Megastar Amitabh Bachchan on Friday said the issue of sexual violence and sexual consent has largely been ignored by the Indian film industry, and questioned the absence of an independent word to denote female valour.
Amitabh analysed the changing role of women in Indian cinema at the inaugural of the 22nd edition of the Kolkata International Film Festival here.
“Meenal Arora, Falak Ali and Andrea Tariang (the female characters in ‘Pink’) are to all intents and purposes emancipated women with all liberties accorded by their financial independence. Yet the film raises unsettling queries largely ignored by our film industry. ‘Pink’ brings the issues of sexual violence and sexual consent into urban middle class homes,” he said.
Talking about films like “Udta Punjab” and “Parched” which deal with sexual violence, Big B said “Pink” provokes audiences to question whether education has changed the way women are treated in urban India or not.
“The Age of Consent Act was legalised over 125 years ago in 1891. How many times has the value of consent been taken for granted in our society’ How many times has our culture considered consent and specifically sexual consent important enough to be acknowledged and discussed’ How many times has ‘No’ meant ‘No’,” he wondered.
Citing examples of Indian films like the 1936 “Achhut Kanyya”, Satyajit Ray’s “Ghare Baire” ,”Mahanagar”, “Abhimaan”, Shyam Benegal’s “Ankur”, Gulzar’s “Aandhi” to recent endeavours like “Lajja”, “Paa“, “Mardaani”, “Mary Kom”, “Queen”, “Piku”, “Nil Battey Sannata” and the latest “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil“, Big B highlighted how women’s portrayal in Indian cinema had changed from the stereotypical housewife to strong and independent characters fighting for their rights.
“Even the word ‘mardaani’ is derived from the word ‘mard’… the word which is a description of male valour and strength. Why is there not an independent word for female valour’ This is something which I feel needs debate and consideration,” said Amitabh, a UN ambassador for the girl child.
Attired in a black bandhgala, Big B in his famous baritone also batted for equal opportunities for women in India’s workforce to thundering applause from the audience at the Netaji Indoor Stadium.
He kick off the seven-day fest, organised by the West Bengal government, with the lighting of a ceremonial lamp that was preceded by an ‘East Meets West’ fusion orchestra led by Pandit Tanmoy Bose and folk artistes from Bengal.
The opening ceremony was also graced by his wife and veteran actress Jaya, who looked resplendent in a red-white saree, superstar Shah Rukh Khan, actors Sanjay Dutt, Kajol and Parineeti Chopra who dazzled in a chic modern outfit.
Actors from the Bengali film industry presented their Bollywood counterparts with traditional Patachitra art works and paintings by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who presided over the ceremony.
Shah Rukh, also Bengal’s brand ambassador, injected a dose of mirth and merriment into the proceedings with his speech in a smattering of Bengali.
“How can I come to Kolkata and not speak Bengali’ Is this possible’ I hope you will forgive me for my Bengali,” the “Dilwale” actor said.
Dressed smartly in a black-grey kurta, Sanjay expressed gratitude to Banerjee for standing by him during the “hardest of times.”
“In the hardest times of my life Banerjee stood by me and my family. I have a special bond with Kolkata. My mother was born here and my grandmother lived here. I will be here whenever I am needed,” he said.
India’s reverence for cinema and religion was noted by Kajol who sported a sophisticated teal kurta suit. She launched the festival brochure amid fanfare.
“Two things in our country we actually revere: cinema and religion,” Kajol said, adding the films showcased should be for everyone.
On a more sombre note, National Award winning filmmaker Goutam Ghose advocated universal brotherhood through cinema.
“We are passing though intolerance, political and cultural intolerance. We are dividing ourselves, spreading hatred all over the world. Let’s make cinema a vehicle for raising positive emotions over the negative ones,” he said.
China features as the focus country in the annual cine extravaganza.
Banerjee who welcomed the Chinese delegation stressed on the inclusivity of the festival.
An assemblage of 155 films from 65 countries will be showcased across 13 venues till November 11.
“Cinema speaks a language that no other medium can. This is a festival of the people, by the people, for the people,” Banerjee said referring to the reach of the festival across multiple localities in the city and outskirts.