Whose Feminism Is It Anyway? The ‘Empowered Woman’ in Bollywood
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Mainstream Bollywood has historically represented women within a few static categories be it as a signifier of national identity or as a caricature in the virgin/whore trope. The repurposing of these in contemporary women-centric cinema has arguably resulted in similar narrative messaging: the Westernized woman requires to be tamed and the traditional Indian woman deserves to be rewarded. These female-led films masquerading as tales of women’s empowerment are often discussed in popular media discourses as feminist must-watch cinema. Observing that a majority of these are created and directed by male filmmakers, the thesis details the ways in which a particular postfeminist politics is refracted through a patriarchal lens when representing contemporary Indian women. Applying a postcolonial feminist approach to Foucauldian discourse analysis, this thesis does a comparative study of the Hindi feature films Pink (2016) and Queen (2014), focusing on how feminist narratives of the Westernized woman differ from that of the non-Westernized woman. Pink and Queen focus on urban, middle-class women and feature the modern versus traditional tropes that are characteristic of contemporary feminist film. However, unlike the modern (Westernized) Minal of Pink, Rani the lead character in Queen is depicted as a traditional Indian woman, written within the parameters of what defines ideal Indian womanhood. The analysis finds that while woman-centric cinema is typically understood as bypassing Bollywood genre conventions, the physical (and caste ideal) of whose stories are considered worthy of representation is not too different from the standard potboiler. Additionally, the invisibility of class privilege and the homogenization of the middle-class, that seem to restrict Minal’s narrative representation within negative discourses, while allowing Rani positive outcomes and a humanizing portrayal with place for complexities. A predominantly Hindu male-dominated media, which enables a homogenizing popular notion of feminism, helps establish these films as part of the nationalist cultural project aimed at being relevant on a global platform. Through its analysis, this paper aims to direct the conversation towards a critical interpretation of films that tell women’s stories but are not necessarily feminist. This is of particular importance in a nation where popular film often functions as a prominent site where discourses around what is permissible, especially when it comes to women’s sexuality, are represented and normalized.
Subjectfeminism, Bollywood, feminist media studies, film, Foucault, discourse analysis