The Idea of Femininity in Cinematic Rites of Passage in Bollywood Cinema

The Idea of Femininity in Cinematic Rites of Passage in Bollywood Cinema

Amrita Satapathy (Indian Institute of Technology, Bhubaneswar, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3511-0.ch007


Most movies pre-2000 focused on feminine stereotypes conceived within the confined ambit of societal constructs. It is only with the millennium that scriptwriters became bolder in their conception of femininity. Directors and women actors have begun experimenting with unconventional feminine roles which are definitively plausible. The portrayals of new-age peripatetic women like Deepika Padukone's single and successful architect Piku Banerjee, living with her septuagenarian father or Paravathy's urbane, sophisticated, English speaking, corporate executive, the widowed Jaya Shashidharan, prove that fixities have given way to flexibilities in portrayal and form. This chapter seeks to undertake a comprehensive study of the idea of femininity in cinematic rites of passage through an in-depth analysis of Shoojit Sircar's Piku (2015) and Tanuja Chandra's Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017), and show how itinerant women protagonists are negotiating identities by challenging alterity.
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The cinematic narrative can serve as the perfect canvas for the recreation of prototypical gendered portrayals. It is more so because, as Geoffrey Nowell-Smith posits, “…cinema also played a major role in shaping the world, or at least what we imagine the world to be” (2017, p.74). For the audience, it becomes a text in a motion picture where the delineation of characters, especially women characters, can be revisited and restructured. As a socially powerful medium, the silver screen can further the cause of women by reclaiming the lost or warped idea of femininity. Unlike parallel cinema which explored the complexity of femininity or womanhood, contemporary Hindi cinema is now seeing a deconstruction in the portrayal of women character too. Both mainstream and alternative movie directors and scriptwriters are experimenting with women-centric roles that are bolder, assertive, and identifiable. Women on screen are as much real as women in reality- or so is the projection.

The conception of a woman character is now built upon the premise of verisimilitude and not the archetypes, as it used to be in the pre-millennial era. Most movies in pre-2000 period focused on feminine stereotypes- victimised (Meenakshi Sheshadri’s Damini in Damini [1993]), passive (Kajol’s Simran in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge [1995]), sacrificing (Urmila Matondkar’s Jahnvi in Judaai [1997]), or scheming and malevolent (Sridevi in Ladlaa[1994]). Gone are the days when women protagonists were either ‘ablaanaari’1 (Juhi Chawla in Darr[1993]), ‘gaaonkigori’2 (Mahima Chaudhury in Pardes [1997]), ‘doosriaurat’3 (Sushmita Sen in Biwi No.1[1999]), ‘tawaaif’4 (Rekha in Muqaddarka Sikandar[1978] or Rati Agnihotri essaying the eponymous role in Tawaif [1985]) or the ubiquitous glamour doll (Bhagyashree in Maine Pyar Kiya [1989]),

Female characters in Indian films comprise only 24.9% of the total, and none of the top ten highest-grossing films in 2014 featured a female lead or co-lead. When women do appear in movies, they are rarely shown in powerful positions. Fewer than 15% of all roles in Indian films depict women as business executives, political figures, or science, technology, engineering, and math professionals. Instead, female characters are commonly presented in gendered occupations such as nurses and teachers, and as wives and mothers.5

Women actors were cast into formulaic moulds conceived within the confined ambit of societal constructs that were restrictive, affording them little or no scope to explore the subtleties of their characters. They marked,

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