Empowerment to me is a state of mind. A state of mind that an individual reaches when they believe they have equal capabilities as the party in front of them, to think, deliberate, and act towards their desired goal. This goal can be emotional, physical or even mental. As long as the individual has an equal right to choice and to thought, they are empowered. As soon as this basic choice is snatched, curbed, or even limited, feeling of suppression, bias, power comes into play and takes that empowerment away from the individual.
Women have faced the brunt of this phenomenon for a long, long time. It even took the Indian Film Industry a fat minute to give a sense of empowerment to its women. With tests such as the ‘Bechdel Test’, we can clearly see the irrelevance of women in most of the content the industry had to offer. With its women being portrayed as having no other agenda or even simple conversation in the story other than their husbands and kids, and being trapped in the image of a ’Adarsh Hindustani Lakdi’.
Much like feminism, this representation in film also took a much more aggressive wake up. Having being so behind in its evolution, representation of empowered women saw a sudden heightened rise. But this high came with its own set of issues.
Four more shots please! A popular series streaming on Amazon Prime Video is a key example in my argument. The story is of four women as they live, love, make mistakes and discover what really makes them as individuals.
The plot – great. The messaging – great. The women? Not so much.
Taking the character Anjana for example, who is a lawyer and single working mother, battling with the complexities of balancing her work and personal life. Anjana, throughout the seasons is seen as a man hating, irresponsible and shallow woman instead of coming across as a flawed real human being. The issue also lying in the fact that these qualities of hers weren’t just represented as her reality but were in fact, celebrated. As though the only idea of what makes a woman ‘badass’ or worthy of power is one that cusses every two sentences, one that leaves mixed signals for all the men in her life, one that will prioritize revenge on her ex-husbands new girlfriend over her daughters safety like some old soap television villain.
The problem again, not lying in these being someone’s flaws or traits as humans are messy, but it being the only possible parameter to being considered empowered. All remaining women in the show make equally disturbing choices and aren’t once shown as something real or relatable.
‘Veerey Di Wedding’ directed by Shashank Gosh is another example of absurd representation of empowered women. The story, similar to four more shots please!, follows four women who meet after one of them gets engaged. They thus, embark on a journey to Thailand where they rediscover themselves.
The plot itself offers a great field for these four women to dig deep, rediscover and re define who they are. But instead what we get are caricature like characters with no actual agenda in their lives but to bad mouth men, drink and not have a care in the world of the consequences of their actions.
Films like Tadap, directed by Milan Luthria also sticks to this trope of woman by representing the character of Ramisa as only a lying, ‘family breaker, heartless sketch of a human being who is again celebrated as powerful and empowered when really, she’s just a terrible human.
Although it is important to acknowledge the growth and evolution of depth in female characters through some of the OTT streaming content and films such as Gangubai, Sherni, Thappad, Aarya amongst many more. The women portrayed in those stories are too, flawed and imperfect but also have arcs, conflicts, goals and dreams like their male counterpart would have naturally had. However, the other extremist trope of women is prevalent and ever growing.
It is almost like we’ve evolved forward, yet backward. The extremist trope of empowered women are neither trapped in patriarchy and other systems nor are they a realistic depiction of women or stand by the true meaning of empowerment. It just feels like empowerment… gone wrong.