Slippery subjects

Gender, meaning, and the Bollywood audience

Authored by: Shakuntala Banaji

The Routledge Companion to Media and Gender

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  December  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415527699
eBook ISBN: 9780203066911
Adobe ISBN: 9781135076955


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Critical studies of gender representation in Hindi, most notably “Bollywood” films, are not uncommon, quite often focusing on male viewers of the genre. Such viewers are thought to identify predominantly with a limited number of sexist and heterosexist discursive positions, mapped out for them by the films. These discursive positions, defined here not simply as units of communication but also as structures of feeling and thinking expressed through visual and other language, which order experience and inflect behavior, are assumed to be fairly homogeneous across individual films and even across entire genres. In order to understand how and why this movement between assumptions about textual meaning-producing strategies and audience meaning-making takes place in relation to Hindi films, it is important to understand the history and background of studies of cinematic gender representation. Foremost, a concern about the direct effects of media on behavior has motivated a good many of the theorists writing in this area. Empirical studies of gender representation imply strongly that media images serve as “models” for readers and viewers; for instance, Kaul argues that

The popularity of films, newspapers and television in India prompts speculation on the social consequences of such media portrayal: it is potentially very damaging. Not only is a patriarchal world order reinforced in the press, on the screen and in television serials, but the existing dichotomy of sex roles is perpetuated … The relentlessly negative representation of women in India’s media has had the effect of validating women’s inferiority as real and natural. The end result can only be a progressive debilitation of women’s self-image.

(Kaul 1996: 261–2)

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