Bollywood through a feminist lens

Writing about Bollywood

Inevitably, when I tell people I enjoy Bollywood, I’m met with stares or “what?” or “oh, with the dancing, right?” The largest film industry in the world is still often treated like a joke, while American films, Japanese films, British films, receive thoughtful critiques and breathless recommendations.

However, movie theory largely remains a male dominated field, so adding feminism to Bollywood seems even more futile.

And of course, there’s always someone who chimes in, “It’s just a movie. You’re thinking about it too hard.”

But our lives are often heavily defined by the culture we consume. We expect it to reflect our lives even as we absorb its lessons. I’ve watched countless hours of television and movies. Those stories very much left a mark on me, on how I interact with the world. We should examine what we think and why. We should examine the world around us. We should examine pop culture. We should examine movies.

Bollywood movies, especially masala films, are often treated as low quality. Yet it is still widely consumed, and not just within India but around the world. Bollywood stars, like Hollywood stars, are seen as role models and have cultural cache. Movies are shaped by the culture that made them and can also help shape reality.

I enjoy the spectacle, but I also enjoy the stories. And as with all stories, I enjoy learning new ways to see the world. Part of interacting with narrative is looking at what pulls you in and also what pushes you out. I can, and do, enjoy a story that focuses on men, and still wish there were more women in it.

I’ve hesitated to write because writing about movies just hasn’t seemed important, especially now. I am an American, and the political climate is terrifying, especially for women and minorities. And that terror and fear permeates the politics of many countries. Why write about movies when there are so many other issues to focus on? Why care about a fictional woman in a movie when real women face poverty, harassment, violence?

Because I still enjoy movies. I watch the news, and I watch movies. I write letters to politicians, and I write about movies. I march but sometimes I must sit. Movies show us our world, worse worlds, better worlds. They can build cultural bridges. We must keep fighting, and we must keep sharing. We see our similarities, our differences, and ourselves on the screen.

Finally, I am a feminist. I can’t “just watch the movie.” I am always aware of how women are represented, or the poor, or minorities, or GLBT. I am always aware in real life, and I can’t not be aware in fiction. I can enjoy art and critique it. I can enjoy art and still wish for something different.

To be a feminist means to live in hope and to live in disappointment. By writing, I hope I can articulate and share both.

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