(Lack of) Narratives in Bollywood

By Rhea Sabherwal

Times are changing: that’s what they all say. But are they really? One can’t be completely sure about that as far as the film industry is considered. If we take a look at the narrative structure of most films in Bollywood – the one that includes looking at the content of the story and form in which it’s told – it becomes quite visible that there is a lot of exclusion happening. Unfortunately, this discrimination has carried forward beautifully through times since its conception and is still rampant in the Hindi film industry.

If we are to focus on women – because that could be the only silver lining there is – we see narrative structures changing in their favour. There has been, perhaps, a conscious shift in how the stories are being told and how women are being portrayed in them. Women-centric narratives are a breath of fresh air in an industry which is infamously known for producing stories that are obsessed with the “hero”, his life, his dreams and “his love interest” (instantly reducing the role of a woman to that of eye candy). This change is long overdue – but we still aren’t where we need to be.

Perform a simple Bechdel test on most movies (look it up and you’ll be surprised – not in a good way) and you’ll know how much work is still left to be done. The issues don’t end there. There’s so much more to talk about. There’s a lack of diversity in religious and ethnic identities being portrayed in the industry. After Soorma released, an interview with Diljit Dosanjh correctly pointed out that one will find it hard to think about the last time a Sikh man was shown as someone desirable in a Hindi movie. Otherwise, all we have seen are caricatures and gimmicks of characters – that are even offensive to certain communities.

We see only one type of narrative when it comes to different sexual identities – i.e. non-existent. Even if a film is produced with a storyline that features the main leads as a homosexual couple – that movie won’t make it big. We can even take a look at transgender and other gender identities – and we will see there is no room even for them in the main industry. Let’s take the upcoming movie – Laxmmi Bomb, as an example. Akshay Kumar plays the role of a transgender woman, and there has been a lot of discussion about whether a trans member of the LGBTQIA community should have been given that role instead of a leading cis male actor. The paradox it presents is that without such an actor this movie wouldn’t make its way to the masses. This is the problem faced by most such movies.

Any narratives apart from the orthodox ones don’t emerge as successful. This leaves the mainstream Bollywood cinema as it had been for most of the time since its conception – plain, dry and biased. We can only hope that this trajectory becomes more inclusive of narratives from the margins, and we can all see a little bit of ourselves represented on the silver screen.

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