In Bollywood, women are often depicted as the object of desire that the hero tries to win over or as accessories to their male counterparts. Only a very few current roles show women in powerful positions, and continue to reinforce disappointing gender stereotypes.
On the occassion of Women’s Day, Anushka Sharma and Bhumi Pednekar, who have long been a vocal advocate for women in the film industry, spoke up about the disturbing depiction of women in films and why they are making it a mission to define what femininity means in movies today.
Anushka was a teenager when she first started working in the showbiz and only 20 when she made her acting debut opposite Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, but over 13 years into her career, the actress has gained another reputation: keen-eyed producer. Specifically, Anushka has focused on unconventional stories with meaty roles for women like NH10, Pari, and Bulbbul.
Her instinct for what women want is being showcased on multiple platforms through her 8-year-old production company, Clean Slate Films. She says, “Our films have the power to impact change and if done correctly, films can also condition people to make them determine between what is right and what is wrong. By being clear about how we will portray women in cinema, we can alter the mindset of people towards how they perceive women and shatter age-old, regressive beliefs, customs and traditions.”
The actress, who has been a part of blockbusters like Sultan, Band Baaja Baaraat, Jab Tak hai Jaan, and Ae Dil hai Mushkil, says after years of seeing herself and other female actors getting treated as “an accessory” in the films, she decided to take it upon herself to fix the big problem.
“I think I have been conscious enough to select roles and films that I felt could contribute towards changing the portrayal of women on screen. It took a lot of self-belief for me to do this as an actor and then as a producer because I was somehow swimming against the tide and challenging the notion of how women were so far portrayed on screen.”
“It was liberating for me to stand up and do this for myself. I was done seeing myself as an accessory and I vowed that as a producer I will also not allow any woman to be portrayed regressively. So, my film choices and then my productions are a testimony to the fact that I’m committed towards sparking a conversation in society about equality, self-respect and empowerment,” she adds.
Another actress who is diligently working towards changing Bollywood for women is Bhumi Pednekar. With projects ranging from Dum Laga Ke Haisha to Sonchiriya and Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, Bhumi has become a force in bringing diverse female-driven stories to the big screen with her powerful screen presence.
The actress, who was recently appointed the face of Whisper’s #KeepGirlsinSchool campaign, says she does as much hardwork as her male counterparts in her movies but what she gets paid for them is nowhere closer to what her co-actors earn.
“It’s really tough but I feel you fight it out by calling out the sexism and making sure that the experience you have gone through as somebody who has just started off does not go through be it the pay gap that exists. Because the amount of hardwork that I put in in a film is as much as my male counterpart does but it’s just not the same,” Bhumi tells us.
“But I think you keep on going and you speak up for what’s right. You fight hard and you really prove your worth,” she concludes.