11/10/2015 12:00 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

The Rise Of The Indian 'Maneater'

Young woman waking up from her sleep
Visage via Getty Images
Young woman waking up from her sleep

Oh oh here she comes, watch out boys she'll chew you up... The superhit "Maneater" (1982) by Daryl Hall and John Oates is one of my all-time favourite "chick" songs.

Colloquially, of course, a "maneater" refers to a dominant woman who has many sexual partners. Love is not of any consequence in these conquests. The closest a man comes to this definition is "womaniser", a word first used in the 1593. "Love" does play a small role here. According to the Urban Dictionary definition, a man who womanises often needs to work his charm to make his target believe he is in love with her. So who's the stronger sex then? I'm sorry. I think the womaniser is a wuss in comparison to the maneater.

Priyanka Chopra aka Alex Parrish could have gone down in Indian entertainment history in her Quantico avatar as India's first unabashed maneater. But though we crowned her Miss World we denied her this title -- the real action in the car sex scene was deleted on the editing table, though the "pick up" and "drop" were left intact. Someone in India actually still believes a woman needs a man's permission to get her rocks off. Think again.

"India is more evolved than it cares to admit. We may exploit our women at home but at least we empower them in our films."

Our entertainment culture has, until very recently, judged a sexually liberated woman as a "slut". In early Bollywood language she was either the "vamp"or the cabaret artist in the movies. Her sole role was to pour the whiskey ("soda ya on rock?" said such a lady on screen once, in her one line of dialogue, written "specially" for her). She was only ever seen either pre- or post-coitus with the bad guy. "Mona Darling", one of the more famous ones, actually made the name synonymous with women of questionable honour. For a while at least. Recently, we have a more sophisticated term for a woman on screen who is sexy and she knows it. "Item girl" (yes, good heavens!). Ever since, our biggest female actors have been seen on screen jiggling their way through ' item numbers' into the common man's fantasy. And raking it in later by performing these numbers to live audiences in Bollywood stage tours abroad. These are the songs families dance to at big fat traditional Indian weddings. Everyone approves and overlooks the meaning in the song. It suits them at the time.

India is more evolved than it cares to admit. We may exploit our women at home but at least we empower them in our films. And this hypocrisy, funnily, is also why television is at least a quarter century behind real time in its narrative of women in Indian society. We are still projecting women as either scheming or simpering, while the objects of their desire in the show remain the man and his mangalsutra. The reason is simple. The alpha male of the family is often around during prime time and he doesn't wish to be challenged in his own home. Today, he's the real prude.

I had said in an interview in 2000 that we were many moons away from shows on TV where women smoked cigars and swirled their cognacs. It was true at the time. But the last 15 years have seen a dramatic shift in the perception and, more important, the projection of the modern Indian woman. A movie called Race in 2008 became the first superhit for the multiplex movie audience without women in stereotypical roles. It had only dark characters in the lead, and confident relationships in 50 shades of grey. No one was into each other for anything except the money. And having sex for the women or even faking love was just a way of getting the booty. The film redefined what was OK for modern Indian women to do and, for once, neither the conservative men nor women's organisations raised any flags. The sole objective of every woman in the film was the money, not the man. We have since had a Race 2 in 2013. It went down as India's first "international hit" and grossed Rs 1.62 billion worldwide.

Sign of the times. Too much "western influence", some would say. We cut our hair, wear clothes that show skin, have multiple sex partners (sometimes even after marriage) and are basically as dysfunctional now as any other society on earth. Somewhere, Indian tradition has given itself away to international television. And the internet. Digital literacy is creating emancipation. Beware, wusses. We women have no intentions of turning back to analogue.

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