Can We Get Rid of the Feminist Woman Who Expresses Herself Through Smoking and Drinking Trope?


Can We Get Rid of the Feminist Woman Who Expresses Herself Through Smoking and Drinking Trope?


In a Bollywood film, a contemporary, progressive lady is more likely to consume alcohol, smoke, or both while dancing in clubs with misogynistic songs. Their leisure activities are portrayed as a strategy to challenge gendered cultural norms, thus stating that the best approach to combat sanskaar is to agitate sexist feelings that are triggered by the sight of a woman smoking or drinking. Consider the roles of Sakshi played by Swara Bhaskar in Veere Di Weeding, Shonali and Meghna played by Kangana Ranaut, and Priyanka Chopra in Fashion, Veronica played by Deepika Padukone in Cocktail, Bitti played by Kriti Sanon in Bareilly Ki Barfi, and Meera played by Anushka Sharma in NH10.

The subversion that occurs between the conventional lady and the modern woman is on full display: the modern woman is progressive and woke because she participates in a historical activity that was closely related to men. To be quite honest, portraying a lady smoking is a very simple approach to demonstrate her liberation... Anushka Sharma's smoking in NH10 showed just that, according to NH10 director Navdeep Singh. "A cigarette is portable, readily available, and overall a simple method to show a woman resisting patriarchy," he had stated in a statement. The patriarchy-related smoke and mirrors are intended to dissipate.

Movies can weaken the cause and its message, though, by lumping feminism in with simple vices like drinking and smoking and pushing it under the umbrella of "wild partying" culture. Therefore, the concept of equity is reduced to little more than an afterthought that is drowned out by party music.

Smoking and drinking do not, in any way, reflect the feminist ethos of freedom and equality, as Sreeparna Mazumder said in Vagabomb. It's incorrect to equate drinking and smoking with a woman's liberation. These two behaviors should not be idealized since they are unhealthy.

Furthermore, since they actually pose a risk to health, smoking and drinking are frequently seen as vices in and of themselves. As a result, showing women engaging in these leisure activities end up discreetly offending the viewers. Particularly given how Bollywood reinforces negative stereotypes about drinking, smoking, and partying. Think of Shonali and Meghna in Fashion, Veronica in Cocktail, or Mira (played by Parineeti Chopra) in The Girl on the Train. Female characters who engage in these behaviors are frequently shown as being self-destructive and insane.

Furthermore, it is still true that, at least in the world in which we live, reckless drinking and smoking are not automatically means of emancipation from misogyny. "Smoking by a male actor is just a bad habit that harms their health,' But it's a sign of progress when a woman does the same. To be honest, there is some truth to it as well. Women have traditionally been forbidden from engaging in activities such as smoking and drinking, which were exclusively acceptable for men. However, it gets old to observe these clichés in each and every Bollywood movie. I do not consume alcohol or smoke. I'm a liberal woman, too," Mazumder added.

Therein lies a battle between fact and fiction: being a feminist doesn't always result in being a smoker or a drinker, and being any of those things doesn't make one a feminist. The same films that frequently depict feminism with drinking and smoking continue to have their "feminist" heroines engage in shaming other women for unfiltered- discussing topics that are as natural as childbirth and its challenges, becoming a certain weight, deciding to settle down, or sleeping with their bosses — all activities that the female leads in Veere Di Wedding engaged in at various stages in the film.

Thus, among other films, Veere Di Wedding provides a pretty simplistic view of feminism, which is made further clearer in its anthem Tareefaan. Yes, Bollywood has long treated women in its films as disposable sex objects dressed scantily clad. However, treating men equally is not the solution. The same way that forcing the female leads to start smoking and drinking doesn't end misogyny or advance feminism. In contrast to toxic masculinity, feminism does not advocate treating males the same way that women have historically been treated. Instead, it aims to build a more fair culture, a concept that the filmmakers seem to have overlooked.

Such representations of the "modern lady" also frequently exaggerate the abilities and limitations of actual modern women. The real-life modern Indian lady had aspirations that went well beyond her tendency to party, unlike the haze of her cinematic counterpart's existence, which consisted solely of cigarettes and alcohol. Aditi Murti criticized Bollywood's "Modern Girl" trope, which is frequently displayed through the smoking-drinking cliche, in The Swaddle. "She was studying to be more — 'outshining' young boys in board exams, going to college, excelling at work, and trying to solve the eternal problem of balancing employment and home," Aditi Murti had written.

Hindi movie frequently constructs their characters' arcs to ultimately regret their "modern" lifestyle after having shown the women as progressive through smoking and drinking. In addition, to "scare young Indian women back into their positions as devoted, silent wives," as Murti had remarked, the depictions are thus intended to be "woke" bait. Consider the character played by Padukone in Cocktail, who is spurned by the man she loves because of her outgoing, independent nature. Given that the accused boyfriend cheated on her with her closest friend because he thought the latter was sanskaari enough to marry, Veronica should have accepted her mistake and gone on. After all, the trash had eliminated itself from Veronica's life. However, she regrets her modernity and changes her demeanor to become gentle enough for her partner to adore her in order to gain his adoration.

The creators of Cocktail set Veronica against the kind and sanskaari woman Meera (played by Diana Penty) in a way that was intended to cause her loss, according to a 2021 article. But was it a loss? Just because she was unable to wed a "desi lad" who [wouldn't] advance beyond what he was raised to believe? Actually, no. Because she lacks Meera's 'traditional' Indian beliefs, the film's perspective consistently portrays Veronica as [the] [faulty] one.

That sexist checklist is a whole other can of worms, so this isn't to argue that contemporary women on TV must give up smoking and drinking and be portrayed as advocates of women's rights, who flawlessly blend sanskaar and sexuality. However, filmmakers don't have to cram all of the feminist ideals of their female protagonists into drinking and smoking.

Despite including the cliché of drinking and smoking, it is still feasible to demonstrate other liberating, subversive ways in which women are battling patriarchy in all of its repressive manifestations. Pink or Lipstick Under My Burkha is two examples. These films "function [despite their reliance on the smoking-drinking cliche] because [the] women are establishing their uniqueness in other ways as well," according to one critic. In Pink, the women are powerful, enjoy smoking and partying, and they don't think their actions should subject them to discrimination. Sukanya Venkatraghavan, a novelist, stated to The Deccan Chronicle in 2017 that "using merely the symbol of a woman smoking, or a woman wearing short clothes, or a woman partying as a technique to represent her as modern, is just sloppy writing."

The trope is currently quite modest in its approach, attempting both too hard and too little to appeal to all audiences. Unfortunately, this caricatured portrayal of modernity is the sole non-regressive representation of women on television or in movies for progressive audiences. The appeal of the cliché for conservatives is that it provides a cautionary narrative of women who dared to challenge the expectations society had placed on them—only to suffer, and how!

At the end of the day, portraying woke-ness in the same framework that has long since been used to support patriarchy is not in any way progressive. So, can we move on now?

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