In a recent article in India Today, Vinayak Chakravorty argues that a new trend in Bollywood is the featuring of female actresses as journalists–a departure from the old days, when the typical journalist-on-screen set-up was a dramatic, male-dominated hero-vs-villain tale. Today, he points out through a series of examples, the on-screen journalist is most often a woman. Directors interviewed for the piece argue that it’s because the movies are inspired by the real women on journalistic frontlines. They reflect reality. What goes unsaid, however, is that until now, most of these portrayals of women have been fairly fluffy. Chakravorty writes:
What goes unsaid is the idea adds to the glam quotient. While the hero is busy saving the world, he needs an emotional prop. Plus, an account of drama seen through the female eye can be more analytical.
If the war correspondent in Madras Cafe managed to be in sync with the brutal reality the film exposed, she was still playing second fiddle to the hero, as is the case with most such depictions.
The article does point out that this stereotype is slowly beginning to change, or at least, directors are willing to be cognizant of it, and be careful to craft intelligent portrayals of the female journalist, attempting to give them strong roles above and beyond the typical female love interest for an on-screen hero.
In a post on Brown Girl, the South Asian American magazine for young women, Antara Mason appreciates this transformation:
This more realistic view of girls in the workforce is fantastic. In a post-Delhi Rape Case India, this change could not come sooner. We need to see more strong women on screen, not to mention more respect for journalism on screen. Apart from that, the more women are seen being taken professionally and seriously on screen, the more respect they will earn in the real world because of the effect media has on society.
FJP: Here’s a thought. I haven’t seen enough Bollywood journalista films to know how this evolving portrayal of women journalists actually plays out, but simply presenting women in strong and independent leading roles seems like a solution that is driven by the same impulse that created the glam-doll phenomenon in the first place. In my mind, female-journalist-as-heroine is in danger of being just as one-dimensional as female-journalist-as-love-interest, especially if the parameters of heroism are of typical Bollywood-style: dramatic, and based on a very simple definition of power: victory.
If, however, the strength of female journalists is portrayed in a nuanced manner, one that takes into account the realities of being a female journalist in India’s rapidly evolving professional universe, movies can have an incredibly powerful impact. Here’s an example: some weeks ago, the Times published this piece on the evolution of journalism in India and the precarious situations women journalists find themselves in on account of being women in male-centric society. It’s a fear of harassment that is valid, that media organizations need to acknowledge, and women ought to speak about without shame, argues, Ashima Narain, photo editor of National Geographic Traveler. It sounds like Bollywood has a chance to cast light on such realities: the fear, and the courage to speak about it and overcome it, which in turn could re-cast heroism as something more powerful and more nuanced than good-guy (or girl) beating bad-guy.–Jihii
In the first week of November, during a mid-career training course for officers of the rank of joint secretary, a guest lecturer at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, the premier training institution for India’s bureaucrats, was shocked to note the one point of unanimity among the 25 attending officers. All of them said they were unwilling to take any decisions on file because of the fear of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005. Says the lecturer who did not wish to be identified, “It seems like the bureaucracy has gone on strike against Right to Information.”