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Be the heroine, not the victim

Be the heroine, not the victim
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Above all be the heroine of your life, not the victim” a quote attributed to noted American journalist, writer and filmmaker, Nora Ephron known for...

“Above all be the heroine of your life, not the victim” a quote attributed to noted American journalist, writer and filmmaker, Nora Ephron known for her romantic comedy films is a message that is finding resonance with today’s women.

Women-centric themes, women directors, producers and actors in films made at the Regional, National and International level reflect this attitude encasing the world like a whiff of fresh air. The new themes serve at least momentarily to wipe out traces of ‘‘victimisation” central to the lives of women both on screen and off it.

About eight months after the success of the “#Me–too” campaign resulting in a grand jury voting to indict disgraced Oscar winner, Harvey Weinstein on charges of rape, women from the Hollywood fraternity took to another novel protest. At the famed Cannes Film Festival in the second week of May, a star studded group of 82 women, who represented an equal number of films made by female directors who competed for the Palme d’Or prize since 1946, pitched for a level playing field in tinsel town. Many famous women led by Australian actress and jury member Cate Blanchett staged a historic red carpet protest demanding a safe working place and pay parity with their male colleagues.

These women donning tuxedos and suits in contrast to the red carpet dress code and kicking away high heels that were compulsory for entering these premieres, made a dramatic halt halfway up the stairs to the Palais des festivals, to mark the many difficulties they encountered on their way to the top. A protest of this kind unheard of in earlier times signals the ‘‘no more the victims” attitude playing out for real. It indeed caught eyeballs even without a screen.

Women have been coming into their own, making films of every genre ranging from crime, romance, sex-comedy, thrillers and those based on war and terrorism. For all their fictional content, films are undeniably a reflection and product of the times. This is evident not just in contemporary themes but in stories from the past or biopics, as the narrative depends on contemporary thought. French director Eva Husson’s film ‘Girls of the Sun’ for instance, shown at the Cannes Film Festival was inspired by the story of real life Kurdish women, who were taken hostage by Islamic State fighters when they swept across Syria and Iraq.

They managed to escape and took up arms against their former captors. The film portrays the all-female Kurdish-Yazidi brigade led by Commander Bahar imbued with the findings of Journalist Mathilde, providing a chilling cinematic experience of the war ravaged region and women who were captured and kept as sex slaves.

The sensitive portrayal of war and the words of Bahar “We are all heroines” is a statement that nails the spirit of women who faced a common tragedy and fought it together. The director who earlier made a film called ‘Bang-Gang’ on teenage sexuality chose this film on brave women perhaps reflecting the need of the time aimed at decimating the carefully nurtured “victim image’.

Nearer home ‘Raazi’, a film based on a real life story stands out for its sensitive handling of a theme involving war and espionage never considered feminine territory. However, through the character of Sehmat, the daughter of a rich businessman from Kashmir married to a Pakistani army officer to provide India with classified information during the 1971 war, director Meghna Gulzar brings alive the conflict, courage and patriotism of a young girl who risks her life for her country.

The film’s strength is that it is not overly jingoistic or dramatic. In the stunning portrayal of Sahmat by Alia Bhatt, we see the resolute strength that women display both within the realm of the family and nation. There is no martyrdom, no cursing one’s destiny. It is a tale of patriotism displayed by one of the country’s many unsung patriots narrated with poise.

We find this maturity spreading to regional cinema in what could be a heart-warming trend. In bringing alive the memory of Savitri, a heroine who remains evergreen in the memory of lovers of Telugu cinema, the two women producers of the film ‘Mahanati’ (Great actress) sisters Priyanka and Swapna Dutt shunned the trodden path. The story narrated through the efforts of a journalist to write about a legendary actor ends with her monologue, which speaks of how researching her life helped her cope with her own shortcomings.

Although her life was tinged with tragedy and unrealised dreams it was her “never say die” spirit that was communicated to the audience. A yesteryear story revisited through contemporary thought was at once progressive and engaging. It definitely succeeded in drawing senior citizens aided by children and grandchildren to the theatres and introducing a power packed performer to the new generation. All these “May releases” in different parts of the world were unconnected but had a common thread in the indomitable spirit of the female protagonists.

The journey of friends told through an interesting concoction of romance, sex and comedy of the ‘Sex and the City’ kind, that lit up television screens almost a decade ago, finds a dedicated audience among millennial women as seen from the phenomenal success of the film ‘Book Club’. A relatively low budget film about four female friends, made more than three times it cost for the producers.

Starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen the four characters between ages 65 to 80 are members of a book reading club whose lives are changed after reading ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. As Jane Fonda says in the film “It’s time we started living before we stop living” the older women go about chasing the pleasures of the world. It received nasty reviews and comments like the one in The Guardian, which says “When a bunch of adorable silver-fox guys show up, our mature heroines are hanging out like outhouse doors in a gale”.

However, the films’ success shows a discernible change in the way women lead their lives today. The view that older women have to lead a life devoid of desires, restricted to the well-being of children and grandchildren is now clearly passé. Although the image of the granny and her male friends has been out there in television shows like ‘Two and a Half Men’ for a while, a film like ‘Book Club’, which has women characters teaching new life lessons is definitely a break from the past.

The Desi parallel (in terms of number) with younger women who make their choices and live life on their own terms produced by Ekta Kapoor who is prolific both on the small and big screens, is a story that signals that times are changing. In the film ‘Veere Di Wedding’ (A friend’s wedding) conversations about pre-marital sex, orgasms, sex toys and cuss words are in sync with today’s generation and a departure from yesterday’s coy girls and guarded overtures.

Bold and uninhibited, it veers away from the victim psyche that has pervaded women centric films over the decades. That today’s women are on even keel with their male counterparts is evident clearly on celluloid whether it is war, love, employment or pleasure. Moral and cultural values apart, the idea of an equal world where women make their choices and face consequences not having to blame others for their misery is appealing. As we return to the real world we hope to see more heroines than victims.

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