Chapter Ancient Indian women enjoyed a comparatively high

Chapter 1

Introduction

The status of women in India is a hot topic for
discussion till today with women
being part of society, politics, culture.etc. The status of women in
ancient India is a very complicated one as there are some contradictions in
statements in different religious scriptures. According to Vikash Mehra (2014) women enjoyed the freedom fully and even considered more
powerful than men and in some other, they were treated like animal. “Kollywood”
cinema is becoming increasingly more visible all over the world. It made me
want to examine the matter on a deeper level. 
In particular, I felt the need to look at the construction of women
characters, because it is this construction that perpetuates Indian society. I
also intend to investigate whether the way in which women characters are
constructed has changed over a period of time. Film
scholar and author Shoma Chatterji (1998) says, “Women in Hindi cinema have
been decorative objects with rarely any sense of agency being imparted to them.
Each phase of Hindi cinema had its own representation of women, but they were
confined largely to the traditional, patriarchal frame-work of the Indian
society. The ordinary woman has hardly been visible in Hindi cinema.”(p 3)

1.1.
Women’s status in different periods

Woman’s status in
India can be discussed in different period, viz. Ancient, British and
Independent period. A study on Women in India: Status, Position and Condition
of women in India by Vikash Mehra (2014) states that the
Ancient Indian women enjoyed a comparatively high status during the early
Vedic period. In Rig Veda, it is stated that the highest social status were
given to qualified women of those days. Women were appointed at important
positions. When the British entered in
India in the latter half of the 18th century, Indian women were suppressed and
oppressed. The impact of the British rule and of new ideas brought noticeable
changes in women’s life. Throughout their life,
in one or another form they are ill-treated and disrespected. Because of many factors such as female infant
mortality, deprivation of certain basic needs like nutrition, access to health
care, educational and employment opportunities. Gender discrimination in India
is deep-rooted. To uproot this gender inequality, the Indian Constitution
conferred equal rights on men and women in the year 1950. He adds that though
Indian Government has taken many steps to eradicate this problem, women are
still victims of violence like dowry death, rape, sexual abuse, unequal wages,
domestic violence etc (Chakrapani and Kumar 1994).

The same thing is reflected in Media
also. Cinema is an important media that brings a great impact in social and
political events. According to Urvashi Butalia
(1984), Indian cinema is the single largest medium of communication. Film
industry in India is largely male dominated. The heroes play an important role
and they are shown as powerful, whereas the heroines shown as a commodities and
sexual objects to fulfill the audience desires. The Indian film industry
is a male-dominated industry where women are playing very few roles like
actresses or playback singers. Due to the women’s movement, which spread revolution
and awareness, in recent years women have emerged as choreographers, costume
designers, editor’s screenwriters and lyricists or composers. According to Partha
Sarathi Dasgupta and Belle Monappa Hegde (1988), many commercial films have
highlighted “ideal women” as submissive, self sacrificing, chaste,
and controlled.

 

1.2.
Women in patriarchal society

In an online article by International
World History Project states that from the birth of civilization the women was
not given a high standard of living in any of the civilization from the Harappa
civilization, Egyptian civilization, Chinese civilization etc.  It was a patriarchal form of society as the
society was based on men and it was under men’s control. After marriage women
became subordinate men in all forms of life and she had to spend the rest of
her life in husband’s house. In Mesopotamian civilization women came control of
their parents. After marriage her husband was head and he controls the entire
family. In Egyptian civilization women enjoyed as exceptionally high status.
Such a high status was not enjoyed by the women of any other civilization.
Women had equal share in the ancestral property. Marrying own brothers and
family men were common in royal class families. The ancient Egyptian Vizier, Ptahhotep
states about women status that they were fortune to their husband fulfill all
their wishes. Women treated as sexual objects in China; often she was used as
an object for sexual relationships.

Women
should be empowered by enhancing their skills, knowledge and access to
information technology (Sudarsanam, Jawhari 2005). TV programmes are portraying
women in derogatory manner which has the minimize the respect and dignity of
women (Punwani.J. 1988). Many directors are focused on the women issues such as
marriage, widowhood, dowry and rape. (Butalia 1984). Women should be given the
democratic space where she can talk about her problems Kiran Prasad (2005). She
adds that we live in democratic country where each one rights are respected in
the society. Women must play an important role develop the society as well as
breakdown the bending down attitude. Rise above from the difficulties, women
must be portrayed superior not as inferior to men and their rights need to
respected.

The
issues which are related to women are not discussed in the media rather women
are used as a commodity (Dr.Sanjeev Kumar Sharma, 2005). Sharma (2005) also states
that newspaper give no place to rape, crime, politics, scandals, serious
debates and discussions on issues related to women. Most of the newspaper
publishes only the gossips about the TV serials or film actresses. Discussing
the modern issue of feminism has opened a new angle to think about the
equality, freedoms or liberties for the women (Choudhury, Maitrayee, 2000). The
relationship between media and women only giving important for sex role,
stereotype, dependent on men, decision making in home, always dependant on
financial help from men. (Ranu Tomar, 2011). 
Some focus that modern women who stand for vales and convictions but
finally only hero can save her from the dangerous situations. (Courtney and
Lockeretz, 1971).

Modern
women shown in films is a complete transform of patriarchal tradition women who
is well educated beautiful independent but still needs a hero to save her from
petty thieves. New cinema and the portrayal of women may lead to myth in
society (Laxmi, 1986). According to Meera Uberoi (1990), representation of
women in Indian popular art has two aspects. The first is women are being used
in the cine field as a commodity, second feminine aspect over all cultural
contexts. In the cultural activities women are prominent object of male desire
and possession. Two things in which hinder women are not able to exercise their
freedom. One is marginalization of women in the male dominated society. Media focus
only women bodies such as advertising and film.

1.3. Historical
background of Tamil Cinema          

  Cinema as a popular medium of entertainment
is now more than a century old. Only recently our society has realized cinema’s
great potential as an instrument of entertainment, instruction, motivation and
construction. The arrival of the Tamil cinema industry was with celluloid
technology in the year 1897. This happened when M. Edwards held a cinematograph
show in Victoria Public Hall near the central station in Chennai. This was the
first ever show in the south India. And the interesting thing is that this was
just a year after the Lumiere brothers had demonstrated their inventions in
Paris. Little did it manifest that this would advance as a big, reputed
entertainment industry and become a commercial possibility in our society.

During
early period of cinema industry, silent films, where the film does not contain
spoken dialogues, used mimes, gestures and title cards to unveil their
dialogues. During this silent film era (1916 – 1932), most of the films were
shot based on the accustomed stories from the Puranas. For a silent film,
moreover every actor was from stage drama. Tamil women didn’t want to act in
front of the camera for fear of their society. So Tamil silent films in that
era had American and European women acting in them.  In 1915, E.J.B.Greenwood, made the utterance
that the cinema could be both physically and morally harmful for the public (Perianayagam
Jesudoss, 2009).

The
first cinema theatre of Tamil Nadu, named as Gaiety was built in Chennai in the
year 1913. The forerunner of the industry was Mr. R. Nataraja Mudaliar. The
first studio made film, named Keechaka Vadham was produced by him in 1916. After
the entry of sound into the cinema industry, Mr. R. Nataraja Mudaliar gained
autonomy in the market. In 1928, the Indian Cinematograph Committee described
the Tamil cinema as an entertainment for the people. The censorship was placed
under scrutiny but not the trade. In 1934, his general pictures corporation
produced films in four major South Indian Languages namely Tamil, Telugu,
Malayalam and Kannada were released along with Hindi. In Fact, at this time,
not even Hindi films made such progress in this field. The leaders of high
caste saw the cinema as a cultural menace which could ruin the society.

Mahatma
Gandhi stated in 1939 as “Cinema among evils like gambling and
racing”. This same antagonistic approach towards the cinema can be seen in
the remarks of Nehru that “The cinema industry was not a priority of a new
nation”. It was noticed that cinema often got negative reactions. So by
passing the Indian Cinematograph Act in 1918, they empowered the authorities to
examine and permit or deny the certification for films as suitable for public
exhibition. In due course, police also were assented to examine films, but the
police just enjoyed the film rather bothering about the examination. The police
took part in their duties with many vested interests rather than doing their
duty thus paving path for corruption to enter into Tamil cinema industry. From
1915, controlling the cinema became a muddle for the Indian Government. Thus
the cinema entered into the India and Tamil Nadu; saw the consolidation of the
censorship machinery to regulate the new technological medium and the
potentially menacing space that it enabled. 
From then cinema space was regulated highly and, considered as an
environment that is highly suspicious, which is constantly under threat of law
and order. The producers lent money from the people who are rich and as there
was no security for money return, they gave up on the value-based films and
produced very low budget films for quick money. This became a chance for
illegal funds and underground criminals to enter the film industry.

 The film industry became a gateway for all the
evil like black money, black marketers and smugglers to invest their
unaccounted money which would be tax free. 
During the British rule, this was considered to be a patriotic act.  The industry was controlled by the money
lenders and the distributors until it was taken up by famous stars. Then there
came the time where the film’s success was based on the star values. In this
time, the stars rose to the top but all other artists and film makers found it
tough to get through in the industry. The sound Engineers, cinematographers,
editors, laboratory technicians, and junior artists were poorly paid. The
unskilled artists and workers of the film industry, most of them are poor low
caste artisans, earned even less.

It
is worth to notice that M.B.Srinivasan who wrote that the cinema industry is
ruled like a zamindari.  Today much of
the rise of the production of the popular cinemas can be accounted to outdoor
shooting, which indicates the huge amount of money and time spent behind that,
to be more precise, the songs and the sequences, whose costs are often high.
The technology and the industry cinema’s realism, from the beginning had the
powers to move the audience. For instance, the scene of the contemporary Tamil
actor Kamal Haasan shaking hands with Shubash Chandra Bose in the Tamil film is
a typical example of the Tamil cinema in making the unreal appear real. In
Tamil cinema, the heroes are portrayed as supermen who are able to do so many
things at a time which they are actually not capable of doing – like talking
many languages, fighting singing, dancing, handling weapons etc. The illiterate
and common people consider this as real whereas the educated elites take it as
just a cinematographic language.

 The cinema industry has achieved far more
success than the other arts in a very short span. The production of cinema is
typically an industrial process, which means it calls for a huge investment of
money and personnel, a well-built framework, and an industrialized
infrastructure in the society. India is the second largest commercial film
production industry in this world and possesses a highly developed and
sophisticated film industry. It is worthy of mention that Tamil has its unique
place in the national worldwide film industry (Jesudoss 2009). The popularity
of cinema is very much dependent on the camera which imitated that
representation, and it is served as the artist’s tool for many centuries.  Sound and color absolutely altered not only
cinematography but also the society as stories already present in the society
in the form of novels and literature are translated into the new technology.
This reproduces the system of morality and reality already present in the older
systems of the story telling in society.

 

1. 4. Portrayal of women
in movies

  Jain and Rai (2002)
states that we have different means to communicate and in the mass media, film
and cinema are the commonly used mediums to communicate.  Jain and Rai (2002) argues that “the
fact that cinema is a mediator of social realities and personal dreams,
collective concerns and individual aspirations make it assume a seminal
dimension as a humanistic discourse which has the potential to redirect the
cultural and material fabric of our everyday lives.”Women in films are
portrayed as characters to support the male character.  In fact, they are the ones who keep the flow
and grace along with the male character. Women are being objectified and are
projected as sex symbols which male characters cannot represent. Indian women
in general bear the brunt of the negative representation of female characters
by being silent with enormous amount of sacrifices (Jain and Rai 2002).     

(Srividya
Ramasubramanian, 2005) states that women are
represented in many different ways like commodities and as sex objects and
there are character roles where the abuse of women is vividly represented every
day. The abuses like the sati system, dowry- a real curse to the Indian
Society, rape- common phenomena in the Indian Society, dancing girl- especially
in films, slavery, are featured in Indian films. The media manufactures
and sells the images of both male and female and therefore media can be termed
as an industry of culture. Media does not give a true representation of women
in real life and instead gives a distorted and cheap projection about women. An
organized and proper platform is necessary for women to raise their voice
against gender inequalities because men, dominate the society. Reshaping the
image of women and empowering them is one of the most important aspects in the
world today.

 Jackson and Jacjie (1998) pointed out that
“the study of the images of women in cinema were a central concern of the
‘second wave’ feminism of the 1960s and 1970s, criticizing women’s image in
film and women’s roles in the film industry.”  According to Ritzer, (2005), for analyzing
the position and representation of women within power and gender relations in a
patriarchal society, we need to consider the role of agency in women’s lives.
“Agency” refers to the capacity of individual humans to act
independently and to make their own free choices. Agency, thus, generally
refers to micro level actors and to macro level collectives that act. This
dissertation aims to examine how the representation of women in Tamil cinema
has changed over the past decade. And also to explore the portrayal of women in
Tamil cinema by applying the sociological approach which focuses on
agency.