KOLKATA: Noting that the depiction of women in film has changed dramatically over the past two decades, Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan lauded the way contemporary Indian films portray multi-hued female characters. While delivering his address at the 20th Kolkata International Film Festival, he said the films of today have diverged from the pre-set stereotypes of wife, vamp and the sacrificial mother.
He commented that since the 1990s, along with the changing role of women in India, the visual representation of female protagonists has evolved. Referring to films, such as Chandni Bar and Page 3, to validate his point, he said that cinema is no longer reliant on typecasting, which long dominated the Bollywood industry. “While a typical westernised women was considered a vamp and associated with vice and venom a few decades ago, today’s films show women in western designer clothes. This is part of India’s globalisation,” he said.
The clothes indicate the affluent lifestyle of the new middle class on which these films focus rather than representing an implied judgement on morality, said Bachchan. Asserting that girls today are far more conscious of their rights, liberated and educated, he stated, “This [resolve] is now strongly reflected in Indian cinema. Films recently released have redefined the Indian women.”
Bachchan shared that in terms of remuneration, status and roles, the leading ladies of the early era, such as Devika Rani, Zubeida Mehta and Sobhana Samarth, were at par with their male counterparts. “They paved the way for several women in our films and through the years, a number of fresh stars have brought about a sea change in attitudes. They made it possible to essay innovative women roles in Indian films, especially mainstream cinema,” he maintained.
He commended the efforts of filmmakers the likes of Bimal Roy, Mehbood Khan, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Shyam Benegal for “reflecting the change in women’s roles in society [in their films] and giving us flesh and blood female protagonists, who have stood their ground to the vagaries of time.” Turning to contemporary Bengali directors, he said Aparna Sen, Gautam Ghosh and Rituparno Ghosh created strong feminist films with complex and penetrating subjects.
Bachchan, once regarded as the ‘angry young man of Indian movies’ for the rebellious roles he depicted on screen, regretted that although today’s day and age is brimming with information, there is a growing scarcity of wisdom. “In order to seem informed, we hastily form our so-called opinions that are based on fragmentary bits of evidence and superficial impressions rather than true understanding,” he commented. Underscoring the importance of the storyteller in such a scenario, he said, “A great film, through its symbols, metaphors and associations, helps us interpret information, integrated with our existing knowledge, and transmit that into wisdom.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2014.
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