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October 31, 2001

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Reel woman, Real Woman

Deepshikha Ghosh

Snivelling daughter-in-law?
Coy girl-next-door?
Caustic mother-in-law?
Or snazzy disco diva?
Will the real Indian woman please stand up?

How far removed is the portrayal of women in celluloid and electronic media from reality?

Panellists at a discussion on 'The Reel Woman and the Real Woman' organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) held in Delhi on October 30 regretted that the real-life woman did not qualify as a marketable commodity in the entertainment business.

"The culprit is Indian mythology," says noted actress-director Neena Gupta. "If we have to change the perception and status of women in India, we have to change mythology... which is a very difficult task."

Gupta, known for tackling bold women-oriented themes with her television serials, lamented that no channel producer was willing to accept a powerful female protagonist, as it would not sell.

"To pander to the audience requirements, I had to settle for a very regressive woman-oriented subject, hoping to get my message in somehow," the actress explains.

Filmmaker Jagmohan Mundhra, whose thought provoking film about a rape victim in Rajasthan, Bavandar, is scheduled for release, pointed out that the virtual could not exist without the real.

"But when they get translated into the virtual, these forms take on their own life, and become larger-than-life," Mundhra comments.

Which brought the panel to ask the question: Was the media a mirror of the contemporary woman or was the media actually moulding women to suit its needs?

A majority agreed that it was the latter. Theatre personality Faizal Alkazi cites how current films made a travesty of women's issues by adding song-and-dance routines and over the top anti-male dialogues. "It is evident from the way the audience react to such movies that the mindset remains very male, very chauvinistic and extremely patriarchal," Alkazi remarks.

Gupta concurred, relating her own experiences at selling a concept to channels. "No channel wants a strong woman. They want weak, snivelling women. And the society seems to be regressing in that direction." Mundra interjects that making a film merely for frivolous reasons was doing an injustice to the medium.

Media consultant Urmila Gupta felt it was unfair to sacrifice the voice of reality for commercial considerations. "It is incumbent on us as responsible citizens to ensure that both extremes -- the virtual and the real -- were projected fairly."

Members of the audience sounded a hopeful note.

"We are making progress. There are central women characters in serials that are very strong and effective," says Deepa Malakar, a social activist.

"It is a question of sugar-coating a bitter pill," pipes up a male, indicating that even the quintessential sari-clad figure of oversweet virtuousness could mouth bold statements on occasion.

Indo-Asian News Service

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