Issue 33 / Exploring The Ayashi Treatment In Bollywood-Part II

Exploring The Ayashi Treatment In Bollywood-Part II

Jan 20, 2016


In this second part of our discussion on Ayashi we take a look at today's Bollywood and how it's approaching the subject of prostitution, adultery and casual sex with a fresh take and if it's vulgar.

*To read the first part of this discussion where we look at how Ayashi is treated in films past, click here. 

The new face of the prostitute is not as helpless and powerless as in films of the previous era, although she still landed into the profession via a tragic traffficking story. For instance, Chameli is the story of a prostitute who was sold by her uncle into the profession. Chameli (Kareena Kapoor) is able to influence Aman (Rahul Bose) and help him reunite with his family. The storyline is powerful in the message it gives and the image of prostitute is spurned. While society considers her an outcast, she is better than them by her help in bridging gaps in relations. The prostitute who is typically held responsible for family breakups by society is now seen in a humane light. In Chameli, Bollywood has also broken the mould of the prostitute who craves for love and marriage. She is comfortable in her skin, strong and confident enough to face the reality of her life. Dev D tackles the issue of prostitution as well as casual sex. Dev (Abhay Deol) is unable to accept neither Paro (Mahi Gill) nor Chanda (Kalki Koechlin) because they have engaged sexually with other men. The latter has done so professionally while the former is merely rumoured to be involved. Dev’s character paints the biased gender attitudes prevalent in society in the truest form. However, the film also shows that patriarchal beliefs which are harsh to women on the outset, impact the men too on the psychological level. Dev is a troubled man, trying to find an escape through alcoholism. The ending shows hope for change as he pulls himself out of his miserable life and attempts a new beginning with Chanda.

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Cheating in marriage applies to both genders and the women stand up to the sexist shaming more so than before. In Astitva the husband is unforgiving of adultery when it comes to his wife despite having multiple partners himself. The movie does not conceal or underplay the tragedy of such sexism, it sheds light on reality as it is. Aditi's (Tabu) character is an especially strong one as she is able to confront the challenges of her life and openly criticise the misogynistic attitudes that come her way and those of others like her. In Bajirao Mastani, if Bajirao has made a mistake, it is not of adultery. That is endorsed owing to his male privilege. His mistake is to have married Mastani, someone of a different religion from his. As such, while he is merely criticised for his choice, she is taunted vehemently and physically attacked for the same. Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra) does not reciprocate Mastani’s acceptance of her. However, she does not shame her like others and keeps her grievances only with Bajirao. Through the character of the latter, the film opposes the anti-woman social norms. If Silsila was sympathetic to its characters, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna only takes a step forward. It does not paint cheating as a mistake but a process naturally driven with a fitting outcome. The marriages do not last and the film shows support for freedom in love over marital obligation.    

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Several films have portrayed casual sex without the strong reservations of past films through bold female protagonists who feel the stress of society's judgment on them but learn to take it in their stride instead of wallowing in self-pity. Cocktail explores this theme rather well. There is no taboo Veronica (Deepika Padukone) faces for her enjoying sexual relationships purely for the sake of joy and not with the purpose of commitment or marriage. While Gautam (Saif Ali Khan) respects her lifestyle choices and does not show any sexist attitude towards her, he chooses the more conservative Meera (Diana Penty) over her for love. This now throws Veronica in confusion and turmoil as she wonders if her polygamous relations make her less lovable for others. She moulds herself as a traditional wife to win Gautam's love but it does not work. The question remains lingering – are girls who enter frivolous relationships eyed with condescension and deemed unsuitable for marriage? 

Both The Dirty Picture and Heroine are stories of film actresses. They show the ordeals of their challenging professions as well as the difficulties they face in relationships. Their bold personalities and resolute spirits are admirable. In the film Piku Bhashkor (Amitabh Bachchan) plays an unusual fatherHe is supportive of feminism and is vocal about it. Though handled in a comic fashion, as he prides in his daughter's sexual relations and her not being a virgin, he ushers in new ideas of progressiveness. The woman is finally not a rebel – she has full support of her family in the choices she wants to make for herself.

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While the fundamental problems are still the same, the way they are portrayed by Hindi cinema is evolving. Characters are bolder and have more freedom while the general tone on the subject is less sentimental. There is also more weight given to new perspectives of looking at things. Ayashi though still remains unacceptable in light of the more marketable models of monogamy and marriage, though Ayashi may still come across as vulgar. 

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Sonia Malik


Sonia writes on current affairs and pop culture. An English graduate from the University of Toronto, she identifies as a global citizen, feminist and nature lover. She will be ready to shake a leg to a peppy Bollywood beat any day.


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