The early films in Hindi cinema dealt with mythological stories that were based on the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, family melodramas describing domestic and social obstacles of Indian society, and costume dramas that included historical themes concerning stories about the saints and princes. The first Indian talkie film ‘Alam Ara’ was produced in 1931 by Adershir Irani. The film was based on “costume drama full of fantasy and with many melodious songs to intensify the audience’s emotions.” In other words, Irani conveyed the social issues of Indian society through harmonious which were usually spread and performed via folklore and stage performances. The film went on to be a successful as it attracted much more audience to see the film than stage play and performances. This film set the stage for other directors to follow the pattern to produce films with songs and to emphasize on themes such as mythological, melodramas, action, political and historical subjects from there on with the addition of music.Order now
However, most of the earlier films contained narrations which required male actors to have the lead roles and females were given subordinated or domestic domain roles. Therefore, ever since women in Hindi cinema has been structured to play private sphere roles things that includes taking responsibility of their families, nurturing the children, standing for their familial and social rights, and advocating their neighbours and members of the communities which reflect the norms of Indian tradition goddess however in later films in 1970s and onward women were portrayed as sexual object. Therefore in Hindi cinema, the female actors have always been playing these neglected and marginal fixed classic and stereotypical roles such as being all sacrificing mothers, innocent sisters, faithful family retainers, and grandmas, and the courtesan. This paper examines the representation of women in Hindi cinema since “the Golden Age” and onward until 1980s. It discusses in detailed information regarding stereotypical and archetypical roles, characteristics, and performances of the mothers and the courtesan.
THE PORTRAYAL OF INDIAN WOMEN IN FILMS
The images of women in Hindi cinema have always been confined according to the norms of Indian traditions, beliefs, and customs. In 1950s a period known as the Golden Age of Indian of Hindi cinema , according to Gokulsing and Dissanayake, women played predominantly the roles of daughter (Beti) wife (patni), mother (ma) and (Tawaif) the other woman. The authors of “Cinema and Society in India” Gokulsing and Dissanayake state, that the Females were often represented to be the property of their parents while she is single. They were characterized to be loyal towards their husband and in laws as well as they were depicted as someone that has the lone responsibility to nurture the children and provide the basic needs in absence of male companion. In other words, Gokulsing et al stresses that women were always confined to the domestic domain and were described as naive, submissive, passive, and dependent that could not resist the “double burden” were placed on them. Therefore, women were represented in ways that give them no form of freedom, justice, or equality compare to men, but rather women are put in a position to look upon men as the head of family, society and nation. Gokulsing and Dissanayake state, these norms relating to the status of women in Indian society dates back to the ancient period as it is stated in one verse of Ramayana text “a wife’s god is her husband, he is her friend, her teacher and her life is less of consequences than her husband’s happiness”. Thus, such norms regarding women are expressed through range of roles in Hindi cinema that restricted women to perform only the roles of mothers, daughters, grandmas and the courtesan.
The mother archetypes in Hindi films compare to the father traditionally portrayed as someone that suffers the most economically, politically, and socially. The mother besides suffering the most, also described as a parent that has powerful image who will overcome obstacles, care, stand and fight for her family and country. Therefore, Indu Ramachandani stated, the mother in Hindi films, is characterized as self sacrificing, loving, forgiving, pious, and caring parent. The mother endures hardships and poverty from the hands of men that controls social orders and undermines the importance of women contribution to the society. Yet, the mother holds invisible “shakti” of the power, resilience, and determination of mythological goddess to fight back any circumstances she faces.
These archetype and stereotype as Ramachandani has mentioned regarding women are predominantly evident in Hindi film which is often described through music. For instance, we can observe, in Mother India, Radha (Nargis) is typecast as parent that struggles with poverty, has conflicts with money lender, and goes through hardships with her farm, as result of nature. She is portrayed as a mother who has the power and spirit of goddess that stands and supports her family despite her husband abandons her, rather than giving up on her life. Radha described as a mother that takes the “pillar of justice” in her own hands to protect her community not just family. This is apparent when Radha kills her beloved son for abducting the village girl. Therefore, these scenarios or archetypes represents the ideal mothers of Indian society that are always righteous, dutiful, passionate, self sacrificing, protective and seek equality and justifications for their families and country to overcome and confront the obstacles, and poverty no matter in what situation they are in.
In addition, “Duniya Mein Hum Aaye Hain” is one of the songs of Mother India in which Nargis is shown harvesting with her two children in the field which signifies the ideology of Indian society that despite a mother goes through struggles, hardships, and conflicts she will be there for her family. However, in late 1970s to 1990s some of attributes associated with the mother characteristics are marginalized. This is evident in the film Ram Lakhan, in which Sharda (Raakhee) husband is murdered by his cousins, but is unable to get avenge from individuals that killed her husband. Instead, she waits till her children grow and punish their father murderer. The point is that in both films the mothers have the will to nurture their children as a single parent without the state support or husband presence. However, the two mothers have different approaches towards their familial problems and social order and that entails how Indian society has changed dramatically over the years.
The other form of female character opposite of the decent mother in mainstream Hindi cinema is the courtesan (tawaif) whom performs in brothels. James Davidson defines brothels as “social phenomenon whereby women engage in relatively exclusive exchanges of artistic graces, elevate conversation, and sexual favours with male patrons”. In other words, the brothel (Mehfil) is the place of leisure where individuals from high class gathers to entertain, have conversations with other patrons, and observe the recitation of the poetry, dancing, and singing of the tawaif. In India, the history of courtesan dates back to the period of Mughol Empire when brothels were place of the amusement for the nawabs or affluent individuals. As, James Davidson stated, “courtesans are seen to operate at elite levels where leisure and pleasure have been cultivated to the men of high class”. Davidson suggests, the courtesans were very professional in dancing, singing, and reciting poetry in the brothels (Mehfil). It was a customary or traditional place for individual’s from the high class to assemble and have fun or when loneliness felt. In addition, Gokulsing and Dissanayake noted, in such places the courtesan provided the individuals with comfort, care, physical and emotional happiness, whenever the individual was going through miseries or loneliness.
The presence of the courtesan in Hindi cinema has been throughout in films such as Devdas, Pahkeeza, and Umrao jaan. The courtesan in these films are all exemplified as “nurturing and sacrificing, beautiful and gentle, and prostitutes with golden hearts who help and nourish the hero” but are characterized compare to ideal women of Indian society as a sexual object. In essence, the tawaif is shaped as sexual object that is admired for her sexuality, sensuality, appearance, and abused and condemned for her adulterous activities. The courtesans are known for their sexual and sensual dances and flirtatious behaviours. This is evident in the “Dil Cheez Kya Hai” (What’s this heart) song of Umrao Jaan film. The slow and classical dance of Rekha, the way she was sitting on the floor and making different gestures with her hands, showing her cleavage little bit was very a sensual, erotic and seductive moment. It is apparent from her movement she was seducing and teasing the audience. Therefore, the tawaifs are praised for such activities, however when it comes to integrate them with general public they are being completely disregarded by the society. For instance, Rekha who plays the role of the courtesan in Umrao Jaan in brothel she meets Nawab Sultan (Farooq Shaikh). The two falls in love with each other and vows to marry, but everything changes when Nawab Sultan mother marries Sultan to a girl of her choice which leaves Rekha heartbroken and devastated and Nawab Sultan is unable to do anything about that since he knows a tawaif will not be accepted by his family. This entails that the courtesan no matter how loving and caring they be towards their clients or fall in love with them ultimately she will be regarded as prostitute in Indian society.
The Hindi cinema has always represented women inferior comparative to men. However, being subordinated to men in Indian society not all women have been treated with same justice and equality. For instance, in films mothers always labelled in ways that reflects the norms and practices of Indian goddess. They are idealized to be caring, self sacrificing, and nurturing and often suffer from poverty, hardships or other dilemmas of the family or social aspect. In contrast, the courtesan who also is holds archetypes of loving, caring, affectionate, and nurturing towards adults. They are portrayed as a bad woman and are excluded being part of general population to have the same respect, values, rights, and freedom as an ideal mother of Indian society does.
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