Bollywood, the second largest film industry in the world, has always had a dodgy history with its depiction of women. Its female characters have been often one-dimensional, stereotypical, marginal, objectified, or falling dangerously within Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory. The portrayal of female leads as “damsels in distress” is there to stay. However, times are changing, and in the past couple of years, Bollywood has been trying to challenge these disturbingly sexist strains and make more women-centric films, where women have both agency and complex characterizations. Films in this vein that have received much commercial and critical acclaim include: English Vinglish, Kahaani, Queen, Mardaani, Highway, Mary Kom, NH10 to name a few. While some of these films have been genuinely successful in addressing feminist concerns and portray strong, empowered women, there is still one glaring problem that one can’t ignore; and that is the tendency to mansplain feminism. Mansplaining is defined as the explanation of something by a man, typically to a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronising. Mansplaining more than often includes explanation of topics that correspond to women at large. This corroborates the myth that a man knows so much more and only a man is capable of “rescuing” a woman. Chak De India-a classic example. Shahrukh Khan’s character, who plays the coach to a women’s hockey team, has to constantly give rousing speeches about female empowerment to make the female teammates realize that they can be strong, independent and have agency. Farhan Akhtar in Dil Dhadakne Do is seen arguing on behalf of Priyanka Chopra for her economic independence after marriage. In Tanu Weds Manu Returns, actor Rajesh Sharma delivers a speech on the widespread success of women in every profession and advocates people. Both these characters mean well and the issues they bring up are very evident in our society. But, one can’t help but notice the patronizing undertones in both these speeches. Is the I know more about womam rights syndrome or do these men actually see women as their equals? There are so many examples one can consider. The movie English Vinglish. Shashi goes back to her utterly disrespectful husband, even though he shows no real signs of having changed his demeaning behaviour towards her — why?
Perhaps the reason why Bollywood’s idea of feminism is so inherently flawed and often lends help from mansplaining is its distinct lack of female directors, screenwriters and producers.