Female Masculinity anybody?

5 Aug
Priyanka Chopra as Mary Kom

Priyanka Chopra as Mary Kom

Georgina Maddox wonders if trends in Bollywood and pop culture will push the envelope and explode gender stereotypes

Shivani Shivaji Roy, played by Rani Mukherjee is a tough cop in Mardaani who beats up the baddies while reading them the rule book of the Indian penal code. Bobby Jasoos, aka Vidya Balan does drag with alacrity and is India’s first female detective who is both smart and loveable. Priyanka Chopra (Aka Piggy Chops) the reel life Mary Kom not only imitates the gold medalist boxer’s punches with élan she replicates her wedding-dress in Toto.  Move aside macho men, women in Bollywood seem to be riding the wave of power fems, gender queers and woman who hit first and talk later. Also jumping on the bandwagon in what became a cameo role, the curvy Sonakshi Sinha willingly donned the gloves for a knockout punch in the ring where she not only made her opponent see stars but Akshay Kumar fell in love at first hit.  Another cameo that had my pulse racing was Kangna Ranaut in Krrish 3 as the ass-kicking baddie who falls for the hero.  

Rani Mukherjee as the hard hitting cop in Mardaani

Rani Mukherjee as the hard hitting cop in Mardaani

Kangana Ranaut as the baddie in Krrish

Kangana Ranaut as the baddie in Krrish

Meanwhile in the world of advertising in the corporate office it is the wife or the girlfriend of the recalcitrant boys at who are cracking the whip—read Arjun Kapoor in the Philips Pro Skin Ad and the Airtel Ad featuring telly stars who demonstrate that the wife can be boss in the office . Not to be outdone cousin Sonam Kapoor whipped out the cream and razor shocking her fans with an unusual photo shoot for photographer Rohan Shrestha. The shoot sparked off intrigue and a bunch of hair jokes about her hirsute daddy (Anil Kapoor duh!) on social media sites like Facebook, but naturally it’s only a quirky take off on an often repeated fashion theme where women play around with masculinity and endorse male ‘products’ by actually using them. I do not predict that women will go rushing out to buy shaving cream or old-fashion straight-razors.  

Sonam Kapoor in Rohan Shrestha's shaving fashion shoot

Sonam Kapoor in Rohan Shrestha’s shaving fashion shoot

As far as Bollywood is concerned, before we bring out the drums and whistles to celebrate celluloid’s newfound courage to push the gender envelope, we must acknowledge that the directors are taking a huge risk and will probably not garner as much success at the box office as their contemporaries who just decide stick to the formulae of male dominated action flicks, Rom-Coms and mindless Masala films.



Samar Shaikh’s take on a middleclass female jasoos trying to make it big, was not exactly a box office block-buster, more perhaps because Vidya Balan in every frame gets a bit tiring after a bit. Meanwhile producer Sanjay Leela Bhansali and director Omung Kumar are getting mixed responses from the audience even before the Mary Kom bio-pic starring Priyanka Chopra’s is released, though the trailer looks promising.  Pradeep Sarkar’s attempt to script Rani Mukherjee’s comeback flick, post nuptials, may be seen as a desperate effort to reinvent the leading lady especially after Talaash failed to make it at the box office. However one can never tell how this film may pan out, given that it is being touted as a ‘raw and gritty’ departure from Sarkar’s regular staple of films that include the delightful, period film Parineeta starring Balan and the slightly unresolved and clichéd Laaga Chuniri Mein Daag in which Rani plays a sex-worker with a heart of gold.      

The question that I am asking myself is, will this be a short-lived trend that will burst like a proverbial bubble or will it create a real dent in the male dominated world of entertainment? More importantly will it have an impact on Indian society at large? Social psychologists and cultural producers are of the opinion that any indication of real change comes in the form of popular culture. Feminists and activists have been screaming themselves hoarse for decades about breaking gender binaries that bind biological women into stereotypical roles of home makers and mothers. While there is no real tool to quantify whether the feminist movements and activist groups have resulted in widespread change for the masses, cinema and advertising are indexes that we can rely on to measure change.


The first report from the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW), which traces the trends in men’s and women’s attitudes and actions over the past three decades, reveals that changing gender roles have significantly and specifically increased the overall level of work-life conflict experienced by men, from 34% in 1977 to 45% in 2008. On the other hand, the rise in women’s work-life conflict, which increased from 34% in 1977 to 39% in 2008, has been less dramatic and is not statistically significant. So clearly advertising and cinema is reflecting or causing (perhaps both) a real change in society.


In a nutshell, we cannot hope for an overnight revolution but as cinema goddess Madhuri Dixit who beat up baddies into a pulp in Gulab Gang puts it succinctly, “Bollywood is making more and more women oriented films. It couldn’t be a better time for me to plan a comeback.”  Well we hope Dixit-Nene is right all the way through!  





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