Thursday, August 18, 2016

Male Gaze in Indian Cinema

It is to be observed that the male gaze has always been predominating the films. From the time when cinema began, it was the male who held the camera in his hand and viewed things with his perspective. He directed and he decided the way he wanted viewers to see a particular scene. It was his world that was showcased in the films starting from short silent films to talkies to the long narrative films. Females had no freedom to voice out their opinions and they were totally ignored as spectators for a long time. In fact, they were not even allowed to act in the beginning days. Then, gradually women did come to be associated with the industry but they were not considered good and their character was always taken to be shallow.
Thus, when men operated the camera, they depicted women either in stereotypical roles of a good daughter and a dedicated traditional wife, or they objectified them through exposing certain parts of their body to excite the male audience. No wonder, the pioneer actresses were seen as whores and were considered outcasts. As a consequence, the women on screen were treated as the women of public. After all, prostitutes are referred as women of bazaar and bazaar (or the market place) implies outside space that was not meant for good cultured women.
Tawaif ke aangan ki mitti mila kar hi Durga ki murti ubharti hai…” (In the soil at the courtesan’s doorstep is moulded the idol of the Goddess Durga). This dialogue by Chandramukhi (a character played by Madhuri Dixit in the film Devdas, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali in 2002) is quite significant. On one hand, especially in Bengali culture, it is believed that the idol of Goddess Durga requires a handful of soil from the prostitute’s courtyard and on the other hand, they are exploited and treated badly. Even the lower caste women were not given equal platform. What was even more astonishing was that the upper caste women often threw remarks at the lower caste women. Even marriages were not possible in case of caste differences. In Devdas, when Sumitra Chakraborty (Paro’s mother) proposes the nuptials of Devdas and Paro in front of Kaushalya Mukherjee (Devdas’s mother), she had to bear insult for her societal status despite not being a courtesan. “Arey jab kuye ka paani hi kharab ho toh ghade ki jaat kya dekhni Sumitra. Bas tumhari ada mei reyaas nhi lekin khoon toh wohi hai… nautanki wala. Hum zamindar hai, machi khate hai lekin kaatein ko halak mei phasne nhi dete kabhi. Ek toh padosi ka ghar, upar se neech kul… Chalo bhul jao ki tum neech kul ki ho, thodi der ke liye bhul jao ki tum neech kul ki ho. Lekin apni aukaat ka toh khayal rakhti. Apne khote sikke ko yahan chalane ki koshish mat krna, Sumitra.” (Why to draw water from poisoned wells, Sumitra? You may not practice the traits, but your blood remains the same as the dancing girls... We are landlords, we may eat fish but we won’t let bones stick in the gullet. For one, you are a neighbour and on top of it, as a family, you are disgraced... Even if we momentarily forget your disgraced state, but what about your standing? Don’t you try to palm off your bad coin here, Sumitra!)
The legendary love story of Devdas and Paro could not be fulfilled because of this societal dogma that clutched the mind-sets. Women were thus, confined within the boundaries of the home and thus there was a stark contrast with which the women at home and women on screen were looked at. At both places, women were not treated with respect though and led an undignified life.

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