Bollywood movies: Women adorn the posters, but the films are about men

Bright colours, lots of singing and even more heartache: Bollywood films are ahead of their reputation. They are also becoming increasingly popular beyond India’s borders and there is no shortage of supplies.

The Hindi film industry is the largest in the world, producing some 3,500 films a year, twice as many as the USA.

But as colourful as the film images may be, the industry does not look particularly flowery when it comes to equality and gender representation. Exact figures are given in a study by the IBM research institute, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi, and Delhi Technological University.

To find out about the gender stereotypes and one-sided representations in the Hindi film industry, the Indian researchers investigated film plots and posters of Bollywood films that have appeared since 1970.

Her main focus was on the jobs, the descriptions and actions associated with the film characters in the films.

They also looked at which roles, main or supporting roles, women and men appear and to what extent women are the focus of the films. But the group around IBM researcher Nishtha Madaan was also interested in the emotions attributed to the sexes.

Beautiful women, rich men

The researchers included their data from all Wikipedia pages about Hindi films since they had no access to most scripts. From the Wikipedia entries, they were able to extract the film title, the cast, the plot, the soundtrack and images.

Already here a clearly higher proportion of men showed up: About 9,000 actors face 5,000 actresses in these films. In addition, they watched the complete scripts of 13 films and almost 900 trailers of films from the past nine years.

While men are mentioned 30 times in descriptions of the film plots, women occur only about 15 times. Also, films are much more often about men than about women, so the female characters are only the focus of about 300 films.

There is also a clear difference in the adjectives associated with the respective characters. Male characters are attributed verbs like “kills” or “shoots” and adjectives like “rich” and “wealthy”. Women, on the other hand, are associated with “marries” and “loves” or “beautiful” and “attractive”.

In addition, the men are introduced as “a famous singer” or “an honest police officer”, while women are introduced to the plot through their appearance “beautiful”, “simple looking” or their relationship to other “daughter of”.

Men are also much more likely to be angry, women are always more cheerful than men. There was also an imbalance in the jobs of the film characters. Male film characters work much more frequently in higher positions such as a lawyer or doctor.

On the road to recovery

With the respective film posters, the distribution of roles looks completely different again, as the researchers invested. Here women are shown just as often as men, even if the character they play plays little or no role in the film story.

While 80 per cent of the film plots are about men, women can still be seen on more than half of the advertising posters. In films such as GangaaJal, in whose film descriptions not a single female name is mentioned, three women are nevertheless very obviously depicted.

In their execution, the scientists repeatedly write that the films ultimately reflect society and that something definitely needs to change. The only ray of hope is that in recent years more and more films have broken through the existing stereotypes by focusing on female roles. In the past two years, this was almost 12 per cent of films compared to 7 per cent in the early 1970s. The film industry is still a long way from equality, but the trend is encouraging.

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