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Women On The Verge

Friday, January 18, 2013
Deepa Gahlot

The film Inkaar, releasing this week, is about the very real problem of sexual harassment of women at workplaces. It comes at a time when women’s rights are the focus of attention, following the increasing media attention to rape, violence and other forms of oppression that many women have to face on a day to day basis—inside and outside the home.

It seldom happens that a filmmaker is able to tackle the subject with understanding and sensitivity—they either get moralistic, sensational, militant or plain muddled.

Even today, the film that always comes up when the issue of rape in Hindi films is raised is Insaaf Ka Tarazu, in which two rapes were shot with full titillating effect, so much so that the villain Raj Babbar was turned into a hero; not only that the court scenes were ridiculous, with the female prosecutor (played by Simi Garewal) muffing up in court. All this was to set the tone for the heroine to do a ‘Durga’ and kill the rapist, who repeated the act with the protagonist’s (Zeenat Aman) younger sister (Padmini Kolhapure).

If women are not killing their tormentors, they are being ‘accepted’ with magnanimity by the hero, who is automatically elevated to ‘devta’ status by this act. See Prem Rog and Prem Granth, as prime examples, to name just two.

This term ‘izzat lootna’ is a favourite of Bollywood writers—which women’s activists right say has negative connotations, in that it implies that the woman has lost her honour, when in fact it is the rapist who should be considered dishonoured. From historical examples of glorified suicides by women (‘johar’) to scenes in several Hindi films, in which rape victims commit suicide, and give the hero an reason to go into fighter mode to avenge the attack on the honour of a woman he was meant to protect, the onus of upholding male honour seems to shift on to the woman.

In more recent times, harassment at the workplace has become common, and while in real life, women are fighting battles at many fronts, in movies the woman who goes out of the home to work of pursue a career is not given due respect, like in Madhur Bhandarkar’s Corporate, where she has to be punished for her ambition.
The sexual harassment that goes on in the film industry is given a mild sounding label—casting couch, as if it’s just a rite of passage to fame and fortune. Why is it not surprising that even in Hollywood, the film that brought workplace harassment out of the closet took the reverse view—the woman harassing the man – in Disclosure, made into Hindi as Aitraaz with even more tub-thumping against the ambitious and ruthless woman. Because the ideal woman is supposed to the sweet, submissive home maker and bearer of sons.

If Sudhir Mishra actually puts the issue in the right perspective and gives career women the respect they deserve, Inkaar will make to the short list of pro-woman films.  If not, it will just another film from male-dominated Bollywood.


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