Cinema India: Depiction of womenWomen have historically been depicted as either 'traditional' or 'modern' in character. The traditional woman would be dressed in a sari or rural costume and depicted with pale skin. As a dutiful wife and mother she is likened to Sita and Savitri, goddesses from Indian mythology. The high moral standards of the Indian woman were often held up as a measure of the nation’s character. By contrast women dressed in western clothes were regarded as 'modern' with all the immoral values associated with a western lifestyle.
Film advertisements frequently depict overtly sensuous and voluptuous figures. These displays of sexuality are often legitimised by linking them to Indian traditions; a prime example is the poster for Satyam Shivam Sundaram where the revealing rural costume is regarded as a customary rural practise.
In the past decade, the visual representation of women has changed dramatically. The most recent films show women in sexy western designer clothes. Rather than any implied judgement on their morality, these clothes indicate the affluent lifestyles of the new middle class on which these films focus.
Poster for 'Gaja Gamini'
A film by M F Husain, Produced by Rakesh Nath
Music by Bhupen Hazarika
Cinematography by Ashok Mehta
Choreography by Saroj Khan & Jojo Khan
A Yash Raj Films Pvt Ltd release
Museum no. IS.101-2001
Given by Yash Raj Films
Directed by one of India's most important contemporary artists, M F Husain, this film is an exploration of womanhood spanning 5,000 years. Husain casts his favourite actress, Madhuri Dixit, in a role which sees her transforming herself into many different women, but who ultimately is the one ideal woman encompassing all other women. The film uses sets designed and painted by Husain. The poster shows Madhuri as the Mona Lisa next to an image of her kissing her lover, played by Shah Rukh Khan.
Poster for 'Umrao Jaan'
Directed by Muzaffar Ali
Presented by S K Jain for Integrated Films
Music by Khayyam; Lyrics by Shahryar
Museum no. IS.112-1986
Poster for 'Nehle Peh Dehlaa'
Directed by Raj Khosla
Produced by Sunil Dutt for Ajantaa Arts
Museum no. IS.128-1988
Poster for 'Satyam Shivan Sundaram' (Love Sublime)
Featuring Zeenat Aman & Sashi Kapoor
Produced & Directed by Raj Kapoor for RK Films
Music by Laxmikant Pyarelal
Museum no. IS.75-1987
Poster for 'Devdas'
Featuring Dilip Kumar, Vijayantimala & Suchitrasen
Produced & directed by Bimal Roy for Bimal Roy Productions
Museum no. IS.94-1988
Film booklet for 'Pakeezah'
Museum no. IS.165-1992
This lavishly produced film booklet gives a detailed account of the cultural importance of the courtesan. Known as tawaifs, courtesans are represented as custodians of culture, well versed in Hindi, Urdu and Persian poetry. Their existence is traced back to ancient India, where the administrators used them as informers. They were thus placed at the centre of politics and culture. The booklet gives a history of the making of the film Pakeezah (1971) and information about the director and actors. The cover depicts a classic scene from the film, in which the courtesan dances over broken glass and marks the floor with her blood as she continues to dance. The underlying contradiction between the impurity of Sahibjaan’s actions and the purity of her soul is made apparent in the film title, Pakeezah, which means pure heart.
Film hoarding for 'Pakeezah'
Painted by Balkrihn Arts
Museum no. IS.114-2002
An unfinished hoarding that shows the different stages of painting involved in the creation of hoardings.
The portrait is of the actress Meena Kumari in her most famous role of the courtesan, Sahibjaan.
Film hoarding for 'Devdas'
Painted by Balkrihn Arts
Oil on canvas
Museum no. IS.113-2002
The design was taken from the compact disc cover for this film - the main character (Devdas) is played by Shah Rukh Khan. On the right is his childhood sweetheart played by Aiswarya Rai. On the left is the courtesan who falls in love with him, played by Madhuri Dixit.