Effect of Bollywood on the Status of Indian Women

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Rahil Rajesh Gala
Media Studies
Professor Sylvia Martin
6th April, 2010.

Fight for your rights: The effect of Bollywood on the status of Indian women.

“However much a mother may love her children, it is all but impossible her to provide high-quality child care if she herself is poor and oppressed, illiterate and uninformed, anaemic and unhealthy, has five or six other children, lives in a slum or shanty, has neither clean

water nor safe sanitation, and if she is without the necessary support either from health services, or from her society, or from the father of her childen” wrote V. Ramalingswami in an article of “The Asian Enigma”.

Since the time of medieval India, women in the society have been subject to constant repression by their male counterparts. The age long oppression of women still carries on till date even though legally women have the same rights as men. Domestic violence, unlawful practices like sati and female infanticide, prostitution and dowry deaths still heavily prevail in modern Indian society. In such a world that we live in today, it may be shocking to hear that such practices occur and at a substantial rate. Over the years, specifically right after independence in 1947, the government has tried to curb these particular problems but not in an effective manner. In the past couple decades however, due to the effect of globalization; there has been a keen interest in the subject of women’s rights. Professor Amartya Sen once cleverly said, “When Professor Amartya Sen took up issues of women's welfare, he was accused in India of voicing "foreign concerns." "I was told Indian women don't think like that about equality. But I would like to argue that if they don't think like that they should be given a real opportunity to think like that.” He won the Nobel Prize for his contribution in welfare economics. But a key factor in the increase of such awareness lies primarily in the Bollywood film industry. The film industry is a key component in creating any form of awareness due to the power of its influence on the people. On the same lines, films that show the oppression of women in India have had a significant influence on the people, giving courage to women to speak out against the injustice. Most of the films show how women were just used as a commodity and how they have been ill treated throughout their life time.

The reduced status of women has a lot to do with the Indian past. Old traditions of sati, jauhar, child infanticide, child marriage and ‘purdah’ system became common and it was expected to be practiced by every civilized woman of that era. Another problem that was prevalent in that era was the practice of courtesans. Courtesans were dancers, singers and music players who performed strictly for the king (whether Hindu or Muslim king). They were a more sophisticated form of a prostitute as these women had great talent of the performing arts. Most of these women eventually became the king’s mistresses and they had to accept the king’s decision. The movie ‘Umrao Jaan’ released in 1981 is an exact replica of how women were ill treated during the medieval era. The role of courtesan is played by famous Bollywood actress Rekha, who won an award for this role. They show how the courtesan was first kidnapped from a village and forced into the profession. When she got the chance to leave for her home village (as the British capture the kingdom) they show how her family chooses not to accept her back due to her profession and she is forced to live a lonely life. This movie won many awards not just because of the exotic royal lifestyle displayed and beauty of Rekha but because it sent a message of how women are forced to do things by society, only to be eventually rejected by society.

In the more recent times, since the end of the days of...
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