• Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Silver Lining In Nepali Cinema

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Vartika Upadhyay

Male directors outnumber female directors when it comes to movie making in Nepal. The number of female movie directors is negligible. There are reasons for this - being a filmmaker, one may require spending several days away from home with your team, which prevents women from entering this field. Another reason is- females confront obstacles from their male counterparts which discourages them to join the sector as directors. As a result, the Nepali movie making business is mostly male-dominated.

Male Perspectives

The dominance of male directors has also cast its long shadow on the stories and plots of Nepali movies. Male directors mostly emphasised male perceptions in their movies, which is evident in the portrayal of women. They are presented as either happy housewives or unhappy career women. 

Dr Nirmala Adhikari, a researcher, has written on the "portrayals of women in Nepali movies." He writes about how generally movies show that female protagonists' main motive is accomplished if she gets married or if she becomes a mother.” 

Laura Mulvey, a feminist film theorist whose ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975), draws on psychoanalytic theory to explain how the experience of film watching is shaped by the patriarchal culture of society. The first-ever female director as well as the first director of a fiction film was Alice Guy-Blaché, from France, who directed her first film, "La Fée Aux Choux" in 1896. Fatma Begum was an Indian actress, screenwriter, and also the first female film director of Indian cinema, whose first movie, "Bulbul-e-Paristan", came out in 1926.

 The first movie to be released by a female director in Nepal was in 2005, 109 years after the first movie hit celluloid. Suchitra Shrestha became the first Nepali female film director after her movie, "Prem Yuddha'' was released in theatres.

According to Shrestha, the beginning of her career as a director was quite challenging, as movie-making was a male-dominated profession in Nepal. She remembers how other directors and employees questioned her work. She describes how the male community of directors and technicians attacked her when she was about to release her first movie, causing her to postpone its release. 

According to the Film Directors Guild of Nepal (FDGN), there are  14 female directors present today. In the research paper, “Representations of Women and Girls in Nepal’s Cinema,” Docskool conducted a desk study on the situation of Nepali Cinema in 2014. The study showed women's ratio of participation in film productions is one to nine men. This justifies that women's engagement in Nepali film making has been consistently low. Only 12 per cent of the registered film workforce in Nepal are women and are engaged in gendered roles such as hairdressers, makeup artists, and costume designers.

Daphne Spain, a professor and an author, has stated the theory of ‘Space and Gender’ in the book ‘Gendered Spaces’ to discuss the spaces men and women are in and to analyse the portrayal of women and men in terms of spaces in the movies. The settings of male and female characters in a film are also depicted very differently. A male is usually seen in public spaces, whereas a female is usually seen in private spaces. However, Deepashree Niraula, a well-renowned director and actor, justifies the portrayal of characters in Nepali cinemas. She opines anything represented in a film is simply a reflection of what is going on in society. But she also emphasises that films must act as a mirror to raise awareness of the issues in the community.

The theory of Simone De Beauvoir (1949–2011) as presented in her book "The Second Sex" explains how the movies present women as the second sex or secondary characters that are dependent on men and have no autonomous identity without men. Beauvoir famously wrote: 'One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.'It is obvious for a man to present himself as an individual of a certain sex, a man does not need any introduction to prove that he is a man, but a woman, she starts by saying she is a woman if she needs to define herself. 

'Damsel In Distress'

Director Shrestha also explains how Nepali films follow a concept by giving an example: "In the Dvapara Yuga, when Lord Krishna told Arjun, "If you ever face any hardship, I will appear before you in various forms." Nepali movies follow the same concept for portrayals of male and female protagonists, where the female is shown as the 'damsel in distress and the male character gets to play the role of a hero or a saviour by saving her.

Nepali cinema tends to highlight another facet - female characters are victims of domestic violence, struggling with alcoholism, hostile social systems and the brutal behaviour of their partners. Presenting women as victims is close to presenting them as objects who can be exploited and victimised. The book "The Feminine Mystique," written by Betty Friedan, can help understand the Nepali movie perspective on how women were not expected to work, get an education, or have political opinions. Women were unsatisfied and could not voice their feelings, and we can see the same scenario being presented in several movies. 

People today tend to ignore the critical parts of the movie by normalising or overlooking the injustice between the roles given in the movie. When actors portray the role of third genders, the persons belonging to LGBTIQ+ characters feel stigmatised. People of various sexual orientations are referred to as "general societal filth" in derogatory terms used in Nepali, such as "chhakka (eunuch)". 

The popular narrative holds that LGBTIQ+ people should be marginalised and derided. They are frequently the targets of ridicule and abuse. The character's machismo is frequently reliant on such personality-seeking acts to establish manhood. We have witnessed in several movies how LGBTQ+ characters are stereotyped by the way they walk, talk, or even dress up. They are often used as side characters who get to make the audience laugh through their actions, and this is how cinema uses humour to cover the shameful acts presented in the movie. 

Songs play a huge role in a human's life as they influence the mind. Teenagers and young people seem to be mostly singing songs without actually understanding the meaning behind them. The young ones readily identify with these media images, which become trends. The directors appear to use item songs because they garner a lot of attention and draw people to watch movies. The angels of photography in an item song mostly focus on a woman’s midriff, thigh, legs, and breasts, which are used to satisfy male proclivity and gaze. The lyrics in these songs are mostly vulgar. 

Item Songs

Researchers Abhimanyu Dixit and Kshitiz Adhiraj state in their findings, "In item songs, alcohol is abundant and all-male audiences are fixated on the girl as she arrives to give them a thrill. 16 out of the 47 films analysed (35%) had item songs that demonstrated the relative ease with which men staring in such sequences return to their normal lives with little to no consequences or stigma. 

Item songs are said to be released for entertainment purposes, but they pose a threat to society by normalising disrespectful and sexist behaviour towards women, as offensive language and inappropriate touch and gaze by males are displayed with ease and acceptance.

When we see these things in movies, we start to emulate them in our daily lives which affects us subconsciously. The Nepali film industry is improving in these areas, but there is still a long way to go. As cinemas wield special clout to influence us, they should show us something new and powerful. As a famous filmmaker, Nadine Labaki, once said: “Cinema is not only about making people dream. It's about changing things and making people think.” 

(A student of media studies, Vartika is an intern at this daily)

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