At a time when whispers of sexual harassment in Hollywood have turned into thunderous protests under the #metoo banner, noted Indian filmmaker Prakash Jha has come forward to bat for gender equality in Indian film industry. Speaking at the "Difficult Dialogues" here, Jha lamented the low number of women in Bollywood and dubbed it "the tragedy of our times".
The session titled "Portrayal of Gender in Cinema" was one of the highlights of the the two-day long annual conference that, in its third edition, seeks to throw light on the theme "Gender Equality: For Everyone's Benefit?" Setting the record straight, founding director and CEO of Difficult Dialogues, Surina Narula, also the moderator for the first session, reflected on the fact that films have played a crucial role in all of our lives and, therefore, it becomes acecrucial to examine them".
Jha, the only male on the panel, was interrupted by Narula, who questioned his depiction of Katrina Kaif in "Rajneeti". Notably, Kaif comes across as a submissive woman in the film and ends up following the stereotypical moorings that her family demands.
"It is difficult to analyse every character because they are reflective of your studies and observations. So they may not be all powerful women simply because we do not have many powerful women in the society. What I want to say is the way we see women in real life gets reflected in the cinema that we make," Jha responded.
He then went on to cite "four-gazes" that plague the film industry. Referring to the combination as "male gazes", Jha said that the portrayal of the ideal woman in cinema is from the "male perspective". The first problem, according to Jha, is the male point of view which is inherent in the stories that are told through cinema. The second is the gaze of the camera and all that it reveals about the woman to the audience; the third is the male character's response to the woman on screen and lastly, the response of the men in the audience to the woman on the screen.
Jha said that all of these factors ultimately culminate into the influence that cinema may have on gender equality. He also lamented the abysmally low ratio of women in the Indian film industry and pointed out that their voices are, therefore, not being heard.
"One has to understand how small the representation of women in cinema is. Every aspect of filmmaking, from the stories to the camera and on to direction, is dominated by the males," he contended. He also said that he feels "responsible towards women and girl children because I know how badly we treat them".
"Given the opportunity, girls will excel at every stage of filmmaking but they are not given the opportunity. The whole conditioning of the woman is dominated by the fact that she has to serve the male well. That is the tragedy of our times," he regretted.
Jha further maintained that as a filmmaker he has a responsibility to tell a good story and this comprise of "good characters, good morality and at the same time entertainment". It is my responsibility to keep doing little things and I try to do it through my characters," he said.
Jha contended that it is the "finest time" for Indian cinema where there is an audience for every kind of cinema. "Even a simple story, well told finds audiences -- thanks to multiplexes," he maintained.
Film scholar and writer Shohini Ghosh said that even as there is no concrete academic research to suggest that the behaviour of society is shaped by the films they watch, there are surely consequences of cinema. "But these consequences are not predictable in any way. There is no way that one can assess the consequences of a movie, the only people who sense it are those in the censor board and they never get it right," said Ghosh.
Jesus and Merry College professor Amrita Bhalla pointed out that on the personal level, her life has been influenced by cinema in a big way. "The image of the woman before marriage and after marriage (when she acquires the Pati Parmeshwar syndrome) is largely influenced by cinema," she said. However, she also pointed out that Indian cinema has definitely come a long way as recent movies like "Queen" present counter narratives.
Several heated as well as significant discussions on the issue of "Gender Equality" are slotted to take place here until Sunday. "#Metoo - The Missing Conversation" and "Beyond #MeToo - How You Can Start Real Conversations To Dismantle Patriarchy" are two much anticipated sessions on Sunday.
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