recently, i shared a joss whedon video on strong women characters in the film, the avengers. whedon is the director & writer for the avengers, and writer for buffy the vampire, toy story, cabin in the woods. i was impressed by whedons’ one man dialogue/monologue on the question “why do you write strong women characters?” he’s like the intellectual comedian, role-playing both the interviewer and interviewee. as interviewee, his 1st answer to the question “why strong women characters?” is that he was surrounded by women like his mother who was smart, intelligent, funny, sexy and now his wife. his 2nd answer was that both his father and step father prized women and felt that recognizing someone else’s power didn’t diminish your own. so, whedon feels that strong women characters give both men and women strength.
at question no.50 in the imagined interview, the interviewer still asks: “so…why do you write strong women characters?” whedon turns the question to the interviewer and asks irritatingly, “why don’t you ask the 100 other guys why they aren’t writing strong women characters?’ here it this video:
recently, i came upon another whedon video. in this, he broaches the ‘feminism’ question and the need to change public discourse of feminism. he has angst with the word ‘feminist’. he doesn’t like the word ‘feminist’. he especially doesn’t like the ‘-ist in the word, and compares it the word ‘racist’ which is something negative and old, but mostly as something which didn’t eradicate racism, but which merely contextualized it. he sees ‘racist’ and ‘feminist’ as being on the wrong side of betterment for those in question. whedon offers ‘genderist’ instead of ‘feminist’. here is that video:
the question that whedon brings up is not new for me nor for others; i.e. others who aren’t men. some women in india who write on women’s issues and rights, for ex, refuse the label ‘feminist’, because it conjures up all kinds of images they reject. images which aren’t their reality. short, cropped hair does not cut it for some indian women who like to wear their long, thick, abundant hair with pride. some women don’t get masculine dressing or masculine behaviors [like doing what men do] just to prove the opposite point. to what end do women prove they are equal or better than men if they have to imitate men and outdo them? that is only making it worse and stigmatizing feminism even more for such women or men. what whedon is suggesting seems more do-able and workable for women who don’t wish to be labeled as feminists, but who believe women are intelligent, witty, creative and beautiful, all in one package. why can’t women wear long hair, dress prettily and stylishly and still be equal? why must being on the ‘right’ side of the woman question be type-ified? why must women put themselves in a category or even belong to a category? why can’t we choose to be pro women and not ‘belong’ to any community of universalized feminism? why do we name and feel we belong to that ‘named’ club? is it a sorority of sisters, elitist and exclusionary if you don’t have the right requirements?
shouldn’t equality or support for women’s issues be something we carry inside because we believe it to be so naturally and not visible to the world? if we have hope, do we need to tattoo the word on our bodies so others see we have hope? why do we have to always prove that we/they exist by the visual?
whedon seeks equality for women in writing strong female characters. he cannot change the world, but he can certainly punch it up a little. and as he quite rightly says, ‘equality is like gravity. we need it to stand on the earth.
equality is not a concept and misogyny in every culture is an imbalance sucking the soul out of every man and woman confronted with this question.
trying to outdo a man at something he does isn’t going to make a woman anything but competitive, if that’s how she chooses to be. but, doing something for women and girls, whether writing or making films or speaking for them because they have no voice or clout in society, or simply distributing literature, clothes, educating women and girls like malala yousefzi is what feminism should rather embody.
so…no matter how we wear our hair or clothes, or what ‘club’ we belong to, we need to ‘live’ equality and not talk about it in public discourse ad infinitum. and we need it kinda now.
tollywood= telegu film industry plus Hollywood
what do these four film industries have in common?
for one, ‘wood’, but why -wood?
bollywood is now the umbrella term used for hindi language film or indian popular cinema or commercial Indian or hindi cinema. ‘bollywood’ is a combination of ‘hollywood’ and ‘bombay’ because the industry is based in bombay, and was inspired from ‘tollywood’, the earliest ‘hollywood-inspired’ name, referring to the bengali film industry, based in tollygunge, calcutta. according to the magazine, American Cinematographer, its name can be traced back to 1932, when an american engineer helped produced the first indian sound picture, but at a time when tollywood, and not bollywood, was the center of india’s film industry. unlike hollywood, bollywood is not a physical place as the images above erroneously show, but has become the majority cinema of india, catering to the entire subcontinent of pakistan, sri lanka, bangladesh, nepal, bhutan and afghanistan etc. in the images above, note that bollywood, nollywood are imaged like hollywood which, without saying it, is saying that they imitate hollywood. a google search for images of the above cinemas revealed that there are no hollywood-inspired images for kollywood nor tollywood. unlike Bollywood and nollywood. notice how the kollywood images stand alone in its difference from hollywood or bollywood or nollywood.
in the anglo american and even indian imagination during the 1970s, when india overtook america as the world’s largest film producer, bollywood was used again by a journalist from the popular indian magazine Cineblitz in the 1980s. many indians including actors, actresses and directors reject this term, and do not use it to describe their own cinema, because it sets up hindi cinema against hollywood movies in an overly simplified and patronizing way, blithely implying that what works for tom cruise will work for aamir khan or abhay deol or what works for julia roberts will work for kajol or vidya bhalan.
it is also a eurocentric term which suggests that a postcolonial india has to legitimate itself in the context of film imitating hollywood, an institution set up by a western entity. politically correct people call it ‘hindi cinema’ but the rest of the world call it ‘bollywood’ and despite the valid protests, the term has become common currency for indian cinema.
so…who named the indian film industry as ‘bollywood’?
not the indians! growing up I had never heard of that term. I only knew it as indian cinema, and later hindi cinema. the proof’s in the pudding , as they say, so if one compares indian cinema to american or hollywood cinema, it is visually impossible to NOT see that indian cinema is carved on an entirely differently reel-ity.
notice the simplicity in the kollywood image and the arresting way it looks like [a] reel.
american culture is one that supports new beginnings and even celebrates them [see nytimes oct 6 'great betrayals' by Anna fels]. it has a soft door for sons and daughters, who set about revising their ways. for people who start over – including reformed addicts, recovering alcoholics, well behaved and sorry parolees, convicted [including murderers, pedophiles, rapists etcetera] and unfaithful partners – who rededicate themselves to family or relationships. some, like anthony wiener succeed, but others like petraeus, schwarzenegger and tiger woods get re-established into new relationships, professional and personal. sometimes they fare better after scandals than before when they were honest people.
we live in a culture where it’s never too late to start anew. and it’s a great thing for the person who has wronged, or strayed. maybe he/she genuinely made a mistake – once – and that should be forgiven. sometimes we don’t know we are committing mistakes, so the lesson has to be learnt for some to not repeat the wrongful act. everyone deserves a chance at reversing wrongdoings ONCE the lesson is learnt. this way, the sinner or transgressor gets a new beginning.
but some transgressor’s sins are short-lived, because their regret, self-loathing and shame are short lived. they hide or do their betraying or wrongful acts in hiding because what they are doing is not accepted. when they can make new choices easily, why do they make ones that harm others?
we live in a society where everything is there to support the sinner, but not the victim. and worse, victims are blamed, especially in the case of rape. we’ve seen that ‘aplenty’ in india lately.
so what about the one lied to or cheated on? does he or she start anew, too? what is there for the victim left in the dark and betrayed?
something more disturbing occurs for such people. the gamut of emotions they experience may range from embarrassment to humiliation, to blindness, to self-hate, to naïveté and to alienation. but these are temporary. what is not temporary is the ‘lack’ they feel henceforth: lack of trust, lack of self, lack of joy, lack of sleep, maybe even a lack of faith in humanity.
for those on whom the wrong is done, everything changes: memories become suspect, their past becomes a lie, their friends and family are mistrusted.
there is a new beginning for the person affected and hurt, too. it is called bitterness. whoever said that new beginnings are good have never been betrayed or hurt because here, clearly, not all beginnings are equal. how can this false new beginning be good for someone who used to smile?
when no solid narrative comes from all the mind searching and there is nothing to stand on, can the victim really move on? new info discovered disrupts and undermines their own sense of their past. and if you don’t know your past, can you really move on? isn’t that what africans have experienced? they don’t know from where they come so how can they claim any identity for sure? how can they say for sure they come from Burkina faso or Somalia or Cameroon etc? they suffer an identity crisis that is permanent. their ‘chip’ on their shoulder is due to their gaps in knowledge of their past. it uproots them. the sense of displacement they feel is forever written about and explored. they need answers to close the fissures of identity and lacks which they feel, like those wronged and betrayed.
they become cynical, paranoid, and though it happens more often than people write about, very little exists to support them. how do they move forward if they are constantly reviewing their past?
can therapy really put the victim in a path to reclaim her/his past? and can it stabilize the shaky ‘self’? how do these victims reverse falsehoods in the long and short term?
new york times is innovating like a house on fire, sullivan said in new york times “perilous task of innovation in a digital age’ on 29 sept 2013. and other paper newspapers, magazines, journals too.
and why not? everyone else is!
and why? you get left behind if you don’t!
today’s world requires innovation. otherwise we become last of the digital mohicans. print advertising has been declining, said the new york times article. in the old days, print advertising would bring in 80% of new york times revenue. but that old business model is fading. and today, it is NOT uncommon to be on a far away cruise and have new york times in hand, via an electronic device to read. today, we can be on that same cruise and interview for a job via skype. you can conference call and face talk etc. convenience and multitasking seem to be gaining foothold and declining people’s attention with so much going on simultaneously!
gone are the days when i’d go to some fancy place to get a copy of the new york times while in some remote place or island where new york times isn’t easy to get your hands on. now, i can simply subscribe from nowhere and anywhere and read it anywhere. i can get breaking news immediately.
but is immediate gratification always necessary? perhaps, if some danger is lurking somewhere and time is of the essence. but if all is well, the paper version can trump its digital partner any day.
the merits of the paper version: if you’re in tight quarters and drop your times you can pick it up and continue to read again. what’s a few footsteps prints or coffee stains on it? but if you drop your phone you may not have access to the news. any number of problems could be born of dropping your device. and paper version doesn’t need batteries or chargers to enable reading. imagine if you in the midst of an exciting article, say in the sunday review, and your device drops. that can be such a bummer!
and best of all is its eco edge: the paper version is completely recyclable but is a useless dropped or broken device [as] recyclable?
call me an old-timer, but nothing beats a new york times in paper version sipping a cup of full-bodied chai! the digital copy isn’t the same as the real copy. just like a digitalized person isn’t as real as the real person. image alone doesn’t cut it for me, i need to see the words on paper. i need real talk and not a dummy digital person. i need to jot ideas down on paper or in a book and come back to them to see my evolution. i need to talk and be talked to in real time. there’s no blurring of lines with a real book or real paper before my happy eyes.
and though i like the smell, feel and gratification of a book or paper, where would i be without google?
once upon a time, india wasn’t a third world: explorers set out in search of india. from Alexander to Columbus to the French and the English who all went in search of riches in the only so-called non western country in the world. india had kings, used gold currency, had culture and everyone wanted some of it.
India, the mythical country. full of myths; even films like Indiana jones and temple of doom which celebrates india’s riches that so many civilizations and countries coveted.
today, the same myths are working against india. myths which prevent it from moving ahead. myths which prevent women from having any power except as silent goddesses worshipped at diwali or at saraswati or durga pujas! myths which keep women in powerless positions to effect any change from the all pervasive male mentality vis-a-vis rape or violation.
india remains trapped in its ‘third world’ myth because its knowledge hasn’t and doesn’t evolve in the female domain [also male dalits etc]. let the indians like nina davuluri and mira nair and deepa mehta go and make waves in the western world! or nandita das in film festivals outside of india!
because india IS NOT ready to change caste-ism or get out of its deep depression on skincolor or all the untouchable nonsense that it perpetuates. india loses out of the race because it is not ready to recognize that talent or success IS NOT dependent on skin color or caste or being born and remaining an untouchable.
india is a country which defines beauty as whiteness: dark skin, who wear white masks. the matrimonial ads posted by men and their parents looking for brides who are ‘fair’ attest to this prejudice and myth. take a quick look also at all of their ms indias who became bollywood actresses! it’s clear to see that fair & lovely isn’t just a brand name for skin-lightening products. it is india’s concept of female beauty.
ms america -nina davaluri- is gorgeous, talented, educated. god bless america for embracing and integrating change. for making a barack obama, president of USA, a black man with a muslim name after lynching blacks to death not so long ago. for making ms davuluri [a darkie] ms america! god bless Uk & america for putting the parminder nagras and mindy kalings on talent pedestals in the NON indian worlds.
is it any surprise that America rules and remains the first world?
female stigmas abound in india due to omnipresent sexism: sexism in the judicial, religious, educational and social systems. women are tarnished; women’s honor are at stake; widows are ashrammed; educated girls end up marrying off and settling into relationships with men less intelligent than them, because of arranged marriages or tradition or pleasing parents. nothing wrong with ‘marrying down’ but marrying down and being treated or considered lesser is certainly a problem!
the latest rape of a journalist in mumbai brings head-on the question of female violence and why it continues.
a tweet posted by shabana azmi delves into this issue: “crass lyrics, voyeuristic camera angles, fragmented images of heaving breasts, swivelling navels, swinging hips rob women of autonomy. so much easier to blame than to reflect and share part of the blame. all sections of society including films need to analyse how we are part culpable.”
while no one parameter can be blamed for the rise in any crime, it is scientifically proven that watching aggression increases the tendency of aggression according to IANS in times of india 7 march 2013. when there are too many rape scenes in movies, the objectification of women itself can impact minds. if that is promoted, it will have its impact.
so what of films? is there any cause and effect?
in the USA, jim carrey refused to play a role in kick-ass 2 to distance himself in the wake of the recent sandy hook massacre. he tweeted “in all good conscience i cannot support the movie’s extensive and graphically violent scenes” [nytimes 25 aug 2013].
in india, where rape is becoming more and more commonplace, where does cinema stand? are there any indian jim carreys willing to take a stand against rape?
bollywood of the 1950s to 1980s almost had a set rape “formula”. a dimly-lit or dark room, a yelping woman, dressed traditionally or not, a callous villain and a hero who saves the helpless victim. although this has diminished on the silver screen, rapes are on the rise off-screen: india witnessed a staggering spiral of 873 percent in rape cases between 1953 and 2011, according to statistics compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau.
there are many rape films. yeh hai aurat, bawandar, Mehboob Khan’s “Amar”, B.R. Chopra’s “Insaaf ka Tarazu”, N.N.Sippy’s “Ghar” and Rajkumar Santoshi’s “Damini” to name only a few.
yeh hai aurat glamorizes rape where the girl who went for a job begs the rapist for mercy; bawandar where nandita das is gang raped and she reports it but faces police ridicule and nothing comes of it in the end.
damini tells the story of a beautiful woman who dances beautifully, and whom shekar falls in love with. everyone falls in love with damini on the groom’s side, too, and the couple moves to their house where a servant is being raped by shekar’s younger brother. damini and shekar try to stop it, but too late. the Gupta family [husband's family] conspires to cover-up this shameful incident, but Damini is unable to get this incident out of her mind, and finally decides to inform the police. she does so, and is instantly shunned by the Gupta family, and asked to leave the house. The police arrests Rakesh and three of his friends, and the matter is taken up in court, and Damini is asked to testify. Damini is portrayed by the Gupta family’s lawyer, Indrajit Chhadha, as a mentally unstable person, with everyone from the Gupta family to her very own dad testifying to that effect. Damini is confined in a mental institution for two weeks by a judicial order. Unable to bear the mental torture in the institution, she escapes and runs into a down-and-out alcoholic lawyer by the name of Govind, who has the rape case re-opened. the maid-servant dies in hospital, and the police write her death off as a suicide.
what message do films like these impart to a public hungrily imbibing and worshipping cinema and cinema villains like gods?
films are make-believe nature, even in the western worlds. they DO reflect reality and sometimes, a lot of reality. india’s past cinematic history shows a set pattern of villains who played over and over rapists: pran, prem chorpra, shakti kapoor and ranjeet. rape was sometimes a revenge tool or used by these men as a mark of superiority over the fairer [and darker] sex, but whatever the reason it was there unabashedly a feature of films. all of the platitude we see abt rape or heckling or eve teasing which we see in films then and today only makes for women to be scared, NOT the rapists.
yes, today’s cinema don’t have as many rape scenes, but they do have highly sexual lyrics instead, uninhibited skin, lovemaking in songs like munni badnaam and sheila ki jawani which are aggravators of increased sexual violence against women. it is not on the big screen only but real life.
according to IANS, times of india march 7, 2013, rape has vanished from newer bollywood because a new generation has arrived which doesn’t have cinema as an avenue for titillation; there are other far superior means. rape in the 1970s and the 1980s unfortunately was used more for its ‘item’ value than as a necessity of the script. there was no internet, no access to porn and no open sale of desi Playboys, and the families were largely conservative. today’s generation has access to myriad forms of nudity, and they won’t watch a film just because of some skin in it. films may impact people’s psyche, but at the same time there are other important factors that can’t be ignored in perpetuating sexual violence.
many people in india just stand by and let things happen; the law and order of the country; the society – all crimes are a result of collective factors. when films show rape scenes, they often focus on the suffering of the girl instead of showing the consequences borne by the man. if consequences are shown, it might inculcate a feeling of fear in men, we’ve seen how ads send out subtle messages, whether in india or other parts of the world.
in the discussion on rape at http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/we-the-people/impunity-of-rapists-impotence-of-system/288226?vod-mostpopular we learn that india has taken as long as 5 years to consider a rape case. at some point isnt it obvious that the poor woman would just drop the case and moves on? nothing changes because unless retribution is swift, it is forgotten. when a rape occurs in india, why isn’t the question of female violence not lie in the way the perpetrator looks? does the fault of rape or violence or molestation lie in how women dress or look? and can it not lie in the way we see bollywood movies which give vicarious pleasure?
if film is like morphine in people’s veins, india needs films which can deliver impact. films with character names like pallavi [the 25 yr old law graduate raped then killed at her home], soumya [who was shot dead coming back from work and whose case has been going on for 5 yrs and is in the lower courts still], or bravehearts or jyoti or damini or nirbhaya [all names given to the delhi girl gang raped in a bus, and left for dead last december] etc? just like pooja bhatt – actress- who uses her real name in most film roles she’s played. giving names of raped women and girls could certainly resonate with the public each time they see or say that name or discuss the film.
pooja bhatt is also a female director in india who is promising for women if she commits to making films where women can speak out against this kind of violence. her paap, holiday [remake of dirty dancing], dhoka, kajraare [pro-women as it explores finding true love despite having a 'disreputable' position as bar dancer] and jism 2 [normalizing a porn star in lead role] are good attempts at showing women in a strong roles. but let’s bring on roles where they are not glamorized or empowered with sexual presence, as though that’s their sole purpose, but give women roles where they are discriminated against or raped and fight the system and win. or more pertinent to indian culture, why not a farhan akhtar film, who is part of the panel of this talk against violence to women. a male director would certainly enjoy more freedom and popularity than a female director on the same theme. and why not put famous actors and actresses while at it? that way the viewing, identifying public is sure to stop and think about rape as cinema is india’s bloodline.
bollywood -like hollywood- has always normalized gender inequality, no matter how accomplished a woman in this millennium. film is first and foremost a pleasure distillery for all, but especially in india. [see my blog "hubris of capitalism or commodification of women?"]
pooja bhatt makes movies on women, but no one wants to see them. as does tanuja chandra. no one wants to see a deepa mehta movie where women are strong and fight all systems: religion, tradition, customs etc. they’d rather burn down cinema houses or stop the filming because the reality of women’s lives that mehta wants to put on film is offensive to hindu culture. or a mira nair film, empowering a moushami to leave her bengali husband and take off to paris because she is sorbonne-trained [namesake] and has a french lover. an independent thinking educated beautiful woman.
note! both mehta and nair are filming out of india because of limitations and on women .
why does india’s movies for strong women or reality-based movies only make it in the western world or in film festivals and human rights festivals and not in india where it HUGELY matters? why aren’t these strong or independent women-themed movies more commercial like other blockbusters?
barriers can’t be easily broken by filming in india. doors are closed to those daring to film on women’s injustices. even locally made films like lajja end up subscribing to pleasure. people slander women who film on indian women saying they’re westernized if they show the harsh reality of women’s lives in india. change must be considered imperative for indian women, because a worse problem has cropped up: the already filmy sexual violence is now being compounded by the explosion and quick access of porn on mobile devices and home computers.
a recent study by national institute of mental health and multiple professional orgs [american medical assn; american psychiatric assn; american psychological assn ] all consider media violence exposure a risk factor for actual violence. the weight of the study supports the position that exposure to media leads to aggression, desensitization toward violence and a lack of sympathy for victims of violence. if for USA this study supports violence against children who are inundated with social media, for india it is WOMEN. the sexual harassment law does wonders to deter predatorial men like those who drove around that bus looking for a girl to rape in delhi last december. in india there’s no affirmative action for women harassed or raped; no impunity for men, and utter ridicule by police which we see in so many films. this makes sexual violence like a fashion for men: you see, you imitate.
robot and frank is a movie about an aging father -frank- whose memory is beginning to seriously fail him, but who refuses to accept that reality. the son [whom he sometimes forgets] decides to get him a robot to help stimulate his mind and keep him company in the process. frank resists the robot heavily at first, but then begins to look forward very much to the robot’s company.
the robot replaces that need for a real person in frank’s life, and fulfils the need for company, intelligence, loyalty and camaraderie.
frank bruni recently wrote an article about knockoffs in china [see nytimes sept i, 2013 sunday review] upon his recent visit to china. he writes about the chinese gov’t's bold new experiment in transparency regarding bo xilai’s trial of the century. xilai was a champion of little people and was recently accused of avarice and corruption. this transparency was partly counterfeit says bruni, and staged: the chinese audiences [and perhaps, the world, too] feasted on fakery and a fraudulent trial.
this well-written bruni article allows us a peek into how much exaggeration, gilding, deception and misdirection occur in china whose list of artifice/deception/illusion etc is long:
- the ‘greening’ of beijing with its many planted trees were planted for the olympics, a potemkin eco-friendliness for the world to see
- the little girl who sang at the olympics was a stand in for the real girl who was not as ‘adorable’
- the food scams where rats masquerade as lamb
- the bargain-basement liquor in premium brand bottles
- soy sauce made from human hair swept off barbershop floors and processed for optimal deliciousness
- the widely disseminated cardboard dumplings which were possibly fake
- phony pharmaceuticals and make-believe monks, attired to collect donations and peddle trinkets caused china’s two sacred buddhist temples to be closed earlier this year because of their imposter status
- a museum’s artifacts weren’t as ancient as claimed
- an apple store so real that its fake employees and customers were duped
- fake divorces in order to evade taxes on the sale of second houses.
and i thought that america took the cake on fake marriages after seeing the movie greencard.
china’s artifice supports the notion that when too much simulacra and artifice are used, the real is impossible to decipher. and like china, other worlds have their artifice, too:
Venezuela has plastic beauty contestants.
Italy has lowballed tax returns.
Britain has its hollow courtesies.
In USA, we have genuine made-in-china knockoffs splaying the streets of chinatown right down from prada bags [or tory burch or louis vuitton] bags to cartier watches to ‘real’ jade sold on the streets. we also have beyonce who used prerecorded vocals for obama’s 2nd inauguration and ponzi schemes.
the simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth — it is the truth which conceals that there is none; the simulacrum is true [jean baudrillard].
the real gets sidelined by the unreal, like the robot as a real substitute for frank, whom he prefers over his son or daughter even though at the start of the film, he is in dire need of company, and surely wouldn’t mind having his daughter physically there instead of being skyped or his son who visits him once a week. we see frank wandering aimlessly around blind corners, not knowing or remembering that harry’s cafe has been closed for many years nor that his son has finished princeton 15 years ago. he lives in a kind of present that baudrillard talks about in America : “America is the original version of modernity. We are the dubbed or subtitled version. America ducks the question of origins; it cultivates no origin or mythical authenticity; it has no past and no founding truth. Having known no primitive accumulation of time, it lives in a perpetual present.”
that may explain why USA reigns in technology, and why china has turned to artifice to keep up with competition and USA. in china, everything is so fast paced that real vigilance is impossible, and in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning [and human company], what is real? does technology create such a real substitute that humans no longer need the real thing or other real human beings? if we [whether china or USA] continue to substitute the fake for the real, are we too headed for self-destruction like the robot in robot and frank “Self-destructing in 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1″…