That Indian cinema, especially Bollywood, is patriarchal and misogynist is an old hat. The narrative throughout its history has been that women are ancillary to the male characters. They are either ‘love interests’ or their roles are confined to being mere glam dolls. Often, the heroine’s only desire in the film is to wed the protagonist. They are devoid of any ambition and are portrayed as subservient to males. But it’s no surprise, considering art imitates society. Stereotyping, generalising, and objectifying have become so common that a strong woman-centric film is an aberration rather than the norm.
While the Indian society, in general, is becoming more “woke” now gradually, Bollywood is still taking baby steps in this direction. Women-centric films like Queen, Pink, Thappad, etc. are appearing in mainstream commercial cinema now, but even in these films patriarchy rules.
The advent of OTT platforms though has been a revelation. Web series and short indie movies are moving towards more modern and progressive content where women are shown as strong and independent individuals with a mind of their own. Actors too are becoming more vocal and vociferous about women’s rights. Female actors are standing up and raising their voices against male chauvinism and patriarchy in the film industry.
Radhika Apte, a 35-year-old outspoken actress from Pune, is one such vocal artist. Since her Bollywood debut in 2005, she is perceived as someone who is headstrong, has an independent streak, and considers herself a true feminist whose only agenda is equality in all respects. She’s worked in Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Marathi film industries. It’s hard to categorize her as she’s done mainstream as well as indie flicks. Her choice of characters always portray strong women who are confident in their skin, rejoice in their sexuality, and want society to give them their equal place. Be it Lust stories, Hunter or Parched, her characters resonate with Apte’s definition of feminism, which is equally devoid of any condescending or chivalrous attitude.
Not one to mince words, she had kicked up a storm in March 2015, when in an interview with CNN IBN she had called the Telugu film industry patriarchal and male chauvinistic, and expressed a desire to never work with them again.
For obvious reasons, in a patriarchal society like ours, an attitude like that ruffles feathers, and does not go down well with many chauvinists. As a result, she has been trolled immensely, called names, and even denigrated for her choice of roles. But she chooses to ignore the barbs and carry on regardless. May her tribe increase!
(Edited by Anju Narayanan)