Depiction Of Women & Female Sexuality In the Post-Independence Era

5 min read

Rhea Rastogi
As an aspiring filmmaker, I am a girl who is all for art and creativity. Cinema, storytelling, music, travel, and curious about human behavior.

Sex and sexuality have always been a taboo in all societies. Open discussions on sexuality, proper sex education and awareness are still not a part of many cultures and societies across the world. A major part of this taboo is female sexuality. Female sexuality, as compared to male sexuality, has as a topic remained more untouched. Owing to various religious and social cultures, and histories, female sexuality and its representation has always been something that needs to be kept under the carpet. 

C:\Users\hp\Downloads\08DFR_MOTHER_INDIA01-min.jpg

In India as well the talk on female sexuality and its representation in our culture and media has been minimal. Explicitly talking about female sexuality is considered indecent and uncultured, and is often a stigma In Hindi cinema, female sexuality, in particular, is not very openly discussed or shown, but subtle hints, storylines revolving around female sexuality, indirect references, and few sensual sequences are the ways adopted to talk about female sexuality. Although there has been some representation of female sexuality in Hindi cinema, it has been of a certain kind and has a particular kind of consequence to it, which we will discuss through the film Andaz (1949) directed by Mehboob, starring Nargis, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor.

Film Example: Andaz (1949)

Andaz is the story of a young girl, Neena (Nargis), who is engaged to a vivacious man, Rajan (Raj Kapoor) and in a series of events becomes friends with a charming man, Dilip (Dilip Kumar), who falls in love with her. The film then moves forward showing us how Dilip misunderstands Neena’s friendship for love, confesses his love to her which she rejects and how her closeness to Dilip sows the seed of jealousy in Neena’s later husband, Rajan, resulting in the destruction of all three of their lives.  

Andaz (1949 film) - Wikipedia

The plot of the film revolves around Neena’s relation with the two men, Dilip and Rajan. Where on one hand Neena’s relation with Dilip was of friendship, as pure and innocent as a child’s friendship; on the other hand, her relation with Rajan was that of true romantic love. Conflict arises when Neena’s friendly love and care for Dilip is misunderstood by him as romantic love. This idea brings about a serious question to us – can a woman’s love of a friendly nature to an unrelated man only be considered as a sexual, romantic love? Throughout the film, Neena never shows any sign of sexual, romantic involvement in Dilip, yet she is misunderstood. On the other hand, Rajan, the one she loves truly and wholly, does not trust her and she has to prove her innocence to him again and again. She is forced to choose between friendship and love, out of which she chooses love.

Concept of ‘Pati-Parmeshwar’

The concept of ‘Pati-Parmeshwar’ i.e. ‘husband is God’, a part of the Indian culture which is given different names in different religions (eg: ‘Mizaji Khuda’ in Muslim cultures), has been reinforced throughout the film through the relation of Neena and Rajan. When Dilip confesses his love to Neena, Neena responds by saying that her only love and God is her husband, Rajan. In another sequence where Neena has just given birth, Rajan asks Neena if he is her God, to which she agrees. This idea that the husband is God is maintained throughout the film, and is even used as a taunt to Rajan when Neena says that even after being God, would he not forgive her, when he believes that she loves Dilip. In the end, from inside the jail Neena touches Rajan’s feet and says that he will always remain her God. 

C:\Users\hp\Downloads\hqdefault (1)-min.jpg

This is interesting to look at because if we see carefully it was Rajan’s doubts that led to such destructive events. Neena had already rejected Dilip’s love and Dilip had also understood that Neena only loves Rajan, but it was Rajan’s constant doubts and taunts that led to him hitting Dilip, Dilip losing his sanity resulting in his attack on Neena and in the end, Neena killing him.

Why was it important to end the film in the way it did?

The ending of the film has a once chirpy, beautiful Neena, in a grief-stricken numb state in the court facing a trial for Dilip’s murder where Rajan accuses her of being in love with Dilip. Later, when Rajan finds a letter written by Dilip where he has written the entire truth and realises that Neena always only loved him (Rajan), he goes to the jail with his daughter to meet Neena. There, Neena looks at him and says that it was all her fault to be so open and free-spirited. She says that this free-spirited nature and openness is Western culture and does not suit an Indian woman. She asks Rajan to cultivate Indian values in their daughter, as she’ll only blossom with Indian values and not the Western values. 

E:\Project Works\Internship\The Voice of Woman\images.jpg

This ending was important to show that when an Indian girl adopts Western mannerisms, it only leads to destruction. Neena had to be punished for being free-spirited and open, not listening to her father warnings and not valuing the social norms and constructs. It was almost as if everything had happened because of Neena’s friendly nature with Dilip, that if Neena would have restricted herself from being friends with a young man, then her life would have not been doomed. Such an ending was also important to show that a woman is herself responsible for her image in the society, and that her actions determine her fate. 

Relation of British Colonisation and Independence of India to the film

The ending of Andaz is influenced by the time period in which it had released. The film was released in 1949, just two years after Independence. During that time, people were trying to build an identity for a newly made India, which was distinct from that of the West. During that time, the Indian cultures, values, religious, social and political constructs became extremely important. There was a need to influence people with Indian cultures and social construct in order to eradicate the Western cultures and norms that had prevailed in India for almost two centuries. This was also done through cinema, due to its mass consumption. Therefore, a lot of films released in the Independence era show what Indian culture is and how Western culture is harmful and destructive for Indians. This was often done by showing a person with Indian values flourishing and a person with Western values miserable and ruined. 

How representation of women in Hindi cinema during the Independence era of India persisted?

The representation of women Post-Independence had been to reinforce the Indian culture and values in the society. A nice girl was shown as someone who had Indian values and cultures, whereas a woman influenced by the West was shown as either funny, as someone who had a miserable end or as a vamp. This practice is continued even now. A girl with Indian values is shown as someone who is submissive, docile, domestic, not sexually explicit or aggressive and values social constructs and norms. Whereas on the other hand, a girl influenced by the West is shown as someone who is open, dominant, loose, ambitious, sexually expressive and someone who ends up in a miserable state. 

C:\Users\hp\Downloads\50368491-min.jpg

For example, in the film Aitraaz (2004) a girl, Sonia, gets attracted to Raj and demands a sexual relation from him, which he denies. In anger, Sonia accuses Raj of rape attempt – a case which is in the end fought by Raj’s wife, Priya, leading to their win. Something to notice here is that Sonia is shown as an ambitious, sexually expressive girl who is practical and dominant whereas Priya is shown as a devoted wife who is domestic and not sexually expressive in nature. The contrast is that of the West and of the Indian culture. As a result of being influenced by the West, Sonia is shown as the negative character in the film and has a miserable end; whereas Priya is shown in the positive and righteous light that goes on to live her life with her husband happily. 

Many such examples of how the representation of women is heavily held responsible for reinforcing Indian values and cultures in the society still persist in Hindi Cinema. However, there has been a change in this by films like Parched, Lipstick under My Burkha and Veere di Wedding. But an absolute change in this ideology is still a dream far from coming true, till the time the mentality of the society and the burden of the past that it carries changes.