The recent Delhi gang rape case has put the spotlight on the excessive sexual objectification of women in popular Indian cinema.
Not only are women 'shown' in derogatory terms but the words used to describe them - halkat jawani, chikni Chameli, badnam Munni etc. - are demeaning and retrograde.
Short of gang-raping women in 'item numbers', men seem to do everything else: leer at her, salivate at her, tease her, pinch her and even touch her together in a group.
When we overtly copy the mannerisms of our favourite stars, would it be wrong to say that we also covertly imbibe their subliminal misogynist messages, especially the most impressionable amongst us, the youth.
In this context, does it seem surprising that the most horrendous brutality on the 23-year-old woman on the night of December 16 in Delhi was committed by a 16 year old, the youngest of the six 'men'?
One person who has never even gone close to objectifying a woman, but has instead done just the opposite, is Shyam Benegal. His women are strong, speak and act their minds and fight injustice in the system (Mandi, Hari Bhari, Zubeidaa, Mammo, Sardari Begum etc.).
Not only are more than half his films women-centric, even the others have women that are not mute spectators to the march of history. Instead, they are zestful rebels (consider the character of Muskan played by Minissha Lamba in his latest film Well Done Abba).
He is perhaps the only consistent, feminist filmmaker India has known. The only one who for four decades has not only refused to objectify women but also abstained from making them paralyzed visitors to their own lives dictated by a patriarchal morality.
On the 'eve' of his 40 years of feature filmmaking career, (Ankur began production in 1973), Shyam Benegal talks to Satyen K Bordoloi about feminism, the difficulties of making women-centric films and how when it comes to sex and violence, commercial directors, actors and actresses, who have a power to mould and change a nation's habits, have to wake up to the effect they have on the masses and their responsibilities towards them.
Image: A still from Katrina Kaif's item song 'Chikni Chameli', from the film 'Agneepath'