A few days ago, there was discussion between Alankrita Shrivastav and Meghna Pant, as part Shethepeople.tv, that regularly hosts a series of talks on feminist issues.
There was no small degree of annoyance at the censor trouble her film 'Lipstick Under My Burkha' had suffered, and the difficulties it faced in getting a domestic release after winning awards and accolades at foreign festivals.
Eventually, the question was why are so few Bollywood films with women at the centre and if a handful of such films are made, why don’t they do well? There is the matter of the economics of movie-making, of course, but there is also the fact that most filmmakers think that films like 'Mom' (and 'Maatr' before it) about female vigilantes serve the purpose of ticking the ‘woman’ box. For the audience, now mostly looking for entertainment, the grim mommy flick is not what always works. Films like 'Queen' and 'English Vinglish' succeeded because the leading ladies (Kangana Ranaut and Sridevi) did not whine and moan about their sorry fate, but beat the odds and triumphed. Such films are not just enjoyable, butt are also empowering in a way.
Alankrita was of the opinion that the percentage of films with male and female stars was skewed in favour of the former.
If there were more films with womens stories, audiences would have a variety to choose from; as things are there in very little choice.
A member of the audience was of the opinion that sometimes a positive portrayal of gender balance in a mainstream film can have a stronger impact; for instance a film like 'Parched' does not get full houses but 'Jolly LLB 2' does, in which a star like Akshay Kumar is seen cooking and being a hands-on dad to his son, and that might teach men in the audience that it is not unmanly to do “women’s work”.
Films with female protagonists do not always have to portray them as unhappy, angry, vengeful or perennially on the warpath; there are now enough stories of women achievers that do not have a ‘victim’ backstory, which is not to say that womens problems should not be depicted on screen, but if almost every film about women is about waving a flag, it does become counterproductive, because audiences get put off and continue to patronise mindless commercial films top lining male stars.