Churning 1,602 films in 2012, the Indian film industry more commonly known as Bollywood has overtaken Hollywood with its meagre production of 476 films. It is reported that in the same year, Hollywood sold 1.36 billion tickets compared to Bollywood’s monstrous 2.6 billion.
Yet, the growth and expansion of the Bollywood industry is unfortunately relative to the rise in numbers of rape and sexual assault cases, the country has an average record of ninety two reported rape cases every day, therefore, the question falls to whether social climate is associated with media, and in particular Bollywood and its representation of women.
Fundamentally, we must understand that exploitation of any sort stems from dis-empowerment – an imbalance of power is dependent on the types of representation circulated through society.
In order to understand this mitigation and the exploitation of women, it is thus necessary to unveil the images of women in the driving force behind the culture industry; Bollywood. A UN sponsored global study of female characters in popular films across the world by ‘The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media’ found that the international film industry contributed to many such representations playing on the stereotyping and the marginalization of women. Hence, the ‘fallen heroine’ defines the reality of women in the Indian film industry, dis-empowered through the mechanization of hyper-sexuality; The subject being ‘item number’ songs showcasing nudity and subconsciously reinforcing the already prevalent stereotypes and objectification of women. The fashion of ‘item numbers’ encourages extreme dominance and dismantles the balance of power relations with discriminating lyrics and provocative imagery. I am not persisting that this problem is the absolute ownership of India’s culture industry however, to fully conceptualize the intricate relationship between the national rates of the sexual exploitation of women and the countries mass media industry, this is essential to understand.
While women make up a total of half the world’s population, the heroine remains derogatory with her character stagnant as the damsel in distress. As if that's not enough, the actress is ‘fallen’ in rates of pay in comparison to her male counterparts too and her acting devalues with age, while with men (Salman Khan for example) the trend is quite the opposite.
On the other hand, generalising a ‘shame blame’ solely on Bollywood does not take account of the industry's attempts to in fact change societal perceptions of women. The progressive nature of the film industry has been counteracting the submissive stereotypes of women in Hindi cinema through empowered female characters such as Mary Kom and Neerja. This active effort to endorse the self empowered woman is reflected through the emergence of the ‘heroised heroine’.
Yet, the question remains. Is this enough? Is the release of the odd individual film with the empowered woman among the thousands of item songs really sufficient?
Stacy L. Smith, the principal investigator of the UN global study explains, “Females bring more to society than just their appearance,” with this being said. “These results illuminate that globally, we have more than a film problem when it comes to valuing girls and women. We have a human problem.”
The contribution of the ‘fallen heroine’ to the exploitation of women is a universal issue and requires both a global and national revolution, one which the odd heroine centric film here or there will not address on its own.