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Reward for the worst

At a recent function in Mumbai, the Maharashtra State Commission for Women distributed Duryodhan and Rakshasa awards for gender insensitive and excessively violent films, tele-films and ad films in Hindi and Marathi. V. GANGADHAR reports.

The Rakshasa and Duryodhan awards.

REMEMBER the scene in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar where Cassius after stabbing Caesar, proclaims, "How many years hence, shall this our lofty scene be enacted over. In times unbroken, accents unborn!"

Cassius was not exaggerating. The assassination scene in the play must have been enacted thousands of times all over the world, in different languages. Similarly, was the eldest Kaurava brother, Prince Duryodhan aware that his action in trying to publicly strip Pandava Queen Draupadi would stand the test of time and also earn him the dubious distinction of having an award named after him?

At a recent function in Mumbai where the Maharashtra State Commission for Women distributed Duryodhan and Rakshasa awards for gender insensitive and excessively violent films, tele-films and ad films in Hindi and Marathi, Ms. Roopa Shah, Vice-Chancellor of S.N.D.T. University and a member of the jury which chose the award winning entries observed, "When a woman is denigrated, Mahabharat will come. When Draupadi was stripped, it was a turning point in the Mahabharat."

The packed Y.B. Chavan auditorium erupted into cheers as speaker after speaker lambasted commercial and ad film-makers for insensitivity towards women and excessive violence. The clips from the nominated films told their own story.

In the Duryodhan awards category for gender insensitivity, a scene from "Ajnabee," one of the nominated films, showed two male characters drooling while discussing wife swapping as if it were the most natural event in the world. "A woman is like a cube of ice," one of them observed, "close your hand, she is there; open it, she is gone." Another contender in the same category, "Asoka", showed women as sex objects.

The winner of the Duryodhan award was the Govinda starrer, "Amdani Attani Kharcha Rupaiya", produced by Mr. Seshadri. Crude and tasteless, the film showed no let-up of violence against women and cast aspersions on the morals of working women. And all this in the name of "humour".

As the chairperson of the jury, well known lawyer Indira Jaisingh, pointed out, "Many of the punch lines in the film were delivered by popular comedian, Johny Lever and were picked up by audiences all over. This is a dangerous trend." If Duryodhan was bad, Rakshasa was worse.

What a fall for Kamal Hasan in "Abhay" where characters punch, kick, throttle and drown one another to the accompaniment of screams and shrieks. "Gadar" may have set box office records, but how can the violence depicted ever be justified? Why focus so much on the tragedies of Partition and open old wounds?

The winner, however, was the Amitabh home production "Aks". A considerably upset Ms. Jaisingh referred to the use of scriptures and superstition shown in the film to justify violence. Characters killed while quoting from the Bhagvad Gita. There was no respect for the pillars of Indian society. A criminal hangs a judge who had sentenced him for an offence. She questioned the propriety of role models like Amitabh Bachchan acting in such films. "Shouldn't they be selective?" asked Ms. Jaisingh.

The ad films in the Duryodhan category were equally degrading and tasteless and showed the whiz kids of the ad profession in poor light. Women used Moov for their aches and pains and went back to their domestic chores. The comparison of a woman's body to a motorbike and the reference to men "riding" it were quite obvious. In a Tata Yellow Pages ad, a husband was shown searching for the telephone number of a divorce lawyer after his wife delivered a dark complexioned baby. Besides the racial slur, it degrades the character of the mother.

While the Lemon, Raspberry and Bad Sex awards in the West have been accepted with a sporting spirit by the "winners", our men and women who made these films have not reached similar levels of sophistication and tolerance. And of course, some much-needed sense of humour. But the jurors, members of the Commission and the packed audience hoped that the situation would change and that future recipients would accept the awards in the proper spirit.

Chairperson of the commission, lawyer, Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar said that the idea for the awards was born when producer-director Shyam Benegal told a workshop organised by the commission, "Film makers themselves will not change since they lived in a patriarchal society. If women want changes in society, they must be heard; there should be some activism from them."

The Commission, after instituting the awards, called for nominations in three categories from the people. Nearly 40 nominations were received and it was hoped that more would be forthcoming this year, that too from Marathi films and serials.

Several interesting viewpoints were raised prior to the showing of the clips. "Why this obsession with tradition?" asked Ms. Nirmala Samant. "It was said that French men in the past, to avoid getting their feet cold on wintry mornings, put their feet on their wives' backs while getting up. No one does that any more. Similarly, why should modern women follow rituals like Karva Chauth and fast in the hope of getting `good' husbands? Why can't men fast if they want `good' wives?"

Speakers complained that films and tele films portray women as submissive and ready to tolerate any kind of ill treatment from the males. Women are freely slapped around without any resistance. Such an attitude can lead young men to believe that women are for beating up in real life too. That is why some of them did not even hesitate to throw acid on girls who have resisted their overtures. It was pointed out that despite its modern image, Maharashtra stood second in the number of crimes against women.

Indira Jaisingh explained the law that laid down how women should be portrayed in films. "Derogatory references to women are not acceptable," she said. "Some years ago, when the producers of a film `Pati Parameshwar' appealed against the Censor Board ban on their film, late Justice Lentin of the Bombay High Court agreed with the ban. As suggested by the title, the film showed women as slaves of the males, willing to tolerate and accept the injustice heaped on them."

Nirmala Samant made it clear that it was not against films or any form of entertainment. The commission honoured "Chandini Bar" for its realistic and sensitive portrayal of bar girls and "Lajja" which stood up for exploited women. "Why can't there be more films like `Amar, Akbar, Anthony' which dealt with religious tolerance in a light-hearted manner?" The awards, she said, were a wake up call to the film and television makers. "We propose to have a continuing dialogue with the film people and the media," she promised.

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