Would it be fair to say that Bollywood is the repository of practically everything sexist out there? Yes, it would be. In the world according to Bollywood, the heroine is a hapless girl and the hero is the righteous dude who saves the world and gets the girl. Off screen, the scene is not very different. From gross wage gap to bland character descriptions, women have always been at the receiving end in the Bombay cinema business.
To drive a discussion around patriarchy and sexism in Bollywood, and in life in general, the Goa-based non-profit organisation, Video Volunteers, held a live chat with Abhay Deol. The actor was in conversation about the wide gender imbalances, both in reel and real life.
Here are some highlights from the chat:
1. On growing up in a family of strong, masculine film personalities
"Obviously, you can say that there was a sense of 'man is the protector and provider'. My attitude was that being a man I will obviously be stronger and that I will have to protect the woman I fall in love with. The idea that women do not need protection, I realised it much later in life. Women are strong enough to take care of themselves."
2. On heroes stalking heroines in Bollywood
"The problem is in glamourising it [stalking]. The problem is not necessarily with the filmmaker but with the system that we have to work out of. If you don't glamourise...if you don't make a hero out of him, then people will wonder why they are even watching this."
3. On the portrayal of woman characters in Bollywood
"I think women tend to write women better than men. Women directors are much more sensitive with women characters than the male directors. Not that the men can't do it, but they tend to project their idea of femininity sometimes."
4. On the wage gap in Bollywood
"The more you hear the West do this, the more we follow. We don't necessarily put it out there first. But yes, I think it will get translated here when it is established there. That's the trend that I have seen so far. We wait for somebody else, we are not proactive on our own. The pay should depend on the job at hand but not on one's sex."
"The way to threaten the male ego is by threatening the women he is 'supposed to protect'."
5. On women always playing nurturing characters
"We are proud that our sisters, mothers, daughters are professionals because we are traditionally not a society that like women to work and then we are even more proud that they come home and cook for us. Professional woman is a very Western concept, and when she comes home and cooks we feel like they have some amount of Indian in her too that we feel we need to hold on to."
6. On whether Bollywood even has a female audience in mind while making a movie
"Women audience are considered if you make a Neerja or Queen or Kahaani. I don't think they [filmmakers] are thinking of the female audience when they are making a big blockbuster because I think we have more of a male population than a female population, and the movies that are typically formula tend to appeal to young men to have a good laugh. That's why women in their films tend to be just gorgeous, glamour models and then they have an item number."
7. On chauvinists
"If most men are aggressive and chauvinistic then it takes another chauvinist to tell them to see their own ways. It won't take another woman because they won't take her seriously. That's why they are chauvinist."
8. On all type of expletives being directed only at women
"Bad words directed to women tend to have more effect than bad words directed to men. From the language that we come from, the violence is always directed to women. It probably comes from the fact that women are physically weaker than men, I suppose. The way to threaten the male ego is by threatening the women he is 'supposed to protect'."
"If you expect a woman to follow what the Indian norm is then why don't you follow the Indian norm of what a man's like?"
9. On the Bengaluru mass molestation
"They [the women] were not indian enough? Fine. But are you saying that whatever you are doing is Indian? If I see an Indian woman who does not fit my description of an Indian woman, then am I being an Indian by touching her or feeling her? Is that part of our culture? Where does it say that you can violate a woman's modesty because she is not behaving Indian enough? If you expect a woman to follow what the Indian norm is then why don't you follow the Indian norm of what a man's like?"
10. On how to be self-aware and not be sexist
"Sometimes we are sexist without knowing it simply because of our conditioning and when someone points it out you should have an open mind to see, 'Oh is that true? Is that even possible?' And only if you are open to seeing your faults can you see them and when you do, you grow in leaps and bounds. That conditioning then just dies in a moment."