Monday, March 26, 2012

portrayal of women in sooraj barjatya's movies

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Sooraj Barjatya is a well-known filmmaker who is lauded for his ‘clean, made for the entire family’ films. He is also known for his penchant for the name ‘Prem’, which he bestows upon all his heroes. He has not only directed, but also edited and written the stories and screenplays of his four movies � ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ (18), ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun..!’(14), ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’ (1), and ‘Main Prem ki Diwani Hoon’ (00). All have been produced under his family banner, ‘Rajshri’.

‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ (MPK) is a typical story of rich boy falling in love with poor girl, facing parental opposition, at the end overcoming the opposition and living happily ever after. It stars Salman Khan and Bhagyashree.

‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’ (HAHK) stars Madhuri Dixit, Salman Khan and a galaxy of supporting actors. It is based on an old ‘Rajshri movie � ‘Nadiya Ke Paar’. It is about the relationship between two families that are joined by friendship and marriage. Tragedy strikes in the form of the death of the daughter-in-law, Pooja (Renuka Shahane), after which follows a saga of sacrifice. But everything gets sorted out towards the end and everyone lives happily ever after.

‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’ (HSSH) stars Tabu, Salman Khan, Karisma Kapoor, Sonali Bendre, Saif Ali Khan and Mohnish Behl. It is about a joint family whose head, that is, the father and husband believes that “the family that eats together and plays together, stays together.” This view is challenged by as assorted bunch of vengeful characters, which eventually results in a split in the family. But ultimately the family reunites and everyone lives happily ever after.

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‘Main Prem ki Diwani Hoon’ (MPKDH) stars Kareena Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan and Abhishek Bachchan. It is about a supposedly modern day girl, Sanjana (Kareena Kapoor) who wants to live life on her terms, but more often than not, it is dictated to her by her mother (Himani Shivpuri). She falls in love with a man, who is not up to her mother’s standards (read he is not rich enough). Her mother forces her to accept a proposal from a rich family. But in the end all tensions are resolved and everyone lives happily ever after.

There are many factors that are common to all four of Barjatya’s movies, which are degrading towards women.

There is always a vamp or vamps, who have nothing better to do than plot and plan against the typically ‘happy family’. In MPK, a woman called Seema, along with her uncle (Ajit Vachchani) schemes to take over the rich family’s money, by seducing the son of the family, Prem (Salman Khan). She wears only western clothes that are revealing. According to Prem’s mother (Rima), girls who wears short skirts and pants do not know how to respect elders or how to “look after the house.” Here, a woman herself is shown as being biased against other women who wear untraditional clothes. What has clothes got to do with one’s ability to respect elders? The mother probably sees such a woman as an independent thinker who would challenge her views, ideas and authority, and of course that would never do. Barjatya portrays a typical mother-in-law as wanting a daughter-in-law who would always toe her line and never answer back. That is why Rima’s character prefers the shy and cloyingly sweet Suman (Bhagyashree), who would never cross her.

In HAHK, there is a shrewish woman played by Bindu who is only concerned with beautifying herself and is very mercenary. She is loud, in manner as well as in dress. She propagates dowry and always berates her brother for not getting his nephew, Rajesh, married to a girl of her choice, who would have got loads of jewelry and money as her dowry. The worst thing that a filmmaker could show in his or her movie is a woman propagating dowry, and this is just what Barjatya has done.

In HSSH there are not one but three vamps played by Kalpana Iyer, Kunika, and Jayshree T. they are the best friends of the mother, Mamta (Rima). It is established right at the beginning that they are ‘bad’ women because they stay up till late in the night gambling and get up late in the morning. Other than this they seem to have nothing better to do than instigate people against each other.

They instigate Mamta against her stepson, Vivek (Mohnish Behl), by saying that he will take away the rights of her biological sons (Salman Khan and Saif Ali Khan) in the family held business. It takes just about an hour to convince her that Vivek is most capable of doing something like this. She has brought him up as her own son and has obviously instilled her own values in him, while doing so; but all of a sudden she does a volte-face and kicks Vivek and his wife Sadhna (Tabu) out of the house. Mamta’s husband (Alok Nath) refuses to change his opinion and is shown as being calm and rational in difficult situations.

Here, Barjatya is trying to show that a woman’s mind is very fickle and she can be so overrun by emotions that she cannot even think straight.

In MPKDH, the protagonist, Sanjana’s mother, herself is portrayed as a vamp. She too is very loud, obnoxious and mercenary. She goes all out to literally sell her daughter to a Mr. Richie Rich. Sanjana’s family mistakes Hrithik’s character, Prem Kishen, for his rich boss, Prem Kumar (Abhishek Bachchan). So, the mother first sings Sanjana’s praises in front of Poor Prem. Sanjana does fall in love with him. But when Rich Prem appears, the mother ruthlessly cuts off all ties with Poor Prem, and starts selling her daughter to Rich Prem and his mother (Rima). She also lies to Sanjana about Rich Prem coming to ‘see’ her, and when Sanjana finds out, she calmly tells her to forget about her love and get married to Mr. Money Bags. Even Sanjana’s sister (Tanaz Currim) advises her to do so. Both are so blinded by money that they completely refuse to acknowledge Sanjana’s feelings. If a woman does not understand another woman’s feelings, then who will? Barjatya is just giving more weight to the adage � “a woman is another woman’s greatest enemy.”

Another factor that is very typical of Barjatya’s films is the shy and coy heroine. In all four of his movies, the hero woos, while the heroine shyly succumbs to his overtures. Women have been known to make the first move in a relationship, but in Barjatya’s world such a thing would be scandalous. All the heroines do, is dress up in bright clothes and dance at the innumerable marriage ceremonies to entice the hero, once he shows any interest in her. And all of them wear loads of makeup. Even when the heroine has just woken up, she is completely made up, without a strand of hair out of place. Barjatya, this way, is laying stress on the point that women have to look their best at all times, and it would be inexcusable if she looked a bit raged or frumpy at times.

The heroines in Barjatya’s movies never ever voice their opinions. They always quietly submit to the dictates of their elders (which includes their husbands). According to him, this is giving respect to our elders. But he should realize that our elders do not always know what is best for us.

In HAHK, after Nisha’s (Madhuri Dixit) sister Pooja dies, Nisha is asked to marry Pooja’s husband, Rajesh (Mohnish Behl) so that his infant son could have a mother. Though Nisha is in love with Prem (Salman Khan), she sacrifices her love for him. Barjatya is sending this direct message to women � “you have no right to make any decisions on your own; and if you do, too bad, you will have to listen to your elders, come hell or high water.”

In HSSH, when Mamta throws Vivek and Sadhna out of the house, Sadhna does not even protest. The message here is that it is wrong to question the decisions of your elders, however baseless they might be, and suffer in the process. But why should a woman accept suffering for no fault of her own? Because she has been conditioned to do so over the years and people like Barjatya are only encouraging her to further suffer in silence.

In MPKDH, when Sanjana is forced by her mother to get engaged to Rich Prem, she just sulks and cries, but does not actually tell her mother that she does not want to marry him. She does not even tell Rich Prem or his mother that she is in love with Poor Prem, because she wants her boyfriend’s support to do so, but her weak-minded boyfriend runs away. A modern-day girl, as Sanjana is portrayed to be, should not need anybody’s support to speak her mind. But Barjatya just does not seem to like the idea of an independent thinking woman.

In all the above movies, some outside agent reunites the lovers. In HAHK, it is the pet dog, Tuffy who reunites Nisha and Prem! Nisha gives Tuffy a note and her sister’s necklace to return to Prem, but Tuffy gives them to Rajesh, who gives a long soppy speech and gets them married.

In HSSH, Vivek and Sadhna are reunited with Mamta because of a number of reasons, the most important of which are, her two biological sons turning their backs on her and the birth of Sadhna’s son.

In MPKDH, all Sanjana does is rip Poor Prem’s shirtsleeve to reveal a heart-shaped tattoo with ‘Sanjana’ emblazoned on his arm. Rich Prem then gives another long speech and convinces Sanjana’s mother that Sanjana should marry the one she loves, and the mother capitulates at last.

In all three instances, it is a man who brings together the two lovers together, and a woman or women the cause of their separation. And the only tragedy that could befall a woman is to lose the one she loves. Admitted that it is a tragedy, but Barjatya’s obsessive focus on this kind of tragedy is very sexist. As if there is nothing else for a woman to do except fall in love. What about a failed career move? As far as I can see, that’s quite a big tragedy too.

A fourth conventional factor that Barjatya never tires of portraying is getting a girl married as soon as she is of ‘marriageable age’, which is as soon as she hits 18 years of age. Barjatya’s emphasis on marriage is so much so that, in MPK, the father (Alok Nath) goes to Dubai to earn money to marry off his daughter, Suman. How about showing him going to Dubai to earn money for his daughter’s education? But I guess that is too much to ask from Mr. Barjatya.

In HAHK, Pooja is not even asked if she wants to marry Rajesh or not. Only Rajesh is asked if he wants to marry Pooja. It does not seem to matter what Pooja thinks or feels. Also, Pooja’s father (Anupam Kher) jokingly tells her father-in-law (Alok Nath) that as he is the father of the bride, he will have to bow his head in front of Nath from now onwards. He says it jokingly, but there are so many fathers who actually have to bend and scrape in front of their daughters’ in-laws. It is definitely not wise on Barjatya’s part to propagate, however subtly, this kind of tradition.

Even in HSSH, Sapna’s (Karisma Kapoor) father (Sadashiv Amrapurkar) plays a sycophant who is always flattering Sapna’s would-be parents-in-law, Mamta and her husband. And in MPKDH, after Sanjana graduates from college, all her mother wants for her is to get married. The mother is portrayed as being extremely orthodox who thinks that a woman’s place is in the kitchen of her husband’s home.

In Indian society, people believe that the bride’s family’s status should be below that of the groom’s family. This is something else that Barjatya incorporates in all his films.

In MPK, Prem’s father (Rajiv Verma) runs a big company, while Suman’s father is a lowly car mechanic. In HAHK, again Prem’s uncle is a big shot businessman, while Nisha’s father is a college professor. In HSSH, the father of the three sons is again a successful businessman, while the fathers of three of the brides occupy a lower status � Sadhna’s father is also a businessman, but is not as rich as the groom’s family, Preeti’s (Sonali Bendre) father’s job is unclear and Sapna’s father looks after the groom’s family’s ancestral home in some vague Rajasthani village. In MPKDH, Rich Prem owns a business empire and Poor Prem is the sales manager of one of its branches, while Sanjana’s father owns, in his own words, “a small publishing house.”

Barjatya portrays his heroines as being empty-headed chatterboxes. Prem in HAHK sums it up when he tells Nisha that he is a “fan” of her singing, dancing and cooking. Even in MPKDH, Sanjana’s mother goes on and on about how well she sings, dances, paints and gardens, like that’s all that women are capable of doing. What about how good a conversationalist she is, or how witty she is? In this way Barjatya relegates women to only these artistic, but superficial areas, no praises are showered on their intellect.

In all four of his movies, the women characters have no careers of their own. Their only job is to slave in the kitchen and produce babies and those too only sons. Even if they are proficient at singing, dancing or painting, they are never shown taking them up at a professional level. The only career Barjatya seems to think fit for a woman is that of a doctor’s, which is impressive in a Barjatya movie. But the only two woman characters in his movies that are doctors (Himani Shivpuri in HAHK and Preeti in HSSH), are gynecologists, probably so that they would never come into direct contact with a strange man.

As a result, these women just do not seem to have an identity of their own � they are seen as just someone’s mother, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law or sister-in-law. They are known only by their relation to the men in their life.

Another very damaging statement that Barjatya makes is that the children always address their mother as “tum”, the Hindi diminutive for “you”, while the father is addressed as “aap” which carries much more respect. If children do not learn to respect their own mothers, how can they be expected to respect other women?

Barjatya takes a break of four-five years between making movies in which time he works on his story and script. One would think that he would come up with something extraordinary at the end of five years, but all we get to see is another recycled movie from the Rajshri storehouse. The manner in which women are portrayed in his movies is highly irresponsible. He puts a lot of pressure on women to look their best all the time because of his portrayal of women as just pretty dolls.

Barjatya is looked upon as a great filmmaker and has a strong fan following who devour his movies. All his movies have had big budgets, with the exception of MPK, and all four have become big hits at the box-office, grossing much more than what was spent on them. His latest MPKDH had a budget of Rs. 15 crores and according to the latest statement, it has grossed Rs. 0 crores.

What Barjatya portrays in his movies is what actually takes place in our Indian society, but if a filmmaker of his caliber and reach would only make an effort to portray women in a much more gender sensitive manner, it is possible that some ultra conservative family in some corner of India would at least think of possibly letting their daughters study and stand on their own two feet, instead of thinking of them as a burden that is to be got rid off as soon as possible by marrying them off to some strange family. But instead, he just portrays women as meek, passive dolls that cannot and should not think for themselves and who should not even think of taking care of themselves, and who should only slave for their family till the day they die.

Women are always expected to sacrifice their happiness for others’ happiness. Does not a woman deserve to be happy? Women have been so conditioned over generations that they actually feel guilty for being happy. There are so many negative factors that surround women and do everything to put them down and people like Sooraj Barjatya have no business adding to them. The media is a powerful tool of communication and should be used to create more positive role models for women.

Mr. Barjatya has a social responsibility to his audience which he is definitely not going to fulfill by churning out his so called ‘family entertainers’, that are extremely gender insensitive towards women. All his movies have a positive ending, with everyone living happily ever after, including the women characters, but it does not take away from the damage that he has already wrought on the mostly conservative and also not so conservative minds of his audience.

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