What are some stereotypes in Bollywood battles

Gender stereotypes in Bollywood
Time for change

Reckless guys, gentle beauties, languishing looks - in Indian films the gender roles are usually clearly assigned. But fewer and fewer Indian women are willing to accept such clichés.

From Martin Jahrfeld

When you think of India, you think of Bollywood. No branch of the country's economy is as strongly associated with the subcontinent as the Mumbai-based film industry, which produces several hundred Hindi films a year for domestic and foreign fans. The commercial success of the industry is impressive: Bollywood sells around 3.6 billion tickets per year at the cinema counter, around one billion more than the US competition in Hollywood.

But regardless of the added value - the enormous influence of the Indian film industry on the culture and society of the country is controversial in many ways. For example skin color: the heroes and heroines of most productions are light-skinned, while Indians with dark skin are more likely to be stigmatized in many films or do not even appear in the first place. Most of the films also carefully ignore the country's numerous social problems. As a rule, stories are told by people from the middle and upper classes and from urban milieus. In contrast, the fate of the poor and the rural population, who make up the vast majority of the country, attract little interest.

Stereotypes and clichés

Those interested in Bollywood could learn something about another form of distortion of reality during the Justice Week of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Berlin. The two Indian social scientists Nishta Madaan and Zarah Udwadia documented that Bollywood is also dominated by stereotypes and clichés on the level of gender roles. This already begins with the professions exercised by the film characters, as Nishta Madaan from the IBM Research Institute in New Delhi explained on the basis of an examination of several hundred Bollywood films. While women mostly take on roles as housewives, secretaries and, above all, teachers, men act more as lawyers, professional athletes or top managers.

“The higher-ranking positions are reserved for men, women work in subordinate occupational groups,” summarizes Madaan. The character attributions are often no less clichéd. Male role characters are endowed with characteristics such as self-confidence, aggressiveness or wealth, while women usually appear beautiful, tolerant and tolerant. Such clichés often have a formative influence on the gender behavior of young Indian women, for example when initiating love relationships. While men are allowed to persevere to the point of intrusiveness in their advertising, young women have to passively resist - a convention that further consolidates the already existing inequality of the sexes and is also abused in everyday Indian life to legitimize violence against women.

More differentiated role models?

Bollywood productions that consciously break through such gender clichés and try to replace them with more differentiated role models have been the exception so far. According to Zarah Udwaia, it is just twelve percent of all films in which the main role is occupied by an active woman fighting for self-determination. Productions that question common stereotypes nevertheless cause a sensation in India and often also benevolent reviews: For example in the case of “Masaan”, a film in which the sexual relationship of a young couple is threatened by denunciation and police persecution. “Lipstick under my Burkha”, a film that portrays the sexual expectations and disappointments of four women of different age groups and backgrounds, also met with enthusiastic approval at numerous festivals.

In the context of conventional Bollywood productions, in which the relationship between the sexes is mostly romanticized, sexuality - especially in its female form - remains a delicate area, burdened with multiple taboos. This is ensured not least by India's powerful film supervisory authority, which examines all productions with regard to religious and moral harmlessness and, in case of doubt, rigorously censors them. “Lipstick under my Burkha” was also subject to the official charge of adopting a “too women-centered point of view”. Before the film was released, some scenes had to be cut out.

The fact that the country's film industry is able to arouse passions and emotions at any time was also demonstrated last year in the controversies surrounding the film “Padmavati”: The historical epic about an Indian ruler and a Muslim conqueror provoked the anger of conservative forces who falsified the plot of historical facts. Cinemas that wanted to include the film in their programs were threatened with arson, and one of the critics even stated that they wanted to cut off the leading actress' nose.

The change has started

In the fight against the dominance of Indian patriarchy and the resulting Bollywood clichés, social scientists like Nishta Madaan and Zarah Udwadia rely on perseverance and dialogue: “Changing male views and mindsets in the Indian film industry is not easy. But the change has started. The rethinking process is already noticeable in some areas, ”emphasizes Udwadia. With their work, the two Indian women want to help accelerate this change as much as possible. So they want to enter into dialogue with scriptwriters and convince them to give up gender clichés and give self-confident women greater roles in their scripts. But even in the country's powerful bureaucracy, the time seems to be gradually ripe for change: the conservative head of the film supervisory authority has now been replaced and his successor is considered liberal.