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Why are we scared of the female voice?

Why are we scared of the female voice?

I finally watched 'Lipstick under my Burkha'. With such an emotive plot and powerful performances, it is easily a must-watch. With my appetite whetted by Alankrita Shrivastava's 'Lipstick Under My Burkha', I quickly followed it up with Leena Yadav's 'Parched' and Pan Nalin's 'Angry Indian Goddesses'. I was overjoyed; finally, our cinema was doing justice to female leads. Yes, we would have our say and shine a light on the subtle oppression that thousands of women across India face every day.

The Rosy of 'Lipstick under my Burkha' is perhaps the evolved Rosie of 'Guide'. After 60 years of getting her sexuality and personal freedoms quashed, Rosie is looking for an out. The story lines in all the movies that I've named here are about unhappy women whose voice and choice are summarily trampled upon by men and society at large. The people who revered Usha Bua-ji as the old widowed matriarch of the family are repulsed when they discover her having phone sex with a younger man. Personal freedoms such as Rehana's choice of attire or Shireen's desire to work and be financially independent; and in essence the liberty to follow one's heart in all these films are destroyed if not given the stamp of male approval.
But why are we so scared of female sexuality? Mind you, there will be no brouhaha over scantily clad women gyrating to item numbers with the camera idling on their various body parts. Movie scenes that are full of tasteless sexual innuendo pass off uncensored as humour. But we will get our knickers in a bind should a woman demand satisfaction of her bodily urges. Women are meant to lie in bed and not enjoy carnal pleasures as Leela does. We are not yet ready to give that kind of power to women yet. Fear is an unpleasant emotion brought on by a threat of danger. Our patriarchal society still reels under this fear of women finally finding and professing their identity, warts and wrinkles et al.
It's not just rape, domestic abuse or dowry deaths, the domination that we are under is in the little things – what we wear, what we say, what we want to achieve with our lives. It's normal to see women taking a backseat, locking their aspirations inside neat, little boxes that are kept away so that they don't come in the way of the man or the society. As long as we can tread the familiar path, all is well. Should we try to assert ourselves and demand that we too are looked at with the same lens as a man, all hell breaks loose. Our job as defined by Indian society is to fall into place; like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, a woman's only ambition should be to fill in the missing gaps of a larger picture. Should we want to stand tall, we are told that we will amount to nothing.
Harsh words you say? Doesn't happen in your lives, you say? Think hard. Remember the time you were made to change your clothes because your skirt was too short or your jeans were hugging your derriere a bit much? Remember the time when you quit your job to follow your husband's transfer to another city? Or when you gave up your career because well, you had children and there was no other way spelt out. We're fine as long as we toe the social line etched by men and adhered to over time by women.
Films like 'Parched' and 'Lipstick Under My Burkha' talk of a similar kind of oppression faced by even lesser empowered women than us while 'Angry Indian Goddesses' deals with urban issues of so-called independent women. Ultimately, the women characters in that movie refuse to cow down even when the greatest tool of coercion, rape, is used against one of them. In 'Lipstick Under My Burkha', all the characters sit down for a smoke and a laugh in the last scene. In 'Parched', the characters run away towards a life of freedom. Finally, we see the indomitable female spirit that just won't be silenced anymore.
It's about time that Indian cinema finally portrays strong women characters in coming of age movies. It is still astonishing though that various obstacles are strewn in the way of these films often preventing their release or axing the most important scenes under the garb of censorship. And that is why cinema like this becomes the most important social tool, and an essential watch for all, women and men alike.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

Shutapa Paul

Shutapa Paul

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