Representation of the ‘hero’ in Indian cinema is glorified as the entity of an aggressive, romantic, and masculine image, who is considered to be the breadwinner and the creator of the narrative, that patriarchy creates and consolidates through the dominance of male power in public (bhari) and private (ghari) spheres. Based on these power structures that specify the subversion of gender roles and creates a binary relation too, patriarchy condemns means to think in a superior plane where they are not only considered to have economic independence but also social recognition and superior dominance in the nuclear as well as public sphere.
Since the 1930s, the legal transformation from matrilineal kinship structure to a patriarchal one, the timeline considered to be the legalisation of the dominance of men over women, such construction has not only affected the women but also men by burdening them with the rights to dominate and control. The Indian cinema is fully hero-dominated where the good and bad image of the hero is always based on narratives, where the hero is described as a masculine archetype.
In the 1950s, when the parallel film moment began its movements, the parallel of the male protagonist too was represented. The artistic genius Satyajit Ray, who in his ability to create a link within a nuanced society, deconstructed the images of heroes by representing men and masculinities as not monolithic, but diverse and plural, where his protagonists were considered as the demoralised defender of socio-political vortexes and seen as a real ordinary person.
In one of his famous work Aparajito and Panther Panchali from Apu Trilogy, he speculated the peculiar gendered stigma attached to the identity and its association with domestic work in India, and depicted the reaction of a mother that was very different in the case of her son and daughter performing household work. It was stigmatised, since care work performed by women is a symbol of love and affection and the same work symbolise femininity and defies the notion of “real man.”
He articulated the greatest fear of men and private binaries of the power structure associated with the very idea of manliness through the character of Subrata in the film Mahanagar (1963) where he not only highlighted the binaries and social conservatism attached with the traditional figure of a man, but also depicted and analysed the notion of unemployment and insecurity attached to masculinity as a result of a regressive patriarchal system. Satyajit Ray further depicted that the autonomy to move as an independent being outside the realm of the home and the job is a gendered mechanism.
Through the movie, he highlighted the attribute of patriarchy where men have a negative attitude towards women, working in a public sector. Nevertheless, he portrayed how further Subrata tried to evacuate his stereotypical notions attached to women’s performance but still his inability of being a “real man” always provoked the power regime in him.
Satyajit Ray has portrayed an array of mixed colours of the gender norms. He has subtly questioned women’s lives under the veil while accepting the so-called unconventional existence of men. While doing so, he never overpowered women over men. His portrayal of women as strong and independent in an unfathomable society was in itself an acceptance of the existence of toxic masculinity.
In his movie Mahanagar (1963), Arati works for the family while the husband is unemployed. Though the woman is shown to earn for the family, there was also the showcase of how insecure the man was. The film not just represents the empowerment of women but also the anxiety that men are expected to hold in the name of serving the family. His portrayal of women having desires—sexual or psychological—has been widely acclaimed. The acceptance from the male protagonist of these desires and not charging their might and authority on the women is very unlikely of a patriarchal man. Patriarchy, hence, was brought into question by not just female but also male protagonists in his films.
Today, after nearly half a century, his works are still thought of and they hold the position of being one of a kind. These classics have a lot to be learned from. Cinema today still portrays men as ‘macho’ and authoritative while women, a side-lined entity is shown to support only the hero. On the other hand, a women-centric movie has to have an ‘over-empowered’ role. The balance between men and women that was endorsed in Ray’s films is yet to be achieved.
Satyajit Ray is a man of the future; his movies are true examples of anachronism, belonging to a time far ahead leaving the world far behind.
Naina is an undergraduate student pursuing Philosophy from Miranda House , University of Delhi . She is a Founding Member at Tara Foundation and Research and Study Head at Women’s Development Cell, Miranda House. You can find her on Instagram.
Sunaina is an undergraduate student pursuing Political Science and Economics from University of Delhi. She finds herself in a never-ending quest, exploring the world to quench her thirst! You can find her on Instagram.
Featured Image Source: Feminism In India