, so there are no guidelines for that. Hopefully this film evokes that, it creates that thought process.
Sagarika Ghose: Let's define it. And it is all in perception.
Arjun Rampal: We will never make a sleazy film. It's a UA film and me as a father, if my daughter was 15, I would go and watch this film with her. Why? So that I could have a healthy discussion with her. If my son is there, I would say don't do this even if you mean it, or you are just flirting, it could land you into trouble.
Sagarika Ghose: That is a very interesting point. Learn to talk, learn to tough, and learn to behave with genders.
Arjun Rampal: And learn to be sensitive.
Sagarika Ghose: Did you feel uncomfortable with the fact that this is not a morality play, the sympathy is not completely with the woman. Did you ever feel uncomfortable with the situation and say hang on a moment am I getting on the wrong end of the stick there.
Chitrangada Singh: No.
Sagarika Ghose: Did you find that challenging?
Chitrangada Singh: No I thought that was the most interesting part of the film, that there were two prospective, and what he thinks is right, I thought is wrong. And what I thought is right, he thought is wrong. And I think that is the most beautiful part because we are not saying it's his fault or it's her fault. And I think that is the best part because they feel they are right, he is convinced about what he is going and I am convinced about what I'm doing.
Sagarika Ghose: So you are actually not the victim, he is equally the victim.
Chitrangada Singh: We can't tell you.
Sudhir Mishra: Think of Chitrangada as someone who is not afraid to play wrong. See women also have a right to play wrong. A fundamental right of a woman is also to be wrong sometimes.
Sagarika Ghose: But it is not wrong to be ambitious.
Sudhir Mishra: But it is perceived to be wrong.
Arjun Rampal: But why do most of the women, 90 per cent of the women when they go to a workplace they become the man. But why do a woman become a man because she thinks it is a man's work. Which for a man is not a comfortable space.
Sagarika Ghose: That is a very interesting point, we could actually debate this for long but we completely out of time. But you have raised a very interesting point that it is a clash of perceptions. And a lot of these issues are on perceptions, and how men and women perceive themselves. And it is a brave film to make at this times when morality plays very strong. And there is a kind of women's revolution happening. So in this situation when you are questioning in fact who is guilty and who is innocent, it is an interesting take. I just want to give you the last word; you are the woman on the panel. Is the film industry male dominated?
Chitrangada Singh: Well I think the reason who we are having these protests, like you are saying it is a women revolution, because it is a man's world. So it is in the industry as well, I wouldn't say it is not. Yes, there is a change as there is in our country. And I hope it carries on.
Sudhir Mishra: But doors are opening. There are lot of young directors today. Look at Farhan Akhtar, Sujoy Ghosh
Sagarika Ghose: So Bollywood is changing. It is a very interesting film 'Inkaar' on sexual harassment. Roles that men and women are playing and the perceptions they have of each other. As the director said it is not a morality play there is no victim, it is perception of situation where both perhaps are victims and both perhaps are aggressors. Thank you very much indeed Sudhir Mishra, Chitrangada Singh, and Arjun Rampal.