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Needed, more space for women's sexual identity on marquees

With debutant Indian director Homi Adajania's English film "Being Cyrus" coming up, the number of films// in recent times depicting older women in roles that explore their sexual side has shot up once more.

The made-in-Mumbai film features Dimple Kapadia as Katy, a Parsi woman, who is attracted towards Cyrus, essayed by Saif Ali Khan. The film also stars Naseeruddin Shah and Boman Irani.

With the exception of a handful of movies like "Freaky Chakra", "Leela", "Dil Chahta Hai", "Doosra Aadmi", "Ek Nai Paheli", "Saaz", "Maya Memsaab", "Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi", "Ek Chhotisi Love Story" and "Bada Din" (and some usual student-infatuated-with-teacher sequences), the older woman is expected to harbor only motherly feelings towards younger men and if a younger man falls for an older woman it is seen as an idiosyncrasy.

Indian filmmakers find it difficult to think beyond the obvious when it comes to relationships. As Shabana Azmi pointed out in an interview, a mother is not allowed to have a sexual identity in Hindi films.

In small instances where the older woman does find love in the arms of a younger man, she is eventually punished. Even in films that do deal with a romance like this, it rarely sees a happy ending for both.

Both mainstream and niche filmmakers in India have been utterly judgmental towards older women. Even in recent films like "Dil Chahta Hai", "Ek Chhotisi Love Story", "Leela" and "Freaky Chakra", the women were stereotyped as singletons, with dysfunctional lives and crotchety temperaments.

Take V.K. Prakash's "Freaky Chakra" for instance. Deepti Naval is a cantankerous widow who enjoys sexually explicit phone calls from a neighbor and transforms into a cheerful coquette when she gets a teenager boy as a paying guest.

In "Dil Chahta Hai" Akshaye Khanna's confession of love for the alcoholic divorcee Dimple is viewed as a relationship that promises sex without commitment by his fr iend (Aamir Khan).

Dimple dies of cirrhosis of the liver and it is suggested that Akshaye falls for a suitable young woman, seen at the end of the film.

In "Ek Chhotisi Love Story", career-oriented single-woman Manisha Koirala is depicted as a corrupter of innocence and condemned to a lonely life of remorse for seducing a young boy.

In "Leela" again, the woman (Dimple Kapadia) is a visiting professor in the US who sleeps with her Indian student (Amol Mhatre) in a moment of rage against her philanderer husband. The experience changes Leela's life and she embarks on a much-belated journey of self-discovery, minus husband or young suitor.

"Almost all these films portray the older woman as a pitiable creature whose life is enhanced by a man's presence. It must be unthinkable for the Hindi filmmaker to think of a female character who is happy and fulfilled without conventional notions of 'love' and 'marriage'," says film critic Deepa Gehlot.

The stereotyping by recent filmmakers is not much different from films in the past like "Maya Memsaab", which had the insatiable Deepa Sahi in an affair with a young man (Shah Rukh Khan), "Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi" with Rekha as a female don pathetically lusting after her younger sister's boyfriend (Akshay Kumar), "Doosra Aadmi" had Raakhee getting attracted to a younger Rishi Kapoor because he resembles her dead lover and "Saaz" had the atypical idea of a mother (Shabana Azmi) and daughter (Ayesha Dharker) falling in love with the same man (Zakir Hussain), who loves the older woman but the relationship has to be ended.

The only film with a so-called 'odd' pairing to end happily was Shabana Azmi's "Bada Din", in which she is an ill-tempered Catholic landlady who falls for hunky Marc Robinson.

Says Deepa: "For filmmakers what is not acceptable in the Indian social milieu is taboo. But Indian society has changed. Women are living on their own terms, but filmmake rs see them as sad and contemptible. Movies in the West no longer see 'singleton' career women as objects of ridicule. It is time for our filmmakers to catch on to this one." Anyone listening?

It would be interesting to see how "Being Cyrus" depicts the goings-on between Saif and Dimple.

"Being Cyrus", a Mumbai film in English, is no longer an oddity. The film, however, marks a new phase in this fledgling genre. Hitherto, made-in-India English and Hinglish films have dealt with cross cultures, arranged marriage and love as they explore the never ending struggle to reconcile eastern traditions with western influences.

Debutant director Homi Adajania has cast Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Saif Ali Khan and Boman Irani in a film unlike any in the genre. The film has all the trappings to make India's English films as distinct as Indian literature in English.

Indeed, what began as a trickle with Dev Benegal's Indo-Anglian "English August" in 1994 and turned into a stream with Kaizad Gustad's "Bombay Boys" (1998) and Nagesh Kukunoor's "Hyderabad Blues" (1998), has now emerged as a new genre of home grown English movies in the Indian cinema.

The favorable box-office collections have led corporate houses to put their money and faith in the new crop of independent filmmakers.

There is, however, no love lost between the forbearer of the new uprising and the upholders of the old bastions. Many critics waste no time in labeling them as few wannabe independent filmmakers who could not make it in Hollywood.

Within the ranks, Dev Benegal feels that "somehow 'English, August,' which I had intended as a satire, gave a few rich kids the license to make poor, self-conscious, look-at-me-I'm-so-smart comedies. None of their movies has any contact with reality."

For these filmmakers, making a film for a multiplex crowd is about arranging for some finance, putting together a cast of chic ones, scri pt the dialogues in English and voila - the film is ready!

However, these quick fix movies are doing disfavor to the cause of made-in-India-English films and further reinforcing the stereotype that a good English film by an Indian can only be an arty affair and not fit for wider viewing.

The reasonably good box-office performance of critically acclaimed Aparna Sen's "15 Park Avenue" and Rajat Kapoor's take on wife-swapping in "Mixed Doubles" has revived the genre after a string of low-budget so-called Hinglish flicks like "Let's Enjoy", "Oops!", "Mango Souffle", "Freaky Chakra", "Split Wide Open", "Leela" and "Boom" that masqueraded as 'cool flicks' but were empty of content had led to some disillusion.

Here is hoping for an encore of the commercial success of Sujoy Ghosh's "Jhankar Beats" or the sophistication of Aparna Sen's "Mr. and Mrs. Iyer", "36 Chowringhee Lane", and Nagesh Kukunoor's "Three Walls".

Higher international acceptability is also one of the reasons more and more filmmakers are going for English. English being the language of the world could make it easy to propel Indian films on the foreign frontage. So things are quite upbeat on this front!
Source: IANS


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