Is the narrative for female sexuality being driven by women for the first time? Popular culture seems to suggest so.
In India Ekta Kapoor is credited for pushing the envelope first with The Dirty Picture, supposedly based on the life of the late Southern star Silk Smitha, and now with her latest release Kyaa Super Kool hai hum, marketed energetically as an adult comedy.
Her colleague Pooja Bhatt is also talking up what appears to be storm in a C-cup while promoting Jism 2, her bold new sequel to the racy Jism, which introduces the much-downloaded Sunny Leone to the silver screen.
Across the borders, Fifty Shades of Grey authored by E L James has created a whole new genre for smut called Mommy Porn and the books are flying off the shelves and into the hands of appreciative suburban housewives.
So can it be said that women are now storming the bastions of what till now was a male dominated industry and, is there cause for hats in the air?
From the looks of it — no. Even though the very articulate Bhatt has been emphasising how Jism 2 represents the “female gaze” and introduces a different take on sexuality (read erotica, sensuality) which does not “objectify” the human body, and even though Kapoor said more or less the same thing in less impressive vocabulary while selling her productions, if you ask me, it’s the same old same old.
Yes there’s a bit more artistry in Jism’s love scenes (rain drenched Goan landscapes, boho interiors, Chor Bazaar furniture and soulful background scores) and in The Dirty Picture, Vidya Balan gets away with a bit more heaving because it proves she’s a strong woman. But in the end, it’s not a great departure from the films made by their male colleagues.
Similarly Fifty Shades of Grey might make S&M and bonding a little more palatable to the kind of woman who has recently graduated from chick-lit, but in the end it’s the same male-driven narrative.
The only woman in popular culture who seems to be a game changer in this regard is Zoya Akhtar who with her Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was a refreshing change from the tired and desperately-in-need-of-change depiction of modern sexuality.
For one, there was no objectification of the female body, and two, we were spared the nudge-nudge wink-wink jokes that usually accompany three men going off on a boy’s vacation.
Akhtar’s gaze, in my opinion, represented that of the true modern Indian urban woman: so comfortable with her sexuality that she does not regard it as a subject worth dwelling on needlessly.
What her film told us is that there is more to life, relationships, self-discovery and self-actualisation than what exists between the sheets or people’s legs. That people — whether they are men or women — are individuals made up of a million different impulses, desires, emotions and complexes; that just because you are a woman and write or make films on sexuality, it does not mean that you are changing the game.
It’s what you say — not who says it — that matters.
Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer email@example.com