Popular Bollywood tropes surrounding female sexuality often shed a disturbing impetus on the male gaze or the male’s perspective on what female sexuality should look like. The characters written in this regard were too, designed to appeal to India’s patriarchal values; subdued and with hidden expressions of their sexuality. In the decades that have followed, India has made a few short yet promising and hopefull strides towards rewriting this narrative.
With more women writers taking to the drawing board and etching out characters that are uninhibited, fearless and take onus of their own sexuality, needs and desires. This, in our belief, is truly where the shift in perspective occurs and holds a very hopeful future for not just cinema but also for larger conversations surrounding sexuality in a country that largely maintains a forbidden relationship with the same.
Here are Homegrown’s picks of feature films in the recent past that have managed to capture the real essence of female desire and sexuality
I. Dolly, Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, Alankrita Shrivastava (2019, Hindi)
The story revolves around the lives of two Indian middle-class women who are related to each other through the ties of family. Dolly, played by Konkona, is the older married sister with the bludgeoning responsibilities of a family, finances, the hopes of a new home and the future weighing down on her. Kitty played by Bhumi Pednekar is the younger, naive sister who moves to Noida in the hopes of experiencing that big city life. Escaping the unwarranted glances and moves from her brother-in-law and marital pressure on her sister’s behalf, Kitty moves out to set up a life of her own.
The film quite naturally captures the realities of middle-class Indian homes where a woman’s independence, leave alone, dreams and desires are seldom spoken about. Although the plot offers little respite for the viewer to truly gauge the essence of the narrative, it quite remarkably paints an accurate picture of sub-urban India’s societal woes.
II. Mirch, Vinay Shukla (2010, Hindi)
Set against the background of a struggling screenwriter’s journey in seeking his massive break, Mirch is a sex-comedy that focuses on the nuances of female sexuality in whimsical yet realistic manners. The narrative combines four smaller stories within it that touch upon Indian erotica inspired by India’s ancient folklore, the Panchatantra.
Played by Konkona Sen, Sushant Singh, Shahani Goswami and a larger eclectic cast, Mirch is a distinct narrative that holds several different sub-narratives that could make for independent, short-films of their own. The experimental nature of the story combined with the theme of female sexuality that it explores certainly gives it the piquant twist that its name suggests.
III. Sancharram (The Journey), Ligy J. Pullappally (2004, Malayalam)
The narrative unfolds in a remote village in Kerala where heteronormative marriage is the only law, much like the rest of the nation. Within this strong, restrictive social framework, the lead, Kiran finds herself drawn to Delilah and what unfolds is a discreet affair that sheds light on the state and acceptance of most homosexual relationships in India.
Director Pullapally took on a bold challenge in exploring unchartered genres back in 2004. For this reason and more, Sancharram continues to remain a terrific example of a film exploring Indian taboos at large. The film has created waves in the global cinematic community for its storyline and cinematography as well.
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