This thesis focuses on the portrayal of masculinities and femininities in nationalistic Bollywood films. It precisely engages with the representation of masculinity and femininity in Bollywood war films. I assert that Bollywood war films are such a genre where the coexistence of various forms of masculinity and femininities can be explored. Further I would like to mention that in this discourse, my analysis of masculinity and femininity is from a feminist point of view. The readings I have referred to are shaped by feminist concern and theories.
Feminist practices in India have broadly focused on women and what patriarchy does to them. Their engagement with masculinity has been viewed as less adequate, though studies on masculinity have been coming forth. The failure of many Women in Development (WID) projects led to the realization that targeting women was not enough. There was emphasis on taking into account the experiences of men too and what masculinity did to them. Men, within the patriarchal setting may be in a privileged position relative to women but they too face the constraints of gender role. It is very necessary to take to adopt an intersectional approach while studying masculinity as it is (like femininity) interwoven with other forms of inequality like caste, class, race, religion etc.
Bollywood war films portray masculinities and femininities very differently. What is not masculine is portrayed as feminine. As a notion, masculinity has contributed to the socialization of young minds all across the world. Gender roles are learned and followed as a result and what becomes masculine and feminine. Bollywood being one of the most influential industries in India has enormous influence on the masses. The Bollywood movies have developed our understanding and expectations about our daily lives. Over time masculinity in Bollywood cinema has evolved. There has been a shift from the macho heroes to supporting partners. The roles for men in Bollywood films are changing for good however, they are not free from sexism and patriarchy. The male characters now in supportive roles are portrayed as liberators of women. Thus, roles for men in cinema has changed over the decades but the notion that men have to head while saving everyone is still there.
Only recently there has been a trend in Bollywood to produce films where the woman is the protagonist. Films like Mary Kom, NH-10, Pink, Piku, Lipstick Under My Burkha etc are some of them. The mainstream commercial Bollywood films portray women as submissive, dependent and sexually pure. They reinforce the gender roles and stereotypes prevailing in the society giving a clear message that women belong to the private sphere and have no agency of their own. They need to be protected as they are the bearer of honor of the family, community and the nation. They roles played by the women in the mainstream commercial film are secondary in nature which has nothing to do much with the story of the film.
The Bollywood war films too reinforce these gender based roles and stereotypes prevailing in the society. The masculinities and femininities portrayed in Bollywood war films are replica of what society expects of man and women. The roles played by the characters in such films are much gendered in nature. Gender in these films can be understood as ‘performative’. The characters in these films perform certain acts which lead to the creation of their gender identity. Men are shown as the dominant character whereas women play submissive roles. The protagonist in these movies is men whereas women play supporting roles. Bollywood war films try to claim the superiority of one gender, caste and community over the other.
The motivation behind taking this topic was to analysis these portrayals in details through different war films made over a period of time i.e. since independence till present. The topic is heavily under researched as genre of war films is very broad. Nationalism is always linked with men and women are shown as secondary citizens who help men to serve the country.