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Women with Jobs in Hindi Cinema

Women with Jobs in Hindi Cinema

Hindi cinema, historically speaking, despite some of its roots in courtesan culture, has a poor record of allotting its female characters economic self-sufficiency. The representation is fraught with corrosive contradictions that pit her efforts at building a community against her economic pursuit, and suggest there is a scarcity that the woman will have to make peace with eventually. At times, the job is also more of an aberration rather than a concerted life-long pursuit. It pronounces the oddness of the female character’s circumstances rather than building an argument to normalise the act of her venturing into a job. If this rings as a cliché, what is striking are the recent trends that do not make a case for optimism: At Film Companion, we did a survey of the top grossing Hindi films of the last 10 years (2013-2023), and found out that amongst the leading ladies in these films, a significant chunk’s job profile was a mystery, and they were extremely likely to be subordinate to the male protagonist’s story. 

But, still, despite these dismal numbers, there has been representation of women with jobs which, over time, have become iconic in how they imagined negotiation for what they desire with other characters. Some of them do not vilify these women but still render their success as bittersweet, whereas others are fantastically able to undo the narrative of scarcity to offer something more hopeful, instead. All of them exist within a landscape where it is (still) unusual for women to have such characterisations, colouring even the lesser acclaimed stories as — if not iconic — somewhat singular. 

‘Aaj Phir Jeene ki Tamanna Hai’

Mary Beard, a Classicist, has stated with some regret that in Ancient Greek society, women were likely to mould the intonation of their voices to match those of men during public speaking and performance to be heard, and taken seriously. The easy insinuation here being that to access affluence, you need to adopt behaviour that conforms to the existing grammar of power, rather than propose anything too radical. Beard would perhaps find some glee in the plight of the female protagonist of Guide (1965) — a film based on R.K. Narayan’s book —who is able to turn her tenacious interest and instinct for Indian classical dance into something materially prosperous for herself when she begins to perform professionally. In Guide, we have Raju (Dev Anand), a tour guide in Udaipur, who comes across Rosie Marco (Waheeda Rehman), and discovers that she is in a claustrophobic marriage with a chiding husband (Kishore Sahu). Her husband is cruelly dismissive of her social background — Rosie’s mother had married her off to him for the sake of economic mobility and social respectability because she was a courtesan, and did not want the vulnerability of her profession to characterise her daughter’s life. Rosie reluctantly decides to forsake dance because her husband considers it to be a lowly and insulting preoccupation, but she is soon prodded by Raju to have enough esteem for herself to leave her abusive husband and renew her relationship with the art form. 

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by Metroclassify. Publisher: www.filmcompanion.in


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