gender inequality

Data confirms what we suspected: Hindi films are still deeply sexist

Over the years, women portraying central characters in Hindi cinema have been few and far between, although this is improving.

Bollywood has been notorious for its mistreatment of woman characters – and now data proves it.

Over the years, women portraying central characters in Hindi cinema have been few and far between. Those portrayed, including the protagonists, are rarely holistic and mostly subject to ingrained biases. “Different features like occupation, introduction of cast in text, associated actions, and descriptions are captured to show the pervasiveness of gender bias and stereotype in movies,” a recent analysis of Bollywood movies by IBM and two Delhi-based institutions revealed.

To study such disparities, researchers used an IBM dataset of Wikipedia pages of 4,000 Hindi movies released between 1970 and 2017, extracting titles, cast information, plots, soundtracks, and posters. They also analysed 880 official trailers of movies released between 2008 and 2017.

The on-screen gap

Over the nearly 50 year period, males are mentioned on average 30 times per plot on Wikipedia compared to female cast members, who are mentioned only 15 times. This suggests that an actress’s role is not given as much importance as the actor’s, according to the researchers.

Adjectives used to describe males and females in Bollywood movies.  (Analyzing Gender Stereotyping in Bollywood Movies)
Adjectives used to describe males and females in Bollywood movies. (Analyzing Gender Stereotyping in Bollywood Movies)

Woman characters are mostly described with surface-level qualities—attractive, beautiful—whereas men are represented as “strong” and “successful” associated with them. “…verbs like ‘kills’ and ‘shoots’ occur with males while verbs like ‘marries’ and ‘loves’ are associated with females,” the researchers noted.

In trailers, women are shown to be much happier and less angry than men. This representation is in line with research from 2012 which found that commercial Hindi films portray “ideal women” as submissive, self-sacrificing, chaste, and controlled, while the “bad” woman is “individualistic, sexually aggressive, westernised, and not sacrificing.”

The data also revealed that during introduction sequences, descriptors for males are profession-driven whereas women are associated with physical appearances, emotional states, or their relation to a male, such as the “wife of” or “daughter of” so-and-so.

In most storylines, males had superior occupations: Over 32% of male characters were doctors, compared to just 3% of women; for female characters, the most popular careers were teachers or secretaries. Roles of lawyers, CEOs, and police officers were overwhelmingly played by male actors.

Despite trivialising their roles, filmmakers don’t hesitate to use women as bait in luring audiences to theatres.

“While 80% of the movie plots have more male mentions than females, surprisingly more than 50% movie posters feature actresses,” the researchers noted, citing examples of movies like GangaaJal and Raees. In these movies, the males have more than 100 mentions in the plot and females have none, yet the posters feature females “very prominently.”

“They want to publicise through (the actress) but when it comes to actual story, she has been sidelined,” said Nishtha Madaan of IBM India. Madaan co-wrote the paper with Sameep Mehta of IBM and researchers from the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi, and Delhi Technological University.

Off-screen woes

Meanwhile, the lack of attention paid towards women extends beyond actresses, too.

A soundtrack analysis of film songs released since 2010 showed that women sing consistently fewer songs than men—a trend that leading female vocalists have spoken out about. “If one takes into account the actual part of the song sung, this trend will be even more dismal,” the researchers said.

Women are also mostly missing in areas like production, direction, and cinematography.

Changing roles

Madaan acknowledges that while this stereotyping is a reflection of “how people think,” it is also a testament to “how the thinking is changing.” With many mainstream actresses like Anushka Sharma of NH10 fame and Kangana Ranaut and Vidya Balan, who opted for female-centric scripts like Queen and Kahaani respectively, things are changing on-screen.

The proportion of female-centric movies has risen in recent years. “Our system discovered at least 30 movies in last three years where females play central role in plot as well as in posters,” the study said, referring to movies like Neerja, Nil Battey Sannata, Margarita with a Straw, Dear Zindagi, Akira, and more.

Between 2015 and 2017, females were the central characters in 11.9% of Hindi movies released between 2015 and 2017. Back in the 70s, this figure was closer to 7%.

This article first appeared on Quartz.

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German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

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Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.