Hindi Film 101: Vocabulary Post, Misogyny Versus Objectification Versus Patriarchy

I’ll use film examples to make this Indian film related, but really just think of this as an extended dictionary post.  I use these words a lot, and other film writers do to, but I’ve never really defined them for you.

UPDATE FIRST DISCLAIMER: I use examples from individual industries because these particular issues are what is most often pointed out/seem most present within those industries.  The Women’s Film Collective in the Malayalam industry is to fight against violence and other unfair treatment female artists by male artists, Misogyny.  The Telugu industry is constantly criticized for how it’s female heroines have nothing to do in action movies and are sexualized in songs, Objectification.  And the Hindi industry tends to show the family as all important especially the Father, Patriarchy.  HOWEVER, all 3 of these issues are present in every industry in India, heck in every popular culture source in the world.  Don’t limit yourself industry by industry just because of the examples I use here.

SECOND DISCLAIMER: These issues effect women much much much much much more than men, which is why all my examples are female here.  However, the second two (objectification and Patriarchy) can to a much lessor degree also affect young male characters in films and young men in real life.  Male actors can be turned into sexualized objects, although usually not passive objects in the rest of the plot or described purely by looks, the other two criteria for objectification.  And certainly young men can be victims of the patriarchy, forced to marry where they do not love or sacrifice their lives at the orders of old men, although not as consistantly as women and of course if young men survive their youth, they have the promise of becoming Patriarchs themselves where women do not.  Misogyny only effects women, obviously.

 

Misogyny

Misogyny means, essentially, hating women.  Not thinking that men are better than women (that is male chauvinism) but thinking that women on their own, not in comparison with men but just as themselves, are terrible creatures.  That there should be no women.

This is not a sexual thing.  In fact, sometimes sex, or more accurately “making love”, can be the solution to it.  This is the purpose of sex, of marriage, of the whole making of a family.  To force the two genders together, to force men to make an effort to understand women in order to procreate, in order to also enjoy the joys of sex.

(Randeep in Highway is a misogynist, he hates and distrusts all women.  But being forced to spend time with Alia breaks through his walls and makes him see at least one woman as a person again)

If a man is a misogynist, you may see him abstain from sex with women altogether, preferring not to interact even that much.  Or you may see him prefer to use sex workers, so he can control the encounter completely.  Or run his marriage in such a way that sex and emotions and everything else are all carefully contained and regulated.

(Waheeda’s husband in Guide was a misogynist, he wanted her to be always controlled and contained, and even so he still preferred sex with sex workers.  Waheeda in this song is discovering the joy of breaking through that control, remembering what it was like to be a person again)

You can also spot misogyny in the desire to remove the one thing that women can do and men cannot, control birth.  A misogynist will try to take that away from a woman, try to take this most female of things out of the female realm and put it in the male.  Through laws, through violence, through all sorts of things so that a woman has no choice as to whether or not she wishes to give birth, and how, and when, and why, and all the rest of it.

Misogyny on film tends to suffuse the entire narrative if it is there at all, rather than be limited to one scene or one character.  Zachariayude Garbhinikal was a disturbing film because the hatred of women was through out the narrative.  Our hero was a gynecologist, who felt he could tell his patients what was right for their bodies, who took the process of birth out of the hands of women.  He treated women as something to be controlled, a sort of demon figure who was unpredictable and dangerous.  The new Himmatwala (I haven’t seen the original so I can’t speak to it) had the same problem.  The heroine had to be tamed and taught her place.

(Tamannah’s character is first established as a cartoon of stupidity and villainy, what happens when a woman leaves her correct place, and then she is whipped and punished and we all cheer)

This is why Pari was such a brilliant film, it did a perfect job of explaining misogyny.  Rajat Kapoor’s character was never attracted to a woman, never molested or otherwise misbehaved with one.  Because he saw women as literal demons, he enjoyed causing them pain in a non-sexual way, he wanted to eradicate them from the earth.  This kind of person can seem harmless, because the sexual threat is not present, but that does not mean the larger threat of hating women to such a degree it overcomes sexual attraction is not present.

Misogyny, this overriding hatred of women, can come from fear.  Fear of their power to incite sexual desire, fear of their power to procreate, fear of the unknown and the different.  I suspect the level of misogyny I am seeing in Malayalam films (not all of them, but a few) might be a reflection of how much power women have in Malayalam society, the education which lets them live on their own, be able to divorce, get jobs, and so on.  It makes the male audience’s desire for films that give them a fantasy of control even stronger.

(Check out 5:30 when the leg restraints go on the woman in labor.  And just generally the way the male doctor is controlling and directing all the women, from the one in labor to his wife comforting her, to the nurses)

 

 

Objectification

Objectification mean turning a woman into just a body, a thing with which to have sex, rather than a person.  There are three parts to this process (thank you wikipedia!):

  1. Reduction to body – the treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts;
  2. Reduction to appearance – the treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look, or how they appear to the senses;
  3. Silencing – the treatment of a person as if they are silent, lacking the capacity to speak.

All of these are very common in Indian films, especially Telugu films.  Notice in item songs how often the camera shows just a waist, or a bare shoulder, or a leg, detached from the whole person.  How the face is often not shown at all, the person in side of the body is taken away, and only the body parts remain.

(Ignore the greater context of this song, just look at how often Tamannah’s waist, back, hips, breasts, are shown in isolation)

The second item is a bit trickier since there is a general cultural acceptance in India of the outer appearance relating to the inner person.  A man may fall in love with a woman at first sight, but the opposite could just as easily be true.  The difference is when it is applied universally, not “I love this girl because of her beautiful face” but rather “That girl is pretty so I want to get to know her, that one is ugly so I do not”.

And then the third element, which you see in almost every wedding or engagement scene.  The woman is just an object to be decked in jewels and silks and handed from her father to her husband.  She does not speak, sometimes she does not even move, her mother will lift her hand and pass it over to the husband.

(The bride is sitting there, being adorned, holding fruit, being an object more than an active person)

Objectification is often sexual, the woman is turned into a sexual object, like a doll there for male enjoyment.  There is no thought of her enjoyment, her desires, her presence at all, just an empty vessel.  Women only matter because of their bodies, and their bodies are only there for men to use as sex receptors.

What is tricky is that a sequence of sexual objectification can look very similar to a sequence of sexual confidence.  You can see that between the two “Ek Do Teen” songs.  In one, Madhuri is smiling, her face is almost always shown, and her full body.  The focus is on the grace of that body and the joy in her face, she feels like a real person who is present on screen.

 

But in the new version, like many of the recent item songs, Jacqueline’s body is constantly chopped up into different images, her face is lost, her personality, all that is remaining is the body.  This is partly because Jacqueline isn’t as good a dancer as Madhuri doesn’t have the same level of facial control.  But then, that’s the point, rather than hiring someone who could dance to do this song, they just hired a body to be looked at.

 

For the second point, the trick is identifying when it is an example of “Darshan”, that is, the concept of feeling a connection with an image.  Like falling in love with a picture.  Or if it is reducing all people to just their appearances.  Like looking at 500 photos and sorting them into pretty and not pretty rather than considering them as unique individuals.  In Koyla, Madhuri fell in love with a picture.  In the “Neeli Aankhen” song in Kabhi Alveda Na Kehna, Abhishek is reducing all women to just their eye color and skin tone.

 

The other trick is recognizing that objectification is NOT necessarily sexual.  A woman with no sexual attraction to other women is perfectly capable of sorting through a stack of photos for her son and saying “too dark” and throwing half of them away without bothering to look at anything else, without thinking of these women as people.  And a father seeing his daughter in a non-sexual way as a possession to be handed off is also objectification, just as much as a man seeing a woman as just a sex toy.

 

Patriarchy

This is the over-arching structure built upon the grounding of the two previous concepts.  Misogyny, hatred of women.  And Objectification, turning women into possessions.  But being part of the patriarchy, either as a person or as a film doesn’t necessarily mean that you/it are a misogynist or objectify women.  It just means that you follow the norms of your society, and reinforce those norms, without interrogating where they came from.

Patriarchy is what pervades almost every film.  The men sit at the table and the women serve them.  The hero has a better job than the heroine, or else he doesn’t and it is a problem.  The father is the head of the family.  The son is the hero and the daughter is forgotten.  The perfect family has a son or two sons, but no daughters.  All authority figures are male.  All wise advisers are male.  And so on and so forth.

The trouble with Patriarchy on film is that it exists outside of film as well in almost all societies in the world.  If you show a family with men and women eating together, are you being realistic to what would actually happen in that particular kind of family in real life?  What about a female police chief?  Or a couple where the husband stays home and the wife works and no one comments on it?  You can’t just pretend that is how the world is when you are making a movie, you have to acknowledge that patriarchy exists in reality.

(This is what Ki & Ka struggled to handle, and ultimately failed in.  Rather than fully breaking patriarchal patterns, it just flipped the genders but kept the overall structure)

But, if you look at Hindi film, you can see how the patriarchy was managed to be removed until very recently.  Love stories between young men and women where their fathers had minimal or no influence.  Love stories in which the authority figures (universally older men) were overthrown and that was the triumphal happy ending.  Films in which the basic structures of society were questioned, youth triumphed over age.  Not corrupt age, but simply slow to change age who had outlasted its authority.  Awara, in which the Father was shown to be utterly in the wrong, while the Mother and Children were in the right.  Bobby, in which the young lovers defy their fathers and eventually the fathers learn the errors of their way.

(Prithviraj is a father, and a judge, the Patriarch of both the family and society.  And he is wrong, he brings about the misery of all the other characters and himself, not through evilness but through the essential weakness of the Patriarchal structure and the failure of the Patriarch)

But starting in the 90s, as Indian society in general started its slide towards conservatism, the Hindi film industry in particular became more and more Patriarchal.  Suddenly a romance wasn’t right unless the father approved of it.  Wise older men popped up out of nowhere to give advice.  The female characters faded more and more into the background.  And then we have DDLJ in which the Patriarchy is interrogated (you can’t set aside the Farida-Kajol conversation that easily) but ultimately upheld.  And all the films that came after DDLJ following the same pattern, right up to Badrinath last year in which the “happy ending” involved winning over and continuing to live in the same household as the old man who ordered the heroine’s murder, because he is the Father and you cannot survive without the Father.

It may not be misogyny, having a strong male authority figure doesn’t mean women are hated.  And it may not be objectification, having the focus be on a father giving his daughter in marriage doesn’t always mean the film itself is treating her as an object.  But it is Patriarchal, it is reinforcing this pattern within society in which the older man has the power and authority and that is a good thing.  A pattern which opens itself up to abuses by those who do objectify and are misogynistic.

 

 

So, there’s your little vocabulary lesson!  And tiny film lesson.  “Misogyny” is that fear turning to hatred of strong women which pops up in the Malayalam industry both on and off screen (the recent accused sexual attack was explicitly because an actress had stepped out of line and needed to be controlled.  Whether or not the accusations are true, the fact that some people believe them within the industry indicates that this kind of threat to strong women is not uncommon).

Image result for rima kallingal

(For instance, outspoken Rima Kallingal being banned from films for no particular reason for two years)

“Objectification” is turning women into objects, of sexual desire or otherwise, rather than people with souls.  Which at the moment seems to typify the Telugu industry, with the item songs that cut women up into body parts and the constant plots revolving around a woman as a prize to be won.

(This is fanmade, but it can only exist because so many directors have objectified her like this)

And finally, “Patriarchy”.  The structure that supports and allows the other two sins to flourish, and the greatest sin of the Hindi industry.  Teaching us that a father is in charge of his family, for good or bad, that disappointing a father is the worst sin one can commit.  That the old male mentor is the one to listen to, that old men should run everything and women should just stand and be quiet (objectification) and take their punishments (misogyny).

(He drove his daughter to suicide, but by golly Amitabh has to be redeemed not punished, because he is The Patriarch, and we can’t survive without The Patriarch.  Young innocent women, they are a dime a dozen, their deaths are meaningless)

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36 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: Vocabulary Post, Misogyny Versus Objectification Versus Patriarchy

  1. Good post. Just a few comments:

    1. Where are you getting this “ideal Indian family” has only sons? You’ve said this several times now, and it truly has me baffled. In my experience (spanning several decades), the “ideal” family is a son and a daughter. Just like the government recommends (the number two), and the sociologists recommend (population replacement ideal). So I don’t know where you’re getting your “ideal” from.

    2. Re objectification — long, long, ago, when I first started watching “Bollywood” films, there was a forum for non-desi fans of Hindi films, most of whom were Americans. The person who ran it wrote a very interesting article (which was also published some place, can’t remember it now) on how delighted she was to discover this industry where the men were just as objectified as women, and providing plenty of fodder for the female gaze. It’s a thought worth considering. Since you’re picking on Telugu films so much, how have you failed to see how much the hero is also objectified, with close ups of various body parts? It’s just as much a standard trope as the item song.

    3. Indian society started to become conservative in the 1990’s?! Again, what’s your source? If anything, that’s when “liberalization” started. True, that word was first applied to “economic liberalization”, meaning allowing foreign investment into Indian businesses, but part of the foreign investment meant that, for instance, foreign satellite TV channels were available to Indian audiences for the first time, so people whose entire choice before was limited to the Doordarshan channel, now could suddenly experience HBO and The Fashion Channel. Exposure to the lifestyles of European and American societies influenced everything, from the standards of entertainment to the types of clothes people wore, to personal conduct and the smashing of previous societal norms. Things like dating, PDA, women wearing western clothes, and couples living together, not to mention a very western style gay rights movement, can all be traced to that seminal event of the 1990’s. Do you count all of that as evidence that the country was becoming more “conservative”? Sorry, my mind is boggled.

    You make so many statements on not knowing enough about non-Hindi industries to make any pronouncements about them, that I’m surprised at the sweeping generalizations you’ve made here about the Telugu and, to an extent, the Malayalam industry (which seems to really boil down to that one unfortunate film viewing experience).

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      • I think I know what Moimeme is talking about. “Dil No Dil Pukare” in Kaho Na Pyar Hai, “Dard-E-Disco”, John Abraham in “Shut Up and Bounce”, Hrithik in the sword practice scene in Jodha-Akbar, there are dozens of examples. There is still a greater question of whether objectification of men is as damaging in a patriarchy where the male gender is still more powerful than the female as objectification of women, or even just the different ways it may be damaging. Or the different meanings it may have, whether it is for the male or female gaze. But male objectification certainly exists in Indian cinema. Any moment when a male actor takes his shirt of and the camera does a slow lingering pan over his body.

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    • So you think women wearing “western clothes” is liberating if shes still forced to wear clothes thats exposing her body, solely for the purpose of objectifying her and making her a sex symbol when the men dont have to its not liberating.

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    • Maybe I should update the post to put in a disclaimer that I am using examples for industries where these seem to be the main issues, or at least are the main issues discussed, but that does not mean the same problems are not present in all industries in all languages. And also, that both objectification and Patriarchy can damage both men and women although in different ways (obviously misogyny is different).

      1. I would think the statistics on male versus female births in India speak for themselves in terms of what the family preference is? And there are so many movies in which the heroes are two brothers compared to the relatively few films in which there are two sisters. And in most of the two sister films, it ends with them marrying two brothers rather than each having their own journey the way a two brother film would happen.

      2. Yes, of course, but objectification of men has a different meaning. There are 3 meanings to “objectification” and only the first really applies to the male characters, the breaking of the body into components and seeing the body as an object of sexual desire. Men being sorted into categories by appearance, or only discussed in terms of appearance, is very rare. And usually criticized, remember when Kareena rates the boys in school in K3G? And Hrithik judges and condemns her for her behavior? But a male hero being asked what he wants in a wife and responding with a list of physical attributes would be accepted. And of course the final point, treating a man as a silent passive object to be handed back and forth, would never happen. When it does the hero objects, protests the way his family is “selling” him to another family for dowry etc. etc. I think what might be more accurate terminology for what you are describing (and which could be another post!) is male versus female gaze. Indian film is extremely receptive to the “Female gaze” including the sexual imagery component of objectification.

      3. But the 90s also saw the rise of the Hindutva movement, and the Saas-Bahu style TV serials, along with the shifts in Hindi popular film that I outline here. Maybe it was in reaction to the globalization shifts you list, maybe the two go hand in hand, but popular media (especially Hindi film and TV) became a major resource for the forces of conservatism at the time. And pretty much every study on the RSS/BJP/Shiv Sena at the time agrees on this.

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      • Exactly there might be few intances of male objectification but thats nothing when you compare to women. We also have the overwhelming rape statistics of girls, just had the news of 8 year old Asfia being gang raped and the nirbhaya brutal gang rape that took place on the bus and the rapists “claiming she deserve it because she was simply out at night with her male friend to watch a movie girls suppose to only stay at home and be submissive” and so many that go unheard of sorry I know Im off topic but I urge you all to watch this award winning short film about the reality and low mentality of girl child birth in india

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  2. This is an interesting post.But I would have liked more examples.JMalayalam films always had heroines who stood up for themselves with or without supportive men.At the same time these same supportive men acted in movies which spoke about putting women in their ‘place’.Essentially contradicting themselves.There are often dialogues which strongly veer towards sexual violence in most of the boys vs girls movies.Like when Prithviraj in Chocolate tells Roma not to act too smart or he’d make her pregnant.

    I agree with you that DDLJ started the trend of not eloping but instead persuading your parents’ to change their minds.The earlier films celebrated eloping as coming into your own, a part of growing up.Eloping meant forsaking a part in your family business (Maine pyar kiya, Deewana),moving out of the comfortable family mansion and choosing a profession where you have to work with your hands say construction or logging because you need money immediately (Dil, Love Story).There was an element of sacrifice.

    Patriarchy can be in your face or subtle.For the former there are David Dhawan’s films about cheating husbands or Karisma in Anari eating her husband’s leftovers.For a subtle example there’s Kumar Gaurav in Naam who is the sweetest boyfriend.His girl friend Poonam works with him and he does not seem to want to takeover her dad’s business after marriage.But when Poonam asks him to set a date for their wedding he immediately chides her.”How can I marry now when my brother is missing?” Well, how long was she supposed to wait for the brother to turn up? Years? The idea that women are supposed to be patient, that they should put their needs in waiting is irritating.

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    • Even in Classmates, which I love, the way Prithviraj treats Kavya Madhavan is an odd sort of putting her in her place. But on the other hand, while she has to serve a penance of devoting herself to art and remaining unmarried for 10 years, Prithviraj has to serve his own punishment before they can get back together, so the film is a little more balanced.

      Love your points about eloping as sacrifice. It leads into a larger narrative of “it’s hard to break the patterns of society, but it is worth doing”. And then you have, for instance, K3G where the happy ending is Shahrukh giving up everything he built for himself in a new land and happily returning to live under Amitabh’s thumb again.

      And yes to the subtle patriarchy, even if the hero is the nicest hero ever, it is almost always his needs that take precedence over the heroine’s. The reluctance to elope in everything from DDLJ to R…Rajkumar is another one, the heroine is miserable and in danger and wants to leave. But the hero says “no no, we have to wait until I am ready to rescue you, until the time is just right”. Often the heroine in danger is completely forgotten as the plot moves forward, Kajol is kidnapped in Karan-Arjun, that’s the whole reason Shahrukh comes to that town, but as soon as he meets up with Salman and remembers things, Kajol becomes an after thought and has to rescue herself.

      On Mon, Apr 16, 2018 at 11:36 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. This post is not accurate on many counts. I can’t speak for all the industries, but I can talk about the Malayalam industry/culture.

    (1) Rima Kallingal Ban – I don’t know if it’s true, but to me it looks like you’re selectively picking one incident to prove a point that’s not true.
    How do you know if it has got anything to do with Rima Kallingal being a woman? Prithviraj’s father, Sukumaran, was banned for 3 years. Thilakan (regarded as one of the best the industry has produced) was banned towards the end of his career/life. The guy at that age had to go back to theatre to support himself financially.

    Neither of them were women! So why selectively pick Rima and conclude her ban was misogynistic?

    (2) Same with the actress attack case. The actor who was accused has a history of spoiling the career of male stars/producers as well. So to make a statement like “controlling an actress because she has overstepped” just because she’s a woman is terrible.

    (3) “And certainly young men can be victims of the patriarchy, forced to marry where they do not love or sacrifice their lives at the orders of old men” – Here again, your idea about patriarchy in India is not correct. Believe me, I had an arranged marriage and it was because both my parents wanted it. And in fact it was my mother who was forcing me more. The patriarch is not this guy who’s sitting in a long arm chair ordering things around the house. “Do this!” “Do that!” Take that out of your brains. It is always been in consultation, at-least for the last 30 years! Cinema, particularly Bollywood, always shows skewed man-woman relationship. Don’t think that’s how things are here!

    (4) Once again, your hatred for Zachariyayude… seems solely because they show a male gynecologist as the main protagonist! In a country that still has a female literacy of 60% .Do you think everybody will have access to a female gynecologist? Think how it would’ve been 20 years ago? What did you want these women to do? Go to a mid-wife or go to a qualified doctor? To be honest, the criticism for ZG seems more like a deep rooted hatred for men! (what’s the word for it, anyway?)
    I wish you could be more honest when you call out misogyny in films! Did you not defend that infamous scene in Bahubali?

    By no means I’m denying misogyny (even glorifying it) in Malayalam films. It exists, and it’s terrible. Kasaba is a classic example of how UGLY Malayalam films can be. Or Parvathy being abused and threatened for speaking out against Kasaba is a brilliant example of the mentality of the people. But I can never agree with the arguments you’re making in this post!

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    • On point. The article seems to be myopic for the sake of establishing a pre determined narrative.

      “who felt he could tell his patients what was right for their bodies, who took the process of birth out of the hands of women” That is the job of a gynaecologist. The only option is to not go to a gynaecologist if you didn’t want that.

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      • Excellent point, this is why more and more women are choosing to give birth with midwives or other alternative practitioners so their wishes will be respected. So they can have control over their own bodies instead of giving it all over to a doctor.

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    • It is true that the ‘bans’ & kidnappings can happen to anyone who crosses the sword with the high& mighty of films. But I wonder if anyone would try to shoot nude pics of a guy to teach them a lesson Shaming by rape is a very specific way of threatening a woman.
      The biggest proof of patriarchy in Malayalam film industry is that there are no daughters of any actors or film personalities working there unlike the sons who are flooding the films in various capacities. The daughters are all married off or doing something else.Keerthi Suresh did two films with her dad’s closest buddies & then moved to other industries.What could be so damning about working in Malayalam-especially for those girls who grew up watching their parents being part of it?
      Zacharia’s pregnant women could have been Annie(random name)’s pregnant women easily. Female gynaecologists are quite common as opposed to a male gynaecologist. What was the specific need to make the doctor male within the setting of that movie?
      Btw deep rooted hatred for men is called ‘feminichi’ in the local lingo-another way of shaming a woman who speaks out about misogyny & patriarchy. Another thought-why don’t we have equivalent female term for ‘penkonthan’?

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      • That point about actors not wanting their daughter’s to be in the industry always spooked me about Hindi film as well. Especially because the various star daughters had plenty of other jobs, it wasn’t women working in general that their families seemed to be against, it was acting in films that they somehow knew would be a terrible thing for their daughters, but safe and good for their sons.

        On Wed, Apr 18, 2018 at 10:14 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Yeah, it makes me happy. There’s also a lot of female ADs and directors and producers and stuff.

            On Wed, Apr 18, 2018 at 10:24 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • In Malayalam,though there are women working a lot, no one from the privileged side. Not saying that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but when all the sons can breeze in, why are the daughters held back?

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      • But I wonder if anyone would try to shoot nude pics of a guy to teach them a lesson Shaming by rape is a very specific way of threatening a woman.
        >>> This is sadly true. But what has it got to do with the topic under discussion (Malayalam/Indian Films or Films in general)? Isn’t it how it is since time immemorial anywhere in the world?

        You’re correct regarding the absence of daughters. But Keerthy Suresh went to other industries because she gets well paid there. The money she gets doing 5 malayalam films, she can get in 1. That’s the reason.
        Now let me think about the daughters in films. We have Priyadarshan’s, Kalpana’s, Lakshmi’s, and that’s all I think!

        Zacharia’s pregnant women could have been Annie(random name)’s pregnant women easily. Female gynaecologists are quite common as opposed to a male gynaecologist. What was the specific need to make the doctor male within the setting of that movie?
        >>> As per this article, 6% of doctors in Rural India are women
        https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/More-women-study-medicine-but-few-practise/articleshow/50525799.cms
        So you’re potentially happy risking the health of the mother (and the baby) by visiting a female doctor who’s probably 50 kms away than the one who’s closer. I get the point that you feel more comfortable and all, but I think it’s stupid!

        Btw deep rooted hatred for men is called ‘feminichi’ in the local lingo-another way of shaming a woman who speaks out about misogyny & patriarchy. Another thought-why don’t we have equivalent female term for ‘penkonthan’?
        >>> The equivalent female term for penkonthan would be “aankonthi”. Did I didn’t get the point here!

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        • I haven’t seen Zachariah’s Garbhinikal & don’t remember the review mentioning that the movie takes place in a rural village where the nearest doctor available is only Mr Zacharia. In that case, yes it makes sense for the patients to see him.Also does the movie say that they are basing the doctor setting on the TOI article you quoted? Without any context, making that gynaecologist into a male(an aberration)does look like a way of putting a man in control as opposed to the general norm of a female gynecologist.
          Haha..aankonthi is a new one!I was trying to say that a woman following a man’s words doesnh invites a name(that’s a norm)unlike when man follows a woman’s words(an aberration) which calls for name-calling. Kerala has a highly a patriarchal society-which is reflected in the films also. You could say that’s true everywhere in India but that’s no consolation. While reading through the several comments in social media in Malayali communities, I felt that we honestly believe that our society is good to women(we are definitely better in educating women)but there’s this overwhelming desire to control women or limit them to stand behind the men. We love the mother ideal portrayals by Kaviyoor Ponnamma-who lovingly massages the son’s head & cries when things don’t go well for the son. I don’t remember a single movie where she did anything to help the son or stepped out of the patriarch’s shadow. Meena & Sukumari’s mother characters don’t get enough mentions because they are often devious & controlling. Aanappara Achama is a matriarch who is shown as a scheming, manipulative woman who ultimately asks forgiveness from Anjooraan. Just giving an example of how screen portrayals condition us into thinking how a good mother should be & how a woman heading the family would be like. Unless enough people start seeing this as an issue, there will never be discussions or thoughts to counter it.

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          • I’m very glad there is actually a discussion on Malayalam films and Malayalam culture’s sexism problem.
            I am a Malayali who grew up in Bangalore and visited Kerala every summer. I have observed Malayalam (Hindu) society in Bangalore and In Kerala closely enough to conclude we ‘re one of the most sexist men in South India! I’ve seen Indians hold this perception of Kerala as this progressive place but I beg to disagree. I’ve not seen anyone be more shitty towards women like Malayali men and close minded in general. Even online, some of the most aggressively sexist men are Malayali men. I can’t speak for the horrifying sexism in the rest of India(parts I haven’t lived in) but when it comes to men in the south, we hold the crown in my opinion. Maybe the Malayali artists are a little less horrible than the general public.One also has to note that so many of these artists(directors and actors included) have grown up or spent enough time working in Chennai or elsewhere.

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          • Thank you for your perspective! Kerala seems like such a mix, some of the women (that is, the actresses and their characters onscreen) are so strong and outspoken, but then you read stories about how the film industry functions, and watch all these teenage actresses be “discovered” and then thrown away, and there are the random movies like this one, and it just doesn’t feel right.

            Interesting point about Chennai. The same would be true for Telugu film people too. So fascinating, that each southern industry has a distinctive artistic character, but the work is done all out of the same place.

            On Thu, May 10, 2018 at 1:20 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I mean one does get to see the dynamic between couples represented rather accurately in films actually. I’m talking specifically about middle class-uppermiddle class Hindu society. There are outspoken women, but the speaking out doesn’t amount to anything much. It gets defused by humor(we are, btw, blessed with some biting wit somehow) and it’s back to routine life. Nobody seems to make unconventional life choices. Everyone seems to marry between 21 and 28 and be the perfect spouse. I have seen the dynamic represented in films, like the quiet, demure wife who controls the husband in other ways, make him feel like a king out there in the world…and then after a certain age her frustration with him is increasingly evident..that cliche dynamic I have seen.
            I believe Malavika Mohanan from that recent Majid Majidi film said something about wanting to make it in Bollywood because heroines in Malayalam,the best of them, don’t typically seem to last beyond 2-3 years. while very mediocre men seem to carry on having a career.
            While at the same time you have the supposedly patriarchal Telugu industry where Anushka Shetty is 37 and can still carry a film on her own, Samantha works after marriage in big films and so on.
            Also I keep hearing that Malayalam film heroines are not heavily glam’d up but that could be catering to a male preference as well and how we judge women who do glam up. this article illustrates it pretty well
            https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2015/01/misogyny-in-kerala-ranjini-haridas/

            it’s obviously complex and women are constantly changing. But the men haven’t changed at all. They’re as rigid as they were the last time I encountered them. I haven’t seen ZG but I think I get the kind of man you’re describing …the revered Malayali householder image that Mohanlal played a lot in the late 90s (when Kunchako Boban was the new big deal showing a more feminist dynamic in films like Niram).
            What fascinates me is that you could show the same audience ZG and 22 Female one week apart and I’m willing to bet they’d walk out loving and appreciating both.
            Ya that part flies over my head. 😛
            A lot of this is my observation and obviously not facts and I hope to God I’m wrong about the men really.

            As for Chennai, I think it’s more about how all the important hubs of culture and education were located only in Chennai until only a few decades ago (I guess owing to Madras Presidency having setup all the infrastructure there beforehand). Chennai was the only place that had a film studio or a recording studio for the longest time so every other southern industry would travel back and forth to dub their films and compose their songs. The same with Universities. My parents would talk about how people had to go all the way to Chennai (Madras then) for a higher education because it was the only place with a University. Apart from Mysore and eventually other places. Lots of Malayalis migrated to Chennai for education and work(and Bangalore too, later. Kerala being communist had very few employment opportunities coz historically they’d resist every factory or mill that, say, a Tata would try to setup there) and now Chennai is their home.

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          • Was surprised to see the reply notification for a comment I had posted some time back. Glad to read your thoughts & know that Malayali men can express themselves online without name calling & bullying. As a Malayali brought up in Kerala & now living outside for several years ,my ideas about the Kerala society is in a constant state of confusion & exploration. If you are interested to talk more, do drop me an email at pillai. meenakshy@gmail.com. I highly recommend fullpicture.in for some really analytical & balanced articles on Malayalam films.

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          • To provide some balance to what I was saying, one does get to see interesting things in Kerala you may not see elsewhere. We stopped at a gas station once at a highway in the middle of the night and I was rather surprised to see the people working at the gas station were all women. Filling our car tank, checking our tyre pressure, collecting cash/swiping our cards. Just women doing a regular night shift…in the middle of nowhere on a state highway…I didn’t know what to feel. Surprise or Surprise at my surprise?

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  4. Since I don’t watch Malayalam films, I can’t comment, but I loved this post. I led my book club last night in a discussion of Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss and I have to admit I was influenced by your post. I’ve started to think about how women artists are treated not only in print or film but in reviews and interviews. They are held to a completely different standard in many many ways.
    Minor point: I’ve always hated the ending of Mohabbatein for a bunch of reasons. 1) He is rewarded by gaining a son who will love him and take care of him even though he thoughtlessly drove his only daughter to suicide 2) a lovely man like Aryan Malotra will go partnerless and loveless and that is Happy??? Shah Rukh once said in an interview that he didn’t really understand this character who could love without any physical presence. I hadn’t thought about KKKG in terms of the same patriarchy but you are right. Though he will inherit a really big house and big industry.
    For sure men are objectified in both Hindi and western cinema but they get many more chances to speak and react as well.

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    • You can always comment!!!! Especially on a post like this which is dealing with Big Ideas, you don’t need a lot of film background to respond to Big Ideas, you just need ideas in your head 🙂

      Mohabbatein is such an interesting film in terms of the Amitabh character and the Shahrukh character and how they are structured. It is all built up to this big confrontation, and Shahrukh gets that great line of “all I see is a man standing under the picture of his dead daughter”, and then it gets turned around. Shahrukh “wins”, breaks Amitabh’s spirit down and makes him see the emptiness of his life. And then turns around and says “Ha-ha, JK, I am here to save you and make your life happy not punish you”. I can see a larger sense of triumph, that love has entered the school grounds and so on and so on, but it also means that Amitabh as the ultimate Patriarch is propped up again in the end. Versus, for instance, Awara which ends with Prithviraj a broken man having realized the error of his ways, and that’s the last we see of him. There is no last minute “I love you so much that I will forgive you and help you retain/regain your status” moment.

      And for K3G, as I said in my “four life stages” post, it’s the perfect film for looking at generations. Shahrukh will become the “householder” in the family, and then be rewarded by being the honored elder. But that just means that Krish, his son, is going to go through the tormoil and pressure in becoming the “householder” while Shahrukh inevitably becomes the strong Patriarch, expecting the same sacrifices from his son. At least, maybe. I found the London scenes so hopeful because it showed this happy household in which every teased and adjusted and didn’t necessarily fit within perfect prescribed roles. And then at the end, ka-thump, they are back to the same rigid boxes.

      On Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 8:57 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. This is really interesting because I just watched Akele Hum Akele Tum and it surprised me that a Kramer vs. Kramer Hindi remake was filmed in 1995. The mother leaves, becomes rich and famous, wins the kid in court and then the father takes her back even though he’s still poorer and less powerful than she is.

    Anyway, despite the problematic aspects of Indian films it’s still better in some ways than Hollywood. At least Indian films acknowledge female desire as a thing that exists outside of gratification for the men.

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    • Oh, absolutely! These three words are useful ones to know in media studies, because they are present in all media everywhere somehow. And I don’t see that ever changing, the best I can hope for is to make people more aware of it.

      Also, “Raja Ko Rani Se Pyar Hoga” is one of those songs that sticks in my head for days and days and days on end.

      On Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 9:19 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. Spot on with the objectification in Telugu films. It all started with the director K.Raghavendra Rao (Vetagadu, Adavi Ramudu Original Himmatwala, etc.) and Sri Devi in late ’70s. Although, there were item songs earlier, Sri Devi was one of the first heroines (in addition to Jaya Prada) to act/dance in such songs – Double meaning and vulgar movements – Check songs like “Akuchatu”, “Aresukoboyi”, “Kalayaa”.

    And, now associates of Raghavendra Rao like Rajamouli only took it further as a cult – Check songs like “Gundusoodi” (Chatrapati), “Ne vigileste” (Simhadri), Student No. 1, etc. – Bahuabali song you gave was a just a smaller sample.

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