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Profiling Cinema’s
Young Angry Women

05th July 2023 .  6 min read

Imagine:

When do we see women angry on the screen? What is the immediate picture which gets painted on

a loop in our minds? How is the story crocheted to give some breathing space to female rage?

Now:

"Sabahat Ali Wani is a writer, researcher and artist from Kashmir. She loves to explore the intersection of cinema with gender, identity and politics, and believes that the appreciation of cinema is incomplete without its criticism."

Did you think of women superheroes—angry and powerful, fighting against their enemies yet being hypersexualised by the male gaze? Or, was it the image of a ‘psycho-ex’ which popped into your

mind—screaming, drinking and slashing the tires of the man’s car? 

 

These are the profiles of cinema’s young angry women, which are comparably easier to identify as we think about female rage and its depiction on the screen at length. However, there is another recurring theme which needs to be seen as yet another product of cinema’s myopic gaze—popularly known as the rape-revenge trope. Bollywood, Hollywood and all the other ‘woods’ love rape-revenge stories. But, what is precisely problematic about a woman avenging herself? 

In the cinematic universe, the ‘avenging woman genre’ perpetuates an idea that the woman’s revenge must be as brutal and gory as the act of rape itself. It must give the audience the same taste of violence or even better, if it crosses those boundaries too. For example: In the box office hit, Insaaf Ka Tarazu (1987), first—both the violence of the rape scene and the court proceedings feed the sadomasochistic desires as it eroticises the act of rape(s). Second, the story creates a regressive difference between the rape victims by portraying Bharti as a “bad rape victim” because she is a model and Nita as a “good rape victim” because she is a virgin. Third, the film tries to sell Bharti’s revenge to the audience by equating the violence of horrific rapes with the female vigilante perforating the rapist’s body. If we recall the plot of most of the other rape-revenge films or dramas, the overall similarity of these characteristics is frighteningly obvious. 

The problem is how can the violence and horror of rape be treated as a spectacle for consumption or equated with another violent act in films? Why is a woman’s justice reduced to mere revenge? And, why is it that a woman’s anger or revenge is always dependent on a primary masculine act of power (here, rape)?

Clearly, this kind of cinema does not aim to underline the reality of rape and the trauma it brings with itself; instead, such films become “another route through which filmmakers bypass censorship regulations to

portray sex: portrayals that fulfil sadomasochistic scopophilic pleasure in the visual violation of women”. Hence, this begs the question: Is cinema exploiting rape stories and presenting them as revenge plots to the audience in order to feed violent sadomasochistic desires?

In the 1980s, in films like Khoon Bari Maang, Sherni and Zakhmi Aurat, the rise of female rage is presented as

a spin-off of the violent masculine act. Female rage is staged as the product or consequence of masculine actions of power; hence, making a woman’s anger dependent on male violence. For example: Mardaani 1 & 2 (2014; 2019) is acknowledged for breaking stereotypes and punching the social issues right where it hurts but if as a viewer we were to argue in favour of female heroism, does Mardaani work? In comparison to other terrible representations, Mardaani is somewhat good but it has its own set of blemishes. Apart from the eyebrow-raising name itself, we need to catch onto the troublesome settings films like these try to create and strengthen, which is—female rage can only exist if there is male violence and women can only be heroes if men violate them and are villains. Just to completely bleed this argument dry of its jargon, these films clearly say—only when male characters decide to empty the spot of ‘heroism’ in stories then, female characters

have some chance to occupy it. 

We have also observed another way through which the portrayals of female rage are dragged to cinema’s doorstep by giving them traditionally masculine roles like of a policeman, a goon, a warrior or a military officer. But, the catch is that either they are over-sexualised or completely squeezed out of any sexy element. In so-called action-thrillers like Dhoom, Race, etc., female characters are over-sexualised, casually and unnecessarily. We have all observed how the female character enters the scene with breath-robbing tight clothing, showing a hint of cleavage but not too much, guns on her thighs and hips, and the camera being too interested in giving us her body shots rather than the actual scene. 

There’s nothing wrong with women being sexy but the milk turns rancid once we realise—to whose gaze are these depictions tending and also, how it robs the female characters of their relatability with the audience. There are better ways to show female rage and we are seeing the rise of promising profiles of young angry women in cinema, which are retiring from the monotonous revenge plots and being truly angry to the bone. For example: Leena Yadav’s Parched (2016) is a remarkable example of how female characters can show power and fight against oppressive structures through “shared sisterhood” and not by wearing the robe of aggressive machismo. And, Nida Manzoor’s Polite Society (2023) is also one of the creative works which have tried to bust the stereotypes around brown women and celebrate female rage.

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