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Movies, women and sexuality

Current films and serials have a rather bad influence on women and are making them go backward socially, a researcher from New York tells LEELA MENON.

KERALA HAS high social indicators but the State's women have progressively regressed and the main culprit for this intellectual frigidity and social backtracking of Kerala women is the visual media, or more precisely the films and serials, according to Patricia Swart, of the New School for Social Research, New York, doing her Ph.D on `Film and Gender and Public Sphere' in the State. An anthropologist and social scientist, she poses a big WHY?

Why are Kerala women backward and getting worse? Patricia had come here to do research on Film and Globalisation but her topic shifted to Film and Gender after three months of her stay in the State, during which time she watched umpteen Malayalam movies, dating back to the seventies to the present. And she concludes that the picturisation of Kerala women in the seventies were more powerful and empowering: The seventies women had unique identities, unlike in Hindi movies. But their position began to deteriorate from 1992. Now women are degraded, they are sex objects; they get slapped, mauled, shown as timid and scared. Or they are shrews, greedy, cruel, scheming.

There is a vast difference in the message given in the seventies and now. Now the patriarchal culture is perpetuated in films, Ms. Swart analyses, pointing out that a woman is seen falling in love with the hero when he slaps her!

According to her the state of Malayalam films is a cause for concern because the issues of women are never addressed, despite the fact that it is the women who contributes to the box office factor of films, like `Balettan' or `CID Moosa'. The film culture is enshrined in the Kerala psyche but no woman can go to the theatres alone, because of sexual harassment. In Europe, a woman can go anywhere alone, at any time, can use a cab, but faces no harassment. There is a huge pressure on the Malayali people because of globalisation the pressure on students to succeed, the joblessness, et al. The Malayali is a peculiar creed, spending so much energy in useless marches and women voting according to male diktats.

Kerala is isolated from the rest of India. It has not opened up to other influences. It feels threatened by globalisation and nothing unites the people here. Also there is overemphasis on consumerism here and women are obsessed with their skin tones, she says.

She concludes that the position of women is difficult in Kerala, their presence invisible in crucial areas. Few Malayali women are ever seen on a film jury, only foreign women. They are also absent in the realms of decision-making.

Patricia also regrets that love is not a factor in marriages here. Marriage is a favour conferred on women. And extra-marital sex is high in Kerala. The all-pervasive eve teasing could be due to male sexual inadequacy. Their attempt to maul you at theatres is so stealthy and pathetic, with no element of aggression and she concludes that it could be an expression of some sort of perversion. According to Patricia, Malayalam films are in real bad shape, though the older films were good. "Even the singing and dancing are phoney. The picturisation in paddy fields and rural havens is a mere version of the past. Even the latest favourite music numbers are not original. Now the past is glamourised, and women are made traditional, even in their dress. I watched `Nammal' and I found the `Rakshasi... ' scene ridiculous. If someone grabs a woman's bottom he only gets a smirk, as if women enjoy it. What sort of message does it convey," she asks, remarking that there is a long-standing repression in men here. And Patricia's conclusion? Mimicry has become an art form as a result of the degradation of film media culture here!

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