It is beyond bewildering, really. We claim to be the most modern, liberal-minded and pro-equality generation. But perhaps, patriarchy is so embedded in our social matrix, and male-led structure is so deeply ingrained in our cinematic culture that we fail to recognize that the movies we appreciate so much are actually laden with insular misogyny. So we keep watching these sexist movies, and even admire them, failing to acknowledge, thus, the often subtle, but frequently obvious sexism in the dialogues, characters and entire plots of the movies.
We call out the Mastizaade, Kya Kool Hai Hum 3, Great Grand Masti franchise for being regressive while many others go unnoticed. What they lack in cinematic fabric, they try to make up for with humour laced with blatant sexism, objectification, misogyny and homophobia. And we all know that that is just too sad.
Schlocky sexism and blatant refusal at any attempt to even try and make it look like a progressive society were key features of many movies from the 80’s. However, it is astonishing how many movies from the past decade alone can be singled out on this criterion.
And, I haven’t even started talking about how few films actually pass the Bechdel test. And even when they do, as in the case of Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya, they still manage a problematic portrayal of women and romance through stalking. This one especially fails the purpose because under the guise of upending gender stereotypes and crusading for feminism, it actually royally fails at it, and falls deeper into the abyss of normalized misogyny.
So here is a quick look at some of the most ridiculously and needlessly sexist movies of the century, from Bollywood and Hollywood, which you are still somehow watching and admiring. Maybe it is the subtlety. Maybe it is the incorrigible conditioning. Or maybe the sexism is sneaky.
1. 500 Days Of Summer
Movie buffs are going to hate this inclusion in the list of sexist movies. However, I do have a reasonable justification. The movie’s sexism is actually very crooked. Crooked, because it is deliberate and intentional. Tom is the narrator, so we look at the whole relationship from his vantage.
But let’s cut straight to the chase. Summer was never interested and since Tom is such a guy, he preferred to chase her rather than let her live. It is easy to think that Summer is a bitch, just like Tom did by the end of the movie. But Summer was not an idea, she was a person. Unfortunately for him, Tom loved the former.
As a result, he kept pursuing her, chasing her, obsessing over her and stalking her. No wonder people have such polarising views of the movie. Let’s call a spade a spade and this movie what it is: stupid.
Well, basically every Salman Khan movie. He is Bollywood wood’s enfant terrible. During the promotions for the movie, he had sparked a controversy with his words,
When I used to walk out of that ring, it used to be actually like a raped woman walking out.
It was too late by the time he corrected his words. And not just because of the statement. But instead because he had already made the movie. Under the guise of empowerment, it is actually little more than the 80’s patriarchal cinema. A woman doesn’t have to be self-sacrificial to be a worthy person.
The single scene from the movie that proves this? When Aarfa (played by Anushka Sharma) proclaims, “Mera medal toh yahi hai”, referring to her unborn child, giving up the Olympic dream. But Salman Khan fans are unreasonable devotees of his bulging biceps. They are probably disregarding this inclusion as we speak.
The franchise is some kind of an inside joke Salman Khan shares with his fans. Which is why, I cannot seem to comprehend why the downright chauvinistic cop portrayed by Khan is worshipped by so many. Why are fans swooning over ‘pyar se de rahe hai, rakh lo, varna thappad maarke bhi de sakte hai’ which is clearly a blatant promotion of abuse? In our country, the police is clearly not known for being gladly supportive of women. So, doesn’t attaching a cool quotient to a policeman’s authority aggravate the situation? I will end up with more questions than answers here.
Raanjhanaa was an absolute treasure of a movie. Kundan and Zoya were endearing characters and there was even a sacrifice for love. The movie was also intelligent. It looked at more than just the urban-rural mindset divide. It also looked at student politics, pretense, and flawed appropriations of intellect. Kundan slits his wrists in his undying love for Zoya, in keeping with his old-school notions of romance.
Much like 500 days of Summer, it is hard to see the underlying reinforcement of sexism in the movie, because even Zoya is flawed. (For perspective, she slits her wrists later on in the movie) His stalking and obstinacy is far from love: and the movie aggrandises this type of lover.
Quick tip: if you love ’em, let ’em go.
If we talk about subtle sexism, this is it. The movie is thoroughly enjoyable and that makes its sexism sad. Much like Badrinath ki Dunhaniya, it claims to be promoting the image of a modern, independent woman. But it ends up doing quite the opposite.
With a typical love triangle between Meera, Gautam and Veronica, Gautam chooses the goody-two-shoes Meera. What’s problematic is the depiction of morality is based on the woman’s adherence to the Indian culture. Veronica is the girl you have fun with, until Meera comes along for you to marry.
But oh well, Gautam is a man, so he can be whoever he wants to be, and not be judged for his depraved demeanour. And the icing on this filthy cake? Meera is who he ends up marrying, because ‘good girls’ are wifey-material. The most regressive part, though? Veronica tries to change herself into the ‘sanskaari’ girl in order to have a chance at a life with Gautam. He doesn’t deserve you, girl!
To think that the movie credits go to the same person who made the controversial ‘It’s my choice’ video featuring Deepika Padukone doesn’t really help the situation either.
If Hollywood’s position as the epicentre in the #MeToo movement isn’t clear to you, watch the movies. Bond movies are the poster child for Hollywood’s systemic, corrosive and stubborn sexism. Even as we see the Bond franchise spanning many generations, this hasn’t much changed.
Women are solely used as eye-candy in the movie, Sévérine is shown to be a victim of sexual trafficking, and is clearly traumatized by the memories. But to keep Bond’s overbearing masculinity going, surprise shower sex is thrown up into the mix, even as it makes little sense. Her role ends a few scenes later and Bond calls her death “a waste of good scotch”
(Context: a shot glass was balanced above her head when she got shot).
Another dialogue to prove my point:
Eve: “Room service.”
James Bond: “I didn’t order anything, not even you.”
But the audience would rather swoon over the brand that James Bond (and Daniel Craig, by extension) is. Irony is that Craig himself feels that Bond is a “very lonely, sexist misogynist.”
7. She’s All That
This movie is sexist for the same reason many great movies are: the protagonist undergoes a makeover, ditching her glasses, ponytail and disturbing choice of clothes for a shorter, sleeker haircut, contact lenses and a form-fitting dress. We see similar things in Indian cinema and Television.
Cue: Naina in Kal Ho Na Ho.
The movie is a gross disservice to the story it is trying so hard to create. What we end up with is Zach having a genuine interest in her after she turns out to be pretty hot.
Filmmakers assume the audience will be all sunshine and flowers by their getting together in the end, but the price we pay for that is huge. It is clear the film wants us to remember that we are ugly as the individuals that we are and we must need to change something about her before being appealing to the opposite sex, especially when we are girls.
Food for thought
These regressive plots are also reflective of the film industry. No, not just the output, or the films, but also the film sector as a workplace.
According to a report released by Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film, in 2017, females comprised 24% of protagonists in top grossing films. Only 32% of films featured 10 or more female characters in speaking roles last year, 79% had 10 or more male characters. Women made up 18% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films.