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Why India Badly Needs Wonder Women In Films

13/07/2017 7:32 PM IST | Updated 13/07/2017 7:32 PM IST
Mohamed Azakir / Reuters

We worship so many goddesses and we have had female prime ministers and presidents. So, is it too much to ask for an Indian female superhero?

We've just witnessed the drama that unfolded with the 'lady-oriented' Lipstick Under My Burkha, which explores female sexuality in an unapologetic way.

Given that the censors felt emasculated by women on screen talking about sex, would we be able to handle a woman actually beating up male villains and saving the world? Would we be okay with an A-list actor playing their love interest and standing by while the heroine actually acted like the hero?

For all the global success of Wonder Woman — which has become one of the most profitable superhero films of all-time — does it do anything for us in India?

Given that the censors felt emasculated by women on screen talking about sex, would we be able to handle a woman actually beating up male villains and saving the world?

I wonder because I hear more conversations about Gau Mata than I do about the real-life mothers of this country.

Now, many will argue that there has been progress. Female-driven films are being produced at record levels and female actors are proclaiming that this is the best time to be part of the film industry.

Last week saw the release of the Sridevi starrer Mom, that showed how the veteran actor could still wow critics and draw an audience.

But her audience is niche (the 'urban class' as the trades have now categorised these minor success stories). So how do we mainstream female heroes?

For me, the key factor behind Wonder Woman's success was something very specific. Having a strong lead male character who actually looks up to the woman he loves is pivotal. Despite having his own machismo, he is perfectly secure and comfortable letting Diana be the Wonder Woman.

Our top heroes are all 50 plus and they are still paired with women half their age.

The fact that an A-list actor like Chris Pine (who has headlined the Star Trek reboot among other big films) agreed to play the male lead in a film featuring a female superhero in the lead is a testament to his contribution.

Now keep in mind, Wonder Woman is a first even for Hollywood. A film featuring a woman superhero, directed by a woman is not the norm.

But can you imagine a Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan, or even a Varun Dhawan or Ranveer Singh playing this kind of role? Our top heroes are all 50 plus and they are still paired with women half their age. No wonder then, that a film like Wonder Woman is some ways off here.

Why does India need a Wonder Woman though? Well, wouldn't it be fantastic to see a female action star not supported or guided by the male lead, but rather be standing side by side with him and even teaching him a trick or two? How fantastic would it be to watch her save the day?

A Wonder Women will work wonders for Indian audiences because empowerment doesn't come from 'lady-oriented' films in the way it comes from mainstream commercial cinema.

The boys would be busy playing cricket while the girls helped their mothers in the kitchen or sat inside the house and studied.

In the fisherman's village where I stay in Kerala, there is a clear distinction between what the young girls and young boys can 'do'. At any given moment during the day, or after school, I'll see all the boys out and about playing at the beach, riding their bicycles or playing football.

When it is low tide, they'll play near the sea, be carefree yet also be getting fresh air and exercise. The young girls on the other hand (and by the way, there are far fewer younger girls but that's a whole different story) — they are assisting their mothers with hanging up the laundry, un-attaching the fishnets with their fathers, or playing babysitter to their younger siblings.

I often ask them why they aren't playing and they smile and say they are busy. Yet, I see them sit in their invisible bleachers looking from afar as their brothers and cousins play, wishing they too could partake.

I used to see this in rural Karnataka as well. The boys would be busy playing cricket while the girls helped their mothers in the kitchen or sat inside the house and studied.

Thanks to our archaic belief system that the girls are born to go to someone else's home, these 'Wonder' girls were losing their chance to become 'Wonder' women.

No wonder it was mostly girls who topped the class. Yet for their parents, it didn't matter. When I would visit their homes, it amazed me to witness how blatantly the sons were favoured despite the daughters excelling their brothers in academics and overall work ethic.

For me, all the girls were actually 'Wonder' girls. Yet, thanks to our archaic belief system that the girls are born to go to someone else's home, these 'Wonder' girls were losing their chance to become 'Wonder' women.

It's time that 'lady-oriented' films became mainstream. It's time to show positive role models on screen to half the population to make them feel empowered and take the first step towards leading their own life and forging an independent identity.

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