“That beautiful girl who just walked out of your cabin… is she your secretary?” Ashiq Ali asks Akbar Ali (Danny Denzongpa). “Personal Secretary,” Akbar Ali specifies, emphasising on the adjective “Personal” lasciviously. The designation never sounded filthier.
While in the example cited above from Andha Kanoon (1983), the secretary was actually a policewoman in disguise, in vintage Bollywood films, the female colleague at workplace has been, by default, an object of sexual fantasy. In Charas (1976), Lawrence (Sujit Kumar) salivates at the dusky young employee of Seth Brindavan who had come into the cabin to hand over a telegraphic message. And he takes the liberty of gently running his fingers over her sleeveless arms. A scene earlier, at a rather boisterous party, Amjad Khan walks in and nonchalantly pats the hip of one of the female invitees at the party.
With exceptions like Sanjog (1971) in which Asha Devi (Mala Sinha) was an IAS officer, the stock female employee in Hindi films was usually the junior ranked stenographer, typist, the telephone operator and the secretary who were almost always clad in short dresses, taking instructions from their male bosses. “It is a man’s world, isn’t it?”, Anita Sood (Deepti Naval) Secretary to Ajay (Amol Palekar) makes a sharp observation in Rang Birangi (1983). That leering body check at the female employee or that apparently needless stop by at her desk for a few moments of gossip was a common visage. In Rang Birangi , Deven Verma swivels on his heels, his eyes following the young lady Assistant. Why, even the reputed Dr. Sudhir Roy’s (Amitabh Bachchan) eyes in Bemisal (1982) couldn’t resist the backward glance at the nurse. In Griha Pravesh (1979), the entire office comes to a virtual standstill. Each male employee is floating in his own personal fantasy cloud with the attractive new glassy-eyed typist Sapna (Sarika) whose deep-neck sleeveless tops turns up temperature in the office every day. The men ogle her brazenly to an extent that the boss is forced to relocate her to a secluded cabin away from the gaze of the other men so that they may concentrate on their work! One regretfully observes some amount of bias in the Bollywood of the past – these junior lady employees usually had screen names like Suzy or Maria and the likes. In Dastak (1970), the camera zooms in on the pendant — a crucifix in gorgeous Maria’s (Anju Mahendru) necklace. Maria was the fashionably dressed office typist.
Movie producer Dayal (Ajit Vachhani) in Khamosh (1985) was Bollywood’s pre-incarnation of real life Hollywood filmmaker Harvey Weinstein who is currently riddled with allegations of sexual harassment. Dayal requests, coaxes and coerces Soni (Soni Razdan) to come to his hotel room in return for a plum role in his next mega budget movie. And get slapped in public by her. Asking for sexual favours at workplace is another variety of megalomania — like this playboy in Yes Boss (1997) Sidharth Chowdhary (Aditya Pancholi) who runs his father-in-law’s ad agency – when he is not bedding models, that is. When Seema (Juhi Chawla) rejects him, Sidharth’s veneer of sophistication drops from his countenance and sets about molesting her in the workplace itself. It was there in Fashion (2008) – yes, between members of the same sex too.
Fortunately, with global awareness and stricter rules on workplace harassment we increasingly see refreshing sights of women occupying important positions in corporations e.g. Nishigandha (Bipasha Basu) in Corporate (2006), Anita Rajan (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) in Sarkar Raj (2008) and Raina Parulekar (Dipannita Sharma) in Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl (2011). There was no leering or leching at their formal western wear. The change for the better is here – behold the extremely professional association between Ravi (Anil Kapoor) and his young and attractive secretary Reena (Nandana Sen) in My Wife’s Murder (2005); or Sanjay Singhania’s (Aamir Khan) respectful eye to eye contact in Gajini (2008) while conversing with his young female colleague in a short skirt.
Hopefully MeToo will become SeeYou soon.