The representation of women in Bollywood is changing in recent times thanks to films like Queen, Piku, Highway, and Kahaani. Strong women characters are taking the lead and proving they can tell their stories without a man helping them do so. While they have been successful in doing that, some films on the other hand, claim to be about empowering the gender but end up being about the knight in shining armour who is needed to help the damsel in distress.
Here, we take a look at the films which claim to be women-centric but very subtly passes the baton to the male protagonist.
The film focuses on two prolific women wrestlers Geeta Phogat and Babita Phogat but somehow their father Mahavir Singh Phogat’s story manages to overshadow their journey. There is no denying that the film did show the hardships the Phogat sisters went through to reach their goal but it seemed they were just tools to help their father fulfil his dream. Geeta became the first wrestler to win India’s first gold medal in wrestling at the 2010 Commonwealth games but a huge part of her success is given to her father. Dangal ends up focusing way too much on satisfying the father’s ego than being entirely about these two sportswomen.
At a time when Bollywood still passes off harassment and stalking as romance, Pink did a great job in enforcing the importance of consent through one simple dialogue, ‘no means no’. It also successfully brought to light important issues like victim shaming and slut-shaming and talked about how these notions harm women. However, one problem remains with the film- it relied heavily on a man to be the knight in shining armour and ‘protect’ those three women. Now, one might say the onus to create a society based on equality falls on the man as well. It sure does but not when he takes up the centre-stage to speak on behalf of a woman or when a film ends up promoting the idea that, at the end of the day, it’s a man who saved you.
There is no snatching away of credit from Arunachalam Muruganantham who went against all odds to invent a low-cost sanitary napkin making machine for menstruating women and raise awareness about the issue. Bollywood, too, did a commendable job by talking about periods on screen, which continues to be a taboo. When a film is based on a man, it is pretty obvious that he has to be the focus. However, we can’t ignore the fact that the issue of the film is something that cishet men will never experience in their lives. So, it seems pretty unfair not to have the voice of menstruating women in a film that is based entirely on them. Once again, kudos to the makers for bringing up this issue in a mainstream film, but if we don’t listen to the voice of the ones on the receiving end of an issue, simply speaking on behalf of them will not solve it.
Mission Mangal hails the women scientists of ISRO without whose contribution it would have been very difficult to successfully carry out the Mars Orbiter Mission. This is a film that has five prolific actresses essaying the characters of these scientists but even before the release of the film, the hero of the film- Akshay Kumar–has been its biggest selling point. The makers tried hard to bring forward the story of these glorious women but by the end of it, the male protagonist somehow ends up overshadowing their success.
This film too couldn’t escape the ultimate plot of a protector and guardian making these women realise their purpose and guiding them towards their goal.
Chak De India
A film that is about a women’s hockey team and focuses on the prejudice women athletes face in a male-dominated space somehow manages to make the character of the coach the most developed one. Some of these women have very interesting backstories but the most developed one goes to coach Kabir. Being the coach he will definitely have a huge role in the team’s success but the credit for the same also belongs to the women working relentlessly to reach their goal. Without him, the team is shown to be a bunch of aimless women and it is he who he is shown to help the team win by signalling at his player in which direction she should hit the ball. Again, reinforcing the idea that it is a man who will walk you to your destination despite you possessing all the qualities to do so on your own.