Even when Bollywood makes movies about powerful women they need the male presence to bolster the film’s boxoffice prospects.
That’s a sad fact. Lately the supremely saleable Akshay Kumar has been promoting Mission Mangal , a film based on facts, about a group of women scientists planning and executing a mission to Mars. You may have seen the gorgeous gallery of ladies Tapsee Pannu, Vidya Balan, Kirti Sanon and others . lining for the promotion ofMission Mangal.
Right in the centre is Akshay Kumar hogging the maximum limelight when the gallant thing to do would have been to let the ladies take centrestage , and let them enjoy the company of their own gender . Akshay Kumar’s prominent presence in the publicity of Mission Mangal is a reminder of how deeply steeped Bollywood is in patriarchal mindsets.
At the Mission Mangal media interactions, Akshay make his presence felt with his wisecracks and pranks.At one event he fell off his chair, literally, as Sonakshi Sinha giggled helplessly , like a faithful heroine is supposed to when the mighty male superstar cracks joke or undertakes pranks.Even the smartest of leading ladies giggle and laugh at the dumbest of jokes cracked by the male superstar.
Akshay could have opted out of the film’s publicity , allowed the ladies to have their day rather than hanging around constantly distracting the women from having their say. At one media interaction when Kirti Kulhari was answering a question, Akshay distracted the entire media by answering one of the journalists’ phone while his leading ladies giggled collectively.
“He must have died of shock,” one of them gasped reminding us that it was THE Akshay Kumar deigning to speak to a commoner on the phone.
Kirti watched the tamasha and then went back to answering the question. In another video interview I saw the interviewer asking the ladies of Mission Mangal to one by one answer questions on one topic: “How well do you know Akshay Kumar?” There was even a prize for the lady who got the most answers correct.
This kind of pampering of the ego is a prevalent practice in the patriarchal entertainment industry. But to see intelligent savvy ladies like Vidya Balan and Tapsee Pannu getting hysterical over the hero’s juvenile pranks is not exactly what we would see as indicative of a progressive cinema.
One of the lovely ladies in Mission Mangal admitted to me that the hero-giri was a bit stifling. “But it’s the way things are. The male superstar’s face will be more prominent than ours on the poster because he will bring in the audience , not us. Hopefully once the audience comes to see the film they will appreciate the fact that MissionMangal is not about the male superstar. It’s about us.”
It’s a long shot. But didn’t Sahir Ludhianvi dream of a new India in the song Wohsubah kabhi toh aayegi four decades ago?
Nothing has changed. Forget a mission to Mars, a journey into India’s ground-reality about gender equations is the need of the hour.