Can our 'Action Hero'es and 'Pathaan’s become our feminist icons?
While we’ve typecast films celebrating men as commercially viable and those dealing with ‘female’ issues as small digital releases, isn’t there a way to marry both?
We’ve spent this entire week gushing over the return of our nation’s heartthrob and superstar Shah Rukh Khan in Pathaan. Hotter, cooler and better than before, if that were possible, he has set a billion hearts and the box office on fire! This was commensurate with the riveting An Action Hero dropping on Netflix with our favourite Ayushmann Khurrana, who is always such a delight on screen, in each and every avatar. It was good to see the #BoycottBollywood gang being hushed as the films, in their own way, took on not only the underdog that Hindi cinema is today but also the social media obsession with maligning the industry. Both films are intelligent and on point. Because when a message needs to be delivered, in an engaging and entertaining fashion, is there really a medium better than Bollywood?
Mehemaan nawaazi ke liye #Pathaan aa raha hai, aur pataakhen bhi saath laa raha hai! 💣💥 #PathaanTrailer out now!
Releasing in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu on 25th January 2023.@deepikapadukone | @thejohnabraham | #SiddharthAnand | @yrf pic.twitter.com/npbZ0WFQjx
— Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk) January 10, 2023
In the corridors of the Hindi film industry, there are celebrations everywhere! The film industry is back with a bang and a booster at the start of the year, finally over the many humps––from the pandemic to the smear campaigns to the shaky film releases over the past couple of years. But with it has come a careful trigger warning, where films celebrating men have been typecast as commercially viable and those dealing with ‘female’ issues have been typecast as small digital releases. But is this wise? In a world where intelligent and talented writers exist, isn’t there a way to marry both, to make our Pathaan’s and action heroes feminist icons and turn these stories into blockbusters?
Because away from the limelight crimes against women continued. A dowry death every hour, a rape every 13 minutes, 200 million women still being abused. Over the years, our nation has come together in many ways to unplug the cultural messages that make women repositories of shame in matters of subjugation, harassment and sexual violence. After the amorphous 2015 ‘Pinjra Tod’ campaign, we stood in solidarity once again to praise the Supreme Court for awarding a well-deserved death sentence to the four convicts who brutally raped and murdered 23-year-old Jyoti Singh and when a landmark verdict was given on triple talaq. We stood together to belittle the 12% tax on sanitary napkins when 88% of our 497 million women can’t afford them to begin with and to shame men who objectified us by calling us ‘sugar to ants’. We became a sisterhood.
It also helped that the flag bearers of cultural change, our celebrities and star makers, donned the mantel and proclaimed to be proud feminists. Priyanka Chopra, in her true trailblazer style, showed us what feminism means through her actions, as she went on to rule the world and put all naysayers in the bag where she kept her missing fucks. So did Manushi Chillar, who preened with the Miss World crown while espousing the cause for menstrual hygiene. Spouting the sentiments of our husky Farhan Akhtar, our mega-talented Vidya Balan, and our lovely Mrs Funnybones, everyone wanted to be a feminist. Young girls began to sport ‘I Am A Feminist’ t-shirts whether or not they understood what being a feminist meant. This is how fashion, celebrities and popular culture did what lesser-known feminists and activists could not do: they made feminism palatable to the masses.
But what really broke the camel’s back was social media. It showed us that the voice of protest could not be silenced. Women ignored vicious trolls and slut shaming to go Arnab Goswami on every feminist issue. The buzz around feminism gained more and more traction, snowballing into a unified voice. We free-range vaginas refused to be reduced to pussies. We made global hashtags like #LiveTweetYourPeriod and #EverydaySexism that flipped a big finger to misogyny. We decided not to remain silent in the face of discrimination. We demanded action and answers and retribution. We did not ask girls how they were dressed but how they were making themselves financially independent. We asked parents not to raise their boys as men but as humans. We told women not to feel small when faced with molestation, eve-teasing, domestic violence, dowry harassment, rape, rape threats, unequal wage, glass ceilings, slut shaming, body shaming and fat shaming. We told families to convert from sites of violence to sites of love for women. We told our state machinery to instill strict and draconian disciplinary measures that prevented men from harassing women. We asked for women to be granted basic rights from education to wage equality to the right to live. We called for the participation of all stakeholders: institutional or not, marginalized or not, gendered or not. We deconstructed internalised patriarchy one tweet at a time.
Talking transforms minds that transforms behaviour that transforms society. We got it!
Feminism in movies is needed to defend the social, political, economic and cultural rights of women, especially in rural areas where women face ghastly social inequality and discrimination. How can these numbers alone not sensitize a human being? How can this alone not lead us into making blockbuster films that celebrate women with all their flaws and issues, the way they celebrate men with all their flaws and issues?
For an industry to grow she needs the growth of men, but more importantly its women.
And for those saying that mainstream Bollywood is too sexy for feminism. Sorry buddy, it does not have to be! Ultimately, there is no harm in making feminism sexy. It allows links and intersectionality, encouraging women from all walks to enter its realm. The way it should always be. One blockbuster at a time.
Meghna Pant is a multiple award-winning and bestselling author, screenwriter, columnist and speaker, whose latest novel BOYS DON’T CRY (Penguin Random House) will soon be seen on screen.
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