The Men of Lipstick Under My Burkha

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After a painfully long journey to the movie screens, Lipstick Under My Burkha is creating a stir with its ‘woman-oriented’ portrayal of sexuality. An overwhelming opposition to CBFC’s Pahlaj Nihalani’s refusal to accept female sexuality helped bring the movie much more than its share of media attention. Some appreciate the well-rounded strong female leads, some say the film falls short of being feminist.

But this film has given us the ability to analyse the male characters completely from a female perspective. The men are one-dimensional, spineless, and only exist to further the plots and characters of the women. We analyse Woody Allen’s women, we criticise Karan Johar’s pseudo-progressive heroines. So why not take a look at Alankrita Shrivastava’s men?
Rahim Aslam, Shirin’s husband (Sushant Singh)
Rahim, Shirin’s abusive, cheating husband is himself a victim of patriarchy. He is supposed to be the bread-winner of the family. He is supposed to have a career. In spite of being a failure at that, he continues to take advantage of a social structure that lets him abuse his wife’s body and mind without even taking up the responsibility of contraception. He has children, but since it is his wife’s responsibility to carry them and look after them, the number of offsprings is a minor detail to him. He doesn’t see Shirin as a person. To him she is a slave, bound to him by holy matrimony. He is having an affair with another woman and treats her with a little more respect, only because she has no obligation to him and isn’t ‘his’ to bully and harass.
Dhruv, Rihanna’s boyfriend (Shashank Arora)
Dhruv’s musical talent and confident demeanour attract a lot of female attention, and he’s well aware of his sexuality. He impregnates a girl, swiftly moves on to another (Rihanna). He neither has to worry about pregnancy, nor about society denying him control of his sexuality. His self-assuredness at such a young age makes other youngsters believe he is ‘cool’, and many of his impressionable and vulnerable peers (much like Rihanna) will act according to what he thinks is agreeable behaviour. As long as women are attracted to him, he can go on without developing any other aspects of his personality.
Arshad, Leela’s boyfriend (Vikrant Massey)
Arshad has strong feelings for Leela. He also judges her for her sexual liberty. Arshad does feel possessive about Leela, but leaves all the hard work of gathering money and planning an escape to her. He dislikes her being close with the man she’s arranged to get married to, but will happily flirt with the foreigner woman walking into his photo studio. He is unsure whether he wants to fight for Leela, judge her, or run away with her. But he’s sure he will not take too much effort in whatever he chooses.
Manoj, Leela’s fiance (Vaibbhav Tatwawdi)
Manoj is the ‘good guy’: the polite, family-oriented and obedient man. He is getting married at the right age, to a woman chosen by his family. He feels lucky that he is with an attractive woman, though he knows nothing much about her personality. He believes whatever feistiness is left in her will soon get subdued after she ‘settles down’ with him. However, he is vastly less entitled than Shirin’s husband. Manoj would probably never take advantage of his wife’s body or yell at her.
He assumes she will not work after marriage, because he will be providing her all she needs. He doesn’t believe there are women who work, smoke or have sex before marriage. Even if they do exist, he’s been taught to judge them as being of questionable character.
Jaspal, Usha’s love interest (Jagat Singh Solanki)
 Jaspal works hard on his body, and loves himself. When he starts getting erotically charged phone calls, he assumes they’re coming from a nubile woman around his own age. He treats Usha, the old lady who comes to learn swimming, with respect. But he doesn’t imagine her as a sexual being. When he realises that he had been having phone sex with a woman way past her prime, it hurts his masculine ego. He is enraged that the ‘affair’ he willingly participated in did not adhere to his notion of beauty and sexuality. He thinks he deserves better quality female attention. So he does all he can with the power that society assigns him. He initiates the public shaming of Usha. He knows she would have no power or say in this; he has nothing to lose. He’s a ‘victim’.
Special mention: The mob that shames Usha
This mob, consisting of both men and women, is the self-assigned moral police, the saviour of ‘tradition and decency’. They turn against their Usha buaji, a woman they revered and worshipped until she was proven to have sexual urges. What enraged them further was that she read erotic books instead of spiritual ones. She broke away from their concept of what an old lady should be. It would be unfair to assign a gender to this mob. However, this mob is unfair, and a danger only to one gender.
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Stop enforcing feminism on Bollywood

It’s disappointing when Shah Rukh Khan shirks away from topic of a slightly better shelf-life, or even equal pay for Bollywood actresses. Not because of his many roles as a stalker, emotional blackmailer, misogynist have paved the way for his enlightened view on ageism. But because he is considered one of the more intelligent actors around. According to him, women work ‘5 times harder and gets paid ten times less,’ and the market forces determine the value of an actor.

And he’s not wrong.

This is the reason why Dangal wouldn’t have done well if Aamir Khan hadn’t played the tough patriarch. It’s the reason why Mary Kom, which is also about a successful female boxer didn’t do well. It’s also the reason why Sultan did do well. Then again, bhai ka picture always does well.

We do have the occasional Mardani, Queen, or Jai Gangajal. But they will never come close to the sycophantic 100-crore club, which remains dominated by the likes of Khan. Of the top 10 most commercially successful Hindi films, only one is without a Khan (Bajirao Mastani). And of the highest grossing 15 Indian films, only Bahubali and Rajnikant’s Kabali are Khan-less.

In a sense, SRK is right. Commercial cinema is entrenched in financial super-success. Seemingly, the people in the best position to change that are the Khans.

Aamir, with Dangal being his last release, is the one creating the most positive change. A film about two young girls who are sportwomen, and not romantic accessories, is something none of the Khans have done before. He may have played an authoritarian with little regard for his daughters’ wishes, but any father-daughter story from Haryana that doesn’t involve infanticide, forced marriage or honour killing is commendable.

SRK may publicly accept the sexism and ageism, but that’s all he’s willing to do. He may even go the extra mile to patronise feminists by saying women are better than men. But his films rarely demonstrate a basic respect for women. He might have done a Chak De! India, but that does not dissolve him of his criminal offences like Chennai Express and Happy New Year.

Speaking of criminals, Salman may have films with fiesty-looking women, until they fall in love with him and forget all previous personality traits. They dissolve into the quintessential Bollywood wife: attractive impregnable slaves. Salman, on the other hand, has risen even more ever since he stopped trying to put an effort into his roles.

As the actresses cast against them get younger and younger, they are in such a cemented position that they will never get rejected by the heroine. That responsibility falls solely upon Ranbir Kapoor. Age is not the only deterrant to women starring against the Khan. They will have no qualms starring against ‘pure’ newcomers. On the other hand, the industry will subtly (and overtly) slut-shame Sunny Leone. She can be an item number, but never the love interest of any of Bollywood’s most expensive men.

Bollywood’s leading women have predominantly shied away, or gone back and forth on being feminists. And it’s completely fair that they don’t call themselves the f-word. It’s because they aren’t feminists.

The only women who have openly addressed the wage-gap are Kareena Kapoor Khan and Kangna Ranaut. Yet, one is known for her whimsical behaviour, or her apparently horrifying choice of name for her own son. The other one is known for her terrible taste in men.

There have been moments of some female empowerment. Cleavage gapers have been shamed, a cricketer boyfriend of an actress spoke up against calling her a ‘distraction’, and there are some women without the ideal Bollywood-heroine body type defending their right to exist whilst not looking like a Barbie doll.

However, none of the actresses are ready to be openly feminist. They dance in heels while men wear flats. They wear skimpy clothes and dance in freezing temperatures with a fully clothed man. They are constantly nitpicked on for their natural facial features and bodies. And if they dare change something, they will be shamed for that. They work as much as the men do. Their financial success is short-lived: many of them will be out of work by the time they’ve reached their industry shelf-life – for everyone loves a movie about a man and a youngthinbeautifulperfect woman. In spite of this, if they still don’t firmly believe that they deserve equal pay, then they’re really not feminists.

So we should really stop asking every famous vagina-owner about feminism. Especially when they come from an industry created to satisfy the patriarchy through elaborate song-and-dance rituals. If we want an unbridled feminist moment from Bollywood, all we can do is wait for the occasional Queen. Or even a Sunny Leone interview.