Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What women want and how men help them get it

It was while watching a recent rerun of Chak De India on TV that the idea to write this piece struck me. We have all watched and loved this great movie and SRK’s performance (his one genuine performance as an actor according to me). We all have loved the spirit of the sport and the passion to win it can evoke and the fact that all the protagonists happen to be women made the point even more poignant. I myself have used various snippets from the movie to explain team work and leadership in a number of workshops and training programs. However, what struck me when I watched the movie this time was the various ways in which men in these women’s lives drive them to take the risk and do what they truly believe in. Whether it is the boy friend who mocks the sport his girl wants to excel in, the husband who thinks the wife should return to her kitchen duty once she has accomplished the task of securing a house for the family through her sport , the father who does not want his fire cracker of a daughter to defy tradition and play a sport he deems is a man’s forte or the bureaucrat who ridicules and mocks the motley team’s efforts to reach the world cup, all these men play a part in driving the team of women to excellence.

I thought of so many subtle ways in which the world around undermines a woman’s confidence that she is equal to men in every walk if life  whether it is her mother who expects only her and not her brother to help her in the housework, her husband who refuses to share the load at home though she works as hard as him and comes back as tired after a grueling day at work or her boss who does not believe in paying her as much as a man for doing the same job. All these influences in life play a role in every woman questioning her worth.

However, the undercurrent of the role men specifically played in doing this got me thinking. Do men always need to play a negative role in driving women to excellence?  Is it this attitude of men that provides women with the power and resilience to chase their dreams and prove them wrong? The notion troubled me for a long time. While I am not a ‘dyed in the wool’ feminist, I do believe that the modern woman has never had it better than this day and age to defy all clich├ęs and truly reach her ultimate potential. But I have always felt that the men in her life play a role in helping her find and chase her dreams. Armed with this belief and wanting to prove the notion (or what I believed was the notion) of Chak De wrong, I went about trying to find references in Bollywood Cinema of the supportive man. The one who does not mind standing in the background and look on with pride and happiness while his woman takes the bow, the one who stays up nights with a wife, a daughter, a sister helping her and quietly encouraging her to be all that she can be, the one about whom the female protagonist could have proudly said – “He is the man behind my success” but unfortunately Bollywood seems to not have grown enough to show these facets of what a mature, modern man could be.

It was a chance sighting of a performance of a group of sari clad, traditionally dressed women playing rock music on a TV reality show that gave ballast to my belief that men do form strong positive role models in the lives of women. This was a group of housewives from Bhiwandi who played the drums, the guitar, the banjo and the mike like seasoned rock stars that pleasantly surprised me on how far the modern Indian woman had reached. But what was most touching was the leader of the rock group proclaiming that it was the support of her husband and his unstinting belief in her ability that led her to follow her passion and dream big for herself and her band. The proud husband came on stage with kids in tow with pride in his eyes over his wife’s talent and achievements. That moment strengthened my belief that behind every truly successful and content woman, there needs to be a man, egging her and goading her to be all that she can be. Men need not always be the mocking presence that drives the anger in women to do well but can also be the calming and inspiring presence that drives the confidence in them. The modern woman seems to have matured and grown into understanding her place in society and is not afraid to go out into the world and be all that she can be. May be it is time now for the modern man to change his stance and grow. For women to really have the power and contentment they deserve, it is the man’s turn to mature and discover himself in new ways that helps him be the inspiring presence in his loved one’s lives. I am sure this will lead to women being driven by passion and not anger. Hopefully, Bollywood will play catch up soon and have a host of movies with the liberated man as the front runner. Give us more SRK like coaches from Chak De any day !


  1. Really really good read, Neeraja. I enjoyed it so much, and you got me thinking, for a long time. You raise interesting questions on a subject dear to my heart.
    Totally agree with you. Yes, Bollywood has bad stereotypes of the 'supportive' male. The poor heroine is forever in 'permission seeking' mode. Perfect example is the most famous DDLJ movie. On the surface, it looks like the male protagonist is sensitive, supportive, loving and caring. But scratch the surface and you see all the veiled anti-woman's lib undertones in this movie. From Raj telling Simran..."I know what a Hindustani ladki's izzat means to her"(awful dialogue--totally implies that women of other countries don't really care about their 'izzat'), to extra points to the hero for observing 'Karva Chauth' along with the heroine (truly supportive bf would have asked to 'cut the regressive crap' and drink her water), to the final pathetic state of the heroine where she is simply unable to act on her own accord and marry the person she very obviously loves without the final 'I approve' nod from her dad. The funniest paradox in this movie is that Raj who mocks the heroine's submissiveness of agreeing for an arranged marriage, finally subjugates her to the same submissiveness by refusing to marry her without dad's permission.
    I do think that Bollywood is slowly but surely beginning to depict heros as supportive bfs and husbands. Most recent example is the movie 'Break ke Baad'. The hero in this movie stands by his woman in the true sense by encouraging her 'sense of self', and loving her in spite of who she is. There are obvious dialogues in the movie depicting the hero's open admiration of the heroine's independent and adventurous spirit.
    All that said and done, as a generation X-er, I thought DDLJ was a romantic masterpiece, and 'Break ke Baad' an inane comedy about confused individuals.
    But, as a mother of two little girls, if you ask me who I'd like my girls to emulate, I'd pick Aliya (Break ke Baad) over Simran anyday:)!

  2. Hi Vadina. Good you told me who Sneha was or I would have been wondering. I so totally aree with you on the stereo types Bollywood propogates. DDLJ is one of my favorite movies and Raj an iconic caharecter of our generation I guess. But even when I watched the movie as a kid, I wondered how the heroine who was brave enough to do a Eurail trip aloine with friends could turn into such a simpering idiot in the second half. Alos, how can a mothr tell her daughter, this is the lot of women in life. I do want to write about how some of these film moments impact genrations.

    Anyways one hero of recent times who impressed me was Aditya of Jab we Met, who pushes the heroine to stay true to her 'funda' in life, though it has given her major setbacks. While Kareena got all the bouquets for this path breaking movie, i wish there are more examples like Aditya and youngsters of these days think he is as cool as Raj of DDLJ.

    Till then we can only hopwe to raise our daughters as Aliya and not Simran I guess :-)

  3. Great blog Ambica, just when I was thinking perhaps I would like to move from where we are currently so my 3 hour journey everyday to and from from work is minimised but ofcourse because it doesnt suit the hubby for all 'reasonable' reasons we cant and the poor little soul like me has to leg it all the way back and forth, come snow, rain, sun or fall...I truly wish men werent born with a chip on their shoulders and supported us rather than not.

  4. Hi Neeraja, oh yeah...u are right! How did I forget Aditya? Jab We Met--Super cool character sketch of the male and female leads, and maybe the only real Bollywood 'love-story' of recent times. Yes, I too loved the way the two characters support each other's strengths and supplement each other's weaknesses in Jab We Met. Aditya remains the ideal male lead in my mind.

  5. Albeit Late ..but I find myself an ardent fan of yr blogs...

    Well I for one have been lucky to have my share of positive/negative men in my life....and I am sure we are starting to have a lot of positive examples around us..Does hollywood/bollywood represent any of them is a different question that i am thinking about...