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Sex And The Second Sex In Anurag Kashyap’s World Of Films

October 4, 2012 | By

And although Kashyap’s woman is often the subject and nowhere close to being the incidental or the inessential, it is imperative for her to be incomplete and not absolute without her man whom she manipulates sexually, in consequence reducing herself to “the Other”.

Simone De Beauvoir, the noted feminist and existentialist, while exploring the individualism of the second sex, quotes the French philosopher Julien Benda as having said of women in his Rapport d’Uriel ‘The body of man makes sense in itself quite apart from that of woman, whereas the latter seems wanting in significance by itself … Man can think of himself without woman. She cannot think of herself without man’ (Benda, 1946).

Benda may well be waxing forth on the importance accorded to female characters in mainstream Indian films made in the Hindi language.

Notwithstanding several earlier efforts to portray women as essentially central to the drama by erstwhile stalwarts like Mehboob Khan (Mother India), Mahesh Bhatt (Arth and Zakhm), Shyam Benegal (Suraj Ka Satwaan Ghoda, Mandi, Zubeidaa) and Ketan Mehta (Mirch Masala, Maya Memsaab), contemporary mainstream films reduce women characters to eye candy and were they to be eliminated, as an intellectual exercise, they should not even mildly alter the narrative.

The continued vacuousness of female leads and the inadequate imagination that goes into their conceptualization (even in films representative of world-cinema  such as Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan as well as critically and commercially successful films such as 3 Idiots and Main Hoon Naa) have resulted in the reduction of women to passive recipients of attention and love expressed by male characters.

Occasionally when filmmakers have digressed from this tradition, the screenplays have been over the top and the characters contrived and unrealistic.

One prominent example is that of Susanna (Priyanka Chopra) of Vishal Bharadwaj’s 7 Khoon Maaf. Unaffected by either the sexism or the tendency to paint his heroines as the absurd, is Anurag Kashyap, one of the best-known filmmakers of the Hindi film industry.

In a recent interview Kashyap says of his women “No, I can’t stand the idea of girl next door in real life. And I have always wanted to create those kind of women characters, who if I have met in real life, I would have either fallen for them or wanted to have an interaction or become much closer friends with them or admired them.

So that’s why my women character come out like that, and who are often judged by other people because, you know how women is, because she always decides how she is going to be, based on the man in her life, mostly. And that kind of sometimes bothers me” (Kashyap, 2012).

Kashyap’s sketch of his woman is his stimulus, the starting point. What unfolds unto us is a flesh-and-blood character, etched out with a lot of conviction and care.  Strong and resilient, manipulative and unapologetic to the core, she is a welcome departure from the plasticine femininity portrayed onscreen.

Kashyap’s woman is not merely the incidental. She is credible and also as much in the driver’s seat as the male protagonist in steering the narrative past its twists and turns.

For instance, in Gulaal’s heavily masculine world of politics, inheritance, and parochialism, Kiran, starts from a point of disadvantage on account of her gender and pedigree, to battle her way in a bid to acquire power on her own rules.

Gulaal is available on Amazon

In Gulaal’s heavily masculine world of politics, inheritance, and parochialism, Kiran, starts from a point of disadvantage on account of her gender and pedigree, to battle her way in a bid to acquire power on her own rules.

That Girl in Yellow Boots, is an existential drama about Ruth, a British woman looking for her long-lost dad in Mumbai. Ruth’s vulnerability and her eventual catharsis is set in the backdrop of a city that is largely unmoved.

As the last of her hopes flickers out she stands on the brink of freedom; freedom from a lost cause, a past and a man that have chased and haunted her since the beginning of time. She is ready to start life afresh and the film remains exclusively her own.

In Dev D, Paro and Leni/Chanda constitute the two power-centers between which the male protagonist, Dev keeps shuttling helplessly.

There is one drawback however; femininity for Kashyap is synonymous with sexuality. There are two archetypes predominant in his films – one where the woman is the object of lust, is to be ogled at or even touched. Anuja, the young college lecturer from Gulaal is an example of this set.

A second, more developed character typifying this archetype is Ruth, That Girl In Yellow Boots; she does not have a work-permit and takes up a job in a massage parlor making quick money by catering, at times, to the murkier fantasies of her seedy clients.

She seeks an extension of her visa and is shown to be at the mercy of a corrupt establishment, which seeks illegitimate favors in return for the extension.

Kashyap’s journey into the realm of film-noir takes us deeper and deeper into an abyss of depravity and sleaze. In a bid to create a claustrophobia, Kashyap surrounds Ruth with a host of male characters who lust after her – wealthy industrialists introduced to her by an influential foreign-office bureaucrat turned pimp, the police officer in charge of keeping an eye on her, her druggie boyfriend, his extortionist and in an echo of Polanski’s Chinatown, her father.

Kashyap’s second and more common archetype is the woman who finds herself effortlessly slipping into the shoes of a scheming seductress wherein a glimpse of the cleavage or a bare back seems to do the trick.

PaanchSexuality is the woman’s only driving force. She is made to realize it, revel in it and wield it to her advantage. Shiuli in Paanch, a talented singer in a music band struts and frets in her unidimensional world of rich boyfriends whom she befriends and later sleeps with for money.

In Gulaal’s Kiran, we find an even more dexterous manipulator almost at par with the amorous abilities of Catherine Tramell. She keeps climbing the political hierarchy by seducing and sleeping with the protagonist and eventually dumps him when her purpose is served.

Some of Kashyap’s women even seem to blend both archetypes. Durga from Gangs of Wasseypur is one such example. We also have Chanda in Dev D, a sad victim of an MMS scandal, spurned by the world at large, exploring her sexuality to get back at, and live life on her terms within the lugubrious confines of her make-belief world of garish walls, iridescent wigs, fake accents all for the consumption of masochistic rich clients and for what can best be described as, high-end prostitution.

Let us assume that sexual manipulation and exploitation is so rampant in our society that realistic movie-making sans these elements is an impossibility. Kashyap is free to demarcate, and explore within, his sexual territory.

Having said that, the least Kashyap can do is empower his women with strengths and manipulating abilities more than one.

Because the moment sexual motivation is used as a ploy, Kashyap is treading dangerous ground, envisioning his woman relative to the man and not completely independent of him. Beauvoir draws on Hegel’s master-slave dialectic (Hegel, 1807) to propound her theory of the man-woman relationship being one of the absolute and the other. “She is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other”(de Beauvoir, 1949).

And although Kashyap’s woman is often the subject and nowhere close to being the incidental or the inessential, it is imperative for her to be incomplete and not absolute without her man whom she manipulates sexually, in consequence reducing herself to “the Other”.

The predictable and hackneyed use of sexual manipulation makes Kashyap’s second archetype almost a rehash of one another, or even more damagingly of Phyllis Dietrychson from Double Indemnity, and Sonia from Jism with minor changes.

Not that the construction of reel woman characters who use much more than just their sexuality as a means to dominate and succeed is without historical precedent. Shobha Sen in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro can manipulate situations through various means. Only one of them is of a sexual nature specifically with respect to Vinod Chopra (Naseeruddin Shah).

When she is at the factory she asserts her superiority over her blue-collar employees by taking the spanner in her hands and repairing the press machine herself. She alternates between her journalistic pen and blackmail in her dealings with the corrupt nexus of industry and government.

Chokher Bali is a tale, told at an indulgent pace, of Binodini a young widow, her intense and unrequited sensuality, her gift for repartees, her active interest in the larger cause that charged pre-independence India. She has a complexity and multidimensionality that few from the reel world can match.

Binodini manipulates her environs using not only her sexual charm but also her intellectual curiosity, her literary taste, as well as home-making abilities such as cooking and sewing, all of which is juxtaposed against a naïve and English-illiterate Ashalata who is content to be sexually objectified within the confines of her bedroom.

Kashyap’s layered embodiment of Nagma Khatoon in Gangs of Wasseypur is a step in this direction. It remains to be seen when the mainstream Hindi heroine finally frees herself from the two extremes of objectification and Kashyap’s dangerously myopic sexualization in order to explore a more nuanced and credibly complex modus operandi to achieve or at least attempt to achieve her desires.

 References:

– Benda, J. Rapport d’Uriel, 1946.

– Hegel, G. W. F. Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by A. V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977)

– de Beauvoir, S. The Second Sex (Vintage Books, 1973)

– Interview with Anurag Kashyap Accessed August 6, 2012. Web:  http://movies.ndtv.com/movie_story.aspx?Section=Movies&ID=251278&keyword=&nid=251278

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Kusumita Rakshit has been a student of fine arts and photography at the Berkeley Art Studio, University of California, Berkeley. She holds degrees in economics and business management and taught graphic designing and digital editing at Biju Pattanaik Film and Television Institute, India. Her interests lie in the exploration of the political and sociological ramifications of visual arts including, but not limited to, films.
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