Sharmila Tagore on commodification of women

"A woman is free to say yes or no to the way she's projected on the screen," says actress Sharmila Tagore adding that if a woman enjoys doing a certain thing on screen, "it's her prerogative".

Friday, March 08, 2013 | 7:08:03 PM IST (+05:30 GMT)
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sharmila tagore

"A woman is free to say yes or no to the way she's projected on the screen," says actress Sharmila Tagore adding that if a woman enjoys doing a certain thing on screen, "it's her prerogative".

"I think we need to judge commodification in the given context. The problem is of individual contexts. A woman is free to say yes or no to the way she's projected," said Sharmila who has been part of filmdom for over five decades.

"But we don't know what the compulsions are for what girls do on screen. Sometimes they're too young and naive to know where the camera is placed and how they're captured," added the actress known for her work in "Aradhana", "Satyakam", "Anupama" and "Amar Prem".

However, she feels that there is no set criteria for commodification of a woman.

"But women can be commodified even in a wedding sequence. And why single out women? Even men are being commodified. And women are commodified in endorsements and advertisements even when they are clothed from head-to-toe.

"In the ads, we see men selling motorcyles and cars while sari-clad women sell washing machines and aqua guards. Isn't that sexist," she says.

The former censor board chief points out that "so-called offensive songs" are in the public domain and are played openly and unabashedly at weddings and other celebrations.

"Women are seen dancing to these songs. Then when the same songs are released in a film, then they become a problem... I think the same logistics should be applied both on and off screen. The women need not be the provocateur," she added.

Nowadays, songs like "Shiela Ki jawani" or "Munni Badnam" have become a rage.

The 68-year-old said: "The women are not volunteering to do these songs. They are an indication of the patriarchal construction. If an actress says yes to an item song, she doesn't become unworthy of respect."

"I think we have to forget this 'man can do anything and women cannot' mindset. If a woman enjoys doing a certain thing on screen, it's her prerogative. You don't have to go and see her. Why be judgemental about it?

"Men do a lot of vulgar dances. I recall some of Govinda's dance movements. But they were not condemned at all. But if a woman does it, she is looked down upon. This is double standards. Why do we expect women's morals to be on higher plane than the men?"

When it comes to wardrobe, women have to wear overcoats and protect themselves from the male gaze while men can wear whatever they like, she pointed out.

"These moral values do not resonate with today's times. I am not exonerating sexism, or the the songs of Yo Yo Honey Singh. All I am saying is, we need to revisit these values applied to men and women and not just pass on judgement an adhoc basis.

"For example, Jonathan Kaplan's 'The Accused' had an explicit rape scene. But the film was not sexist. If a woman is enjoying herself and her space on screen, there is nothing wrong with it.

"There's nothing fundamentally wrong with being an object of desire. You don't have to live up to certain moral standards to get your right to security. To say prostitutes are not worthy of respect and can be raped is outrageous. That mindset has to be changed. Every individual has equal right to self-projection. We must not blame media images for the way women are treated in society.

"There are deep socio-economic factors that are causing violence against women. We have to look not at the images but at society itself. Actually, sexism cannot be related to sex-related crimes," she added.

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Posted on: 08 March 2013 at 11:20pm
As Sharmila Tagore points out, there are a number of paradoxes that exist in such representations. But personally, I don't agree with some of her views. On one hand, she says that some are too naive to know what they're doing, and on the other she says it doesn't matter if they are enjoying themselves. I do not see how we can have a yardstick to judge whether commodification is justified in some circumstances and inappropriate in others.

The commodification doesn't even have to explicit: take some of these shaving razors and men's perfumes ads for example. It doesn't make an iota of sense as to why women have to feature in them.

Also, ads featuring women for products from cars to bathroom fittings (!) inevitably end up comparing their features to the female body. Is this necessary? I just squirm in my seat when I see such ads and movies.

I hope and dream of the day when we can produce a culture that sees both women's and men's bodies for what they are, and gives all genders the right to formulate their responses in whatever way they deem fit.

Edited on:08 March 2013 at 11:22pm

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