There have been definite norms and cultural restrictions that regulate the conduct of women. Sita, immortalized in the Ramayana as the ‘ideal woman’, is a loyal wife and wholeheartedly dedicated to her husband. Her submitting to his commands without raising a question has been exemplified as the role model for Indian women. In traditional Indian society, women’s roles are essentially limited to that of daughter, wife and mother.
According to the Manusmriti, which had a profound effect on shaping the morals of Indian society, girls are supposed to be in the custody of their father when they are children, women in the custody of their husband when married, and under the custody of their son as widows. Under no circumstances is she allowed to assert herself independently. On the other hand, men may be lacking virtue and morality, yet women must not cease to worship or serve their husbands. In an allegedly virtuous culture like this, a working woman, even if she works to sustain a meagre living, is looked down upon.
Through ideas of loyalty and obedience to the husband, Hindi cinema successfully institutionalized patriarchal values.
When Dadasaheb Phalke, also known as the father of Indian cinema, began to make films, women were not willing to act in them as acting, singing or dancing in public was not considered ‘decent’. These activities were associated with commercial sex workers and courtesans. The socio-cultural context within which women started working in films had marked the condition that the roles given to them in films lay within ascribed morals and virtues that were supposed to be upheld by women.
Since women and their actions were considered bound to family honour and respectability, one can conclude that in conformity with social norms, women have been given two significant kinds of roles in commercial films: the mother (whose attributes are matched to that of the supreme form of feminine energy – the goddess) and wife (based on the mythological characters of Sita and Sati Savitri) who exhibits extreme devotion and loyalty to her husband. Through ideas of loyalty and obedience to the husband, Hindi cinema successfully institutionalized patriarchal values. The Sati concept was upheld in a number of films in the 1920s and 1930s. Although no longer in fashion, the aim was to portray women as stereotypical, one-dimensional characters, with no personal ambitions of their own.
Mehboob Khan’s directorial Andaz (1949) is a story of the ‘modern’ Neena (played by Nargis) who dares to defy the norms set by society by indulging in outdoor sports instead of being domesticated and befriending a man (Dilip), much to her father’s displeasure. He warns her time to time regarding the demerits of the friendship between a young man and a young woman, and its repercussions. He cautions his daughter that society plays by certain rules, rules that are not taught in college. If she goes against them, then society will not allow her to survive.
Andaz illustrated the dire consequences women can face in an attempt to alter age-old Indian customs.
Neena doesn’t pay any heed and sees no harm in their friendship. When the news of Dilip’s love for Neena, though unreciprocated, reaches her husband’s ears, he accuses her of having an affair with Dilip and rebukes her for her modern lifestyle where young boys and girls get acquainted freely with each other. He nevertheless shows sympathy for Dilip who he thinks was fooled by Neena’s charm.
Andaz deals with the question of moral ambiguity. Neena transgressed the measures that were set for women and hence deserved to get punished. At the end of the movie, as the victim of circumstances, Neena is imprisoned for life and is taken away from her loved ones. The movie illustrated the dire consequences women can face in an attempt to alter age-old Indian customs. After the release of the movie, an advertisement for Andaz warned that the movie is not meant to be missed by any woman who is yearning after modernity.
This film is one of the quintessential Hindustani films where women who are portrayed as per the norms of the traditional value system of society are shown as women who are rewarded. While those characters who transgress the boundaries of traditionalism are punished.
Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: YouTube