By Sonia Chopra
It's a special year. Indian cinema is turning 100. Celebrations are in order. And in this centenary year, it is interesting to reflect on women in our films today.
Let's take Hindi films - too many debates, discussions, and dialogues have taken place over the rising stock of women.
Each decade has its films that represent the extraordinary stories of the everywoman - the '50s had Parineeta and Mother India. The '60s have you thinking back to Sujata, Guide, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam; the '70s had Aradhana, Seeta Aur Geeta, Julie and Bobby. The '80s were lukewarm, as along with male-centric movies like Dostana and Mard, you also had Khubsoorat, Arth and Khoon Bhari Maang.
But the '80s and '90s, particularly the latter had very little for the actress to do – an essentially demoralising time to be a Hindi film heroine. The heroine was the love interest who got to wear outrageous costumes during songs and generally support the hero in his larger-than-life quest.
Films were largely mediocre; roles for women, worse. The everywoman was absent, but are we doing better now?
Coming to the present situation - how do we evaluate it? We've still not gotten over the 'women-centric' film tag that we paste on any film where the actress has the central role. We still get excited and flustered with such a film, because the fact is they are 'still' in a minority.
We treat them as the exception to the rule, and you'd think in the centenary year of Indian cinema, we'd have gotten more gender-liberal.
"Actresses today can drink, smoke and live-in," Sharmila Tagore was quoted as saying in a recent interview.
That she was among the first actresses to don a bikini, has had an illustrious career that pushed her range as an actor, and her tenure as the CBFC Chairperson lends her statement that much more weight.
Things were different back then, and her quote celebrates the rising democracy for actresses today. Yes, true. But what about the roles these actresses are playing on screen? How representative are they of you or me?
Think films with meaty roles and immediately The Dirty Picture and Kahaani come to mind with faint reminisces of No One Killed Jessica. The actor common to all three films - Vidya Balan - has naturally come to represent this new trend in cinema.
Last year's nominees in the Best Actor (Female) category threw up a mind-boggling list. From Sridevi in English Vinglish, to Priyanka Chopra in Barfi!, from Kareena Kapoor in Heroine to Parineeti Chopra in Ishaqzaade and even Deepika Padukone in Cocktail.
A jury member of prominent awards show confessed that this category was the trickiest to judge, so deserving was each nominee. A positive sign indeed!
But, it is still considered OK to use the heroine to titillate - to present her in a hyper-sexualised avatar, disregarding whether it suits the character or not.
If she's a college girl, she has to be in hot pants (Mere Dad Ki Maruti); if she's a professional, put her in clingy sarees or tight skirts (Inkaar); if she's a cop, get a tight shirt and leave the front buttons open; if she's playing the attractive love interest, get her to do a risque item number for good measure (every other Bollywood film).
Even today, you want to ask... where is the everywoman on screen? We want to see her, identify with her issues, celebrate her little victories, and root for her.
The everyday woman is absent from our films, and she is being sorely missed. Bollywood, are you listening?