I came across an article on Rani Mukherjee’s forthcoming release “Mardani”. A Rani Mukherjee film, and that too under post Dhoom-3 YRF banner is something I will surely give a miss. But given my addiction of movies, I couldn’t help but glance through the first paragraph of this article. What struck me was Rani Mukherjee’s character’s name in the movie. She is a tough cop going by the name Shivani Shivaji Rao. The columnist writes, and I quote, “Mukerji plays CBI officer Shivani Shivaji Roy, a tough cop who, in the tradition of Bollywood-sytle policing, singlehandedly takes on a child prostitution racket. What else can we expect from a woman who has Shivaji as her second name?”
So here’s a movie from a film industry that is as male-centric as any industry could be. An industry where female actors have been reduced to doing item numbers and those of them who do get a bigger role end up being the mistreated girlfriend or the doting wife. Here’s a movie that could be one of those handful of films that have a female character who is something more than an eye candy for the masses. Here’s a movie that wants us to believe that female centric roles are not flights of imagination and the big daddy of Hindi film productions has taken upon him to set the record straight in this struggle for gender equality. And they end up naming the movie “MARDani” and the protagonist female cop needs to have the middle name “Shivaji” to kick ass!
I adore the great Maratha warrior king. But why on earth does a woman cop need such “manly” references to look tough? When I asked the same on my Facebook wall, a friend reminded me of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s epic poem on Laxmibai where she used the line, “Khoob ladi Mardani…”.
That poem was written in an era where girls as young as 12 were married off and the practice of throwing women on funeral pyres of their husbands still practiced in certain parts of the country. The poem was revolutionary by the standards of those times. If we still need the same reference to “Mard” when describing a 21st century women’s prowess, then we need to rethink our progress in the area of gender equality.
Another friend rightly pointed out that maybe “Shivaji” is the character’s father’s name. That’s a valid argument and also another proof of how male-dominated our society is. How many men/women do you know who use their mother’s name as their middle name? It reminds me of another fad of women retaining their surname even after marriage. So Aishwarya Rai becomes Aishwarya Rai Bachhan. For some, it’s a proof of women refusing to lose their identity after marriage. What they fail to understand is that she lost her identity long back when she was given her father’s surname instead of her mother’s at the time of birth. The injustice has been handed down for generations. She never had a choice, and what she is being offered now is a false sense of the same. The true parity between the genders will be achieved when Aishwarya Rai won’t need to add Bachhan to her name and if she does, then Abhishek Bachhan too rechristens himself as Abhsihek Bachhan Rai.
|Saree is not an impediment. Suit is not a shortcut|
I am not suggesting that powerful women need to act, talk, and dress up like the typical Bhartiya Naari. It’s a free nation and if Aamir Khan can wear a Ghagra(and a stereo), who is to doubt the fashion sense of the fashionable gender? But to cement a stereotype that only women who are like men are strong is wrong. It’s a movie, so use the freedom of creativity to break this stereotype instead of reinforcing it. Call her Shivani Rao, maybe give a more gender neutral name to the movie and still make the female cop send bad guys flying in the air. A trouser and blazer wearing (they call this power dressing!) Indira Nooyi is a strong statement on how far the Indian womenfolk have come. But a sari clad Indira Gandhi or Chanda Kochhar proves that women, just like men are powerful or weak by virtue of their work and talent and not by dressing or acting like men.