The feminist movie rating app Mango Meter was launched in Jakarta on February 16, 2019. Its creators are part of a network Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung supports in Asia via its regional work on gender and social justice. In this text, co-creator of the newly launched app, Medhavinee Namjoshi explains her discontent with Bollywood and why the movie-rating app Mango Meter can make a difference.
There are a few tests that analyze movies through a feminist lens such as the Bechdel Test or the Mako Mori test. Not many people are aware of these tests or have a platform where they can critique or rate movies based on the feminist and, in our case, also a non-Western perspective, which also questions Western beauty standards. With Mango Meter we aim to fill this gap and introduce a platform where the voices of dissent are be counted. We want to raise awareness among movie-watchers and we want the industry to take notice that women no longer want to be passive objects in films.
What angers and annoys me about the Indian and especially Bollywood film industry is its dismal or only proxy inclusion, participation and portrayal of Indian women, while the industry is dominated by men and by patriarchal notions of heterosexual, male-hegemonic gender roles. This can be traced back to absence of women in the production side of the industry as directors, producers, cinematographers, script writers, editors or distributors. The dominance of men in all these departments strengthen the male gaze and patriarchal control of men over the content and nature of Bollywood. Bollywood portrays women, trans people or persons who are not from the heartland of the Hindi-speaking belt as caricatures. Women are always over-sexualised, and their sexual molestation by ogling neighbours is normalized.
Bollywood for generations together has normalized stalking and sexual harassment through love with song lyrics:
“You have no right to question my doing rounds of your lane and compound I will stalk you till you say yes / your dog has no business barking on me as I have every right on you.” – lyrics from movie Phata Poster Nikhla Hero (link to song)
Western movies or Hollywood are not very different from their Asian counterparts regarding patriarchal and stereotypical narratives when it comes to the portrayal of women or of people of colour, or any other marginalized group that is not white American and heterosexual.
Films, especially Bollywood movies, treat women as the ‘other’, her existence is only to give scope for the masculine protagonist to be the saviour. Female characters are one-dimensional “good women” like the ever-sacrificing mother, sister or wife/love interest of the ‘hero’, or else they are portrayed as vamps—overly sexualized and slut-shamed. This promotes passive, dependent images of women who are secondary to the entire plot and are also replaceable by any other actress. It also creates a narrative that precludes women from being in charge or taking the initiative. It also strongly promotes the notions of Western beauty for women. The normalization of male dominance, violence and masculine image of a protagonist is highly troublesome, and I believe it does have a negative impact on individuals and society at large, as mainstream stories legitimize and reinforce stereotypes that are harmful.
I believe for movies to be feminist we need to have more women in all the different departments of movie making. We need a paradigm shift in the presence of women as directors, cinematographers, screenplay writers, producers, distributors. We need to have more women to occupy the space so that we can have their voice in the narratives. A true feminist movie would be the one that does not glamourize masculinity or war in any form, it would be a creation that gives active and realistic representation to people of colour or race, or those that are queer or differently abled.
Good examples of a feminist movies are Nil Battey Sannata, Margarita With a Straw, Lipstick Under my Burkha, English Winglish, and most recent one—Ek Ladaki ko dekha to asia laga. To me these are some of the movies that come closer to being feminist.
On the other hand, almost every Bollywood movie is problematic. To name a few, the Salman Khan movies post Dabangg—especially the item songs and dialogues—are extremely sexist. Even in the modern-day movie like Cocktail that propagates the notion that you can date a free-spirited independent girl, but when it comes to marriage it is better to go for the docile coy girl with Indian values.
This kind of movie would be rated as sexist in our app Mango Meter.
We want people to join us and together make a difference, one movie at a time.
You can download the Mango Meter on Goggle Play or App Store.
For more information on the regional project Feminism in Asia contact Lea Goelnitz, Programme Manager at the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia.
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