The Woman, according to cinema

  • Sher Dil does women no service

Nobody asked for Sher Dil. This is a film that was dreamed up not by artists, but politically savvy studio executives who reasoned that this is a good time for such a movie to be hastily conjured. Having just suffered through Parvaaz Hai Junoon, there was no reason for yet another air force movie to be written– except to capitalize on recent cross-border tensions with India. One can tell the complete lack of artistic interest from the fact that it’s a parade of movie clichés– from love triangles to toxic buddy comedy– all stitched together to make a political point. Nobody felt a need to test out new artistic ideas in this film, because art was never the point.

Among these clichés is, of course, the two-dimensional female love interest who manages to be rescued by the handsome hero not once, but twice. The Classic Cinematic Female is a character, which unlike a real-life woman, exists as a useless satellite orbiting the all-important male protagonist. In fact, to call the Cinematic Female a ‘character’ is overly generous. If one replaces it with an inanimate but otherwise valuable object, say a bag of jewels, you’d barely have to edit the script to accommodate for the change. The bag of jewels would still serve its purpose as gratuitous eye candy, getting thrown in a van and being taken by the antagonist, rescued by the protagonist, and giving the good guy a sense of achievement so the movie can end at a positive high note. The only thing we’d need to exclude are the item songs or couple songs, because the CGI costs involved in making a white gold bracelet dance at a nightclub, would be exorbitant.

Any film that reduces women to paper-thin humanoids who exist for no purpose other than assisting, lovinDil g, or betraying the male lead, should rightfully be considered an inferior and insipid piece of work

The Female (to call her ‘woman’ would be needlessly humanizing) has few aspirations outside her relationship with the men in the film. If an aspiration does exist outside a relationship, it is often portrayed as betrayal. The unscrupulous seductress who leads a man to his doom for personal gains. The innocent gharelu (domestic) girl who doesn’t understand her husband’s passion. The greedy fool whose ambition gets in the way of the hero’s well-being. In Sher Dil, this ambition is presented as a hard decision point for the protagonist. His love interest forces the hero to choose between her and his duty as an air force pilot. She mentions her own ambition of wanting to be an archaeologist, but no time is spent in the film establishing her interest in this field, violating one of the most important rules of good visual art: don’t tell it, show it.

The lack of depth and complexity in the Cinematic Female is often not deliberate. If you are asked to write an alien character, you’re likely to imagine either a predator, a humanoid, or an amorphous and utterly mysterious being. The Cinematic Female isn’t a woman; she is the imagination of a 45-year old filmmaker who has barely encountered a woman that isn’t an ambitious model or a shy housewife. Contrary to what most people believe, writers are generally quite poor at imagining new things. All they do, is shuffle together anecdotes, bits of memories, moments from their favorite films and dramas, and other life experiences; creating that which is original only in respect to the way these old elements are combined in new ways. A male writer living on the male side of a gender-segregated society, survives on a steady diet of traditional masculine experiences. Their understanding of women– their biological concerns, social needs, and political challenges– is severely limited. This limited understanding translates to poor representation of women in the art they create. This two-dimensional representation inspires the next generation of artists who are more than eager to carry on the golden tradition of putting superficial female characters on the movie screen.

In 1985, a comic strip by Alison Bechdel introduced what is now known as ‘The Bechdel Test’.  To pass this test, a film must satisfy only two rules: the film must have at least two named female characters; and secondly, they must talk to one another about something other than men. Although these rules are quite simple, it’s baffling how rare it is for movies to pass this test. After all, it’s not at all unusual for a film to have two named male characters who talk to one another about something other than women

How ‘real’ and ‘gritty’ is a film anyway, if it ignores the complex experiences of half of the human population? Any film that reduces women to paper-thin humanoids who exist for no purpose other than assisting, loving, or betraying the male lead, should rightfully be considered an inferior and insipid piece of work.