Sandeep Vanga's Animal split the whole country in two — either you think it's just a fun movie or you're sick of yet another blockbuster steeped in hypermasculinity and misogynistic undertones. The juxtaposition of its adoration within the Indian male population against the backdrop of Barbie's release in the same year feels like a perplexing regression in the discourse on patriarchy—one step forward, five steps back. While Animal revels in the sensationalism of toxic masculinity, this chauvinistic formula is far from novel, tracing its roots through decades of cinematic history. It's something Indian actress Smita Patil called out decades ago in an interview with Doordarshan.
Smita Patil, an unparalleled force among actresses, graced the screen with her presence in over 80 films spanning Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Malayalam, and Kannada languages during a career that lasted just over a decade. Not only did she receive two National Film Awards and a Filmfare Award, but she was also honoured with the Padma Shri, India's fourth-highest civilian honor, in 1985. Her film debut in Shyam Benegal's Charandas Chor marked the beginning of a remarkable journey where she emerged as a leading actress in both parallel and mainstream cinema. Her notable roles include Manthan (1977), Bhumika (1977), Jait Re Jait (1978), Aakrosh (1980), Chakra (1981), Namak Halaal (1982), Bazaar (1982), and many more.
Beyond her cinematic accomplishments, Smita Patil was a dedicated feminist and an active member of the Women's Centre in Mumbai. Committed to the advancement of women's issues, she lent her endorsement to films that explored the role of women in traditional Indian society, their sexuality, and the challenges faced by the middle-class woman in an urban milieu.
In a rare interview with Doordarshan, Smita Patil delved into the heart of the matter, dissecting the inherent flaws in regressive storytelling prevalent in cinema. Her poignant observations shed light on the necessity of authentic narratives, as she vehemently criticized the glorification of women's pain—a narrative trope that not only perpetuates harmful stereotypes but also enforces the notion that a woman must suffer to be worthy.
Smita's critique extended beyond individual films to the broader commercial film circuit, where women are often relegated to mere objects. She lamented the industry's tendency to objectify women's bodies without granting them a voice or contributing to subversive narratives. Her insights underscored the urgency for storytelling that empowers women, providing them with agency and authentic voices.
The enduring fight against regressive patriarchal norms and the ongoing struggle against inequality and sexism find a poignant advocate in the legacy of Smita Patil. Her commitment to authentic storytelling and her unwavering vocal stance serve as a testament to the enduring power of narrative and the imperative need for voices that challenge the status quo. In the realm of cinematic discourse, Smita Patil's words echo as a timeless call for change, resonating far beyond the frames of her illustrious career. Her legacy continues to inspire generations, reminding us that the battle against regressive narratives is one that requires not just cinematic evolution but a societal transformation as well.
You can watch the interview below.