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The Changing Face of Bollywood Heroines

© Eros International

© Eros International

Bollywood heroines are worshipped in India but have also sparked the ire of activists who believe that the actresses allow themselves to be objectified. Over the last two years, there has been a drastic shift in the way popular actresses have presented themselves. Some like Kangana Ranaut have vowed never to do item numbers while others like Vidya Balan have launched powerful social media campaigns.

Despite the fact that some of these campaigns need polishing and that a large majority of these campaigns target urban women, one can’t dismiss the fact that they still herald a wave of positive change. They give women a lot of support by talking about taboo topics on national media. Women’s rights remain at the forefront even in product advertisements and are relayed on primetime.

© DW

Vidya Balan © DW

Vidya Balan’s campaign stresses the need for toilets for women in villages and towns. I applaud the way she exposes the hypocrisy of a society that imposes the veil on women to protect their honor, and at the same time lacks the sensibility to provide them a private place to defecate. It reminds us of the brutal gang rape of the two teenage girls in the State of Uttar Pradesh , who went outdoors to find a discreet place to defecate. The unfortunate incident highlighted the need for toilets in houses in rural areas. Balan’s campaign brings home the urgent need to fix at least one part of problem.

Nandita Das with her ‘Dark is beautiful’ campaign worked towards creating awareness about the deep-rooted prejudice that fair skin is better than dark skin. The country’s obsession with fair skin reflects in the overwhelming amount of matrimonial ads that cite ‘fair girl’ as a criterion to be considered for a suitable match. Das is of dusky complexion herself and is as a result of the campaign a big role-model for many dark-skinned women in the country who are subject to brutal discrimination.

Madhuri Dixit campaign Start with the Boys addresses the cliché about masculinity in a patriarchal society where men are not allowed to cry because it is not a manly trait. The video then shows a man beating his wife. Dixit brings the stark reality of domestic violence to light and has a powerful message about boys should be raised not to make girls cry. While it is not a ‘groundbreaking’ video, it still addresses an important issue that has remained under wraps for a while.

© picture-alliance/EPA/G. Horcajuelo

Katrina Kaif © picture-alliance/EPA/G. Horcajuelo

Katrina Kaif starring in an advertisement for luxury watches touches another important issue that is at the heart of Indian culture with ‘The Right time to Marry’.  While it only targets the upper class, Kaif also underlines the pressure of marriage on many young Indians. The country’s urban youth has been fighting this pressure as friends and family coax them to do the appropriate thing by marrying and starting a family. The ad gives the urban women a validation that there is nothing wrong about believing in a utopia and giving them some strength to fight for it. Deepika Padukone Vogue Empower campaign Mychoice, despite its many flaws, also brough the crucial right of a woman’s choice to the forefront.

Quite a few of these actresses have adorned themselves with skimpy outfits and have danced to item numbers in their films. Moral policing took up the idea of that women who dressed skimpily like them were inviting rape and harassment. It failed to differentiate the on screen goddess playing a role and a woman’s freedom of choice to dress the way she pleased. This new face of the Bollywood actresses coming forward in droves and discussing women’s issues is definitely a good place to start sensitizing the society towards women’s rights.

Are there other campaigns with your favorite actresses advocating women’s rights that you would like to share? We look forward to hearing from you in the comments section below.

Author: Roma Rajpal Weiß

Editor: Marjory Linardy

Roma Rajpal Weiß is a journalist and blogger and can be followed @romarajpal.



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22.05.2015 | 15:19