The Girlbossification of The Sex Worker in Bollywood

 The Girlbossification of The Sex Worker in Bollywood

Girlbossification of The Sex Worker in Bollywood_ichhori.webp


Bollywood's enduring and unchallenged love affair with the brothel mise-en-scene endures despite cultural conservatism and periodic controversies with the censor board. Every aunt, uncle, and child alike is prepared to bust out the hook dance when the party playlist staple Fevicol Se, which stars Kareena Kapoor in a brothel courting an intoxicated Salman Khan, is played.

The stigma associated with "sex workers" is prevalent and real in Bollywood. In Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani's Ghagra, brothel ladies joke about not knowing their children's dads while speaking terrible English for comedic effect. Bollywood's version of the sex worker is sleazy yet alluring. She gives a charitable performance of an item song and plays flirting games with the movie's lead. She exemplifies the admonition of Kama Sutra author Vatsyayana, who says, "You must disguise your love of money as a genuine desire for the man himself. Show him that he, not his money, is the source of your divine lust by appearing to be completely committed at all times. On the other hand, pimps and johns are essentially passive recipients of the sex worker's sexual allure and the male condition.

The Bollywood "sex worker" playing the prominent role is the reactive antithesis of the Bollywood sex worker. This time, she plays the protagonist dressed in Sabyasachi rather than appearing in a three-minute cameo. She sits wide-legged and rolls up her sleeves to demand respect from the audience rather than laughter. Her palace is the brothel.

"My House, My Body. On the poster for 2017's Begum Jaan, the slogans "My Country, My Rules" and "Lived as Whores, Fought as Queens" are prominently shown. An experienced brothel madame who was widowed and sold into prostitution is our protagonist. Begum Jaan spanks one of her employees in one scene for declining sex with a client. In another, a young woman who fled rape and sought sanctuary in the Begum's kotha is made to sleep with a Raja in return for his protection.

While the movie does a wonderful job of dispelling outdated Bollywood clich├ęs and humanizing women by making them the protagonists of their own stories, a conflicting narrative of female power and autonomy also comes to light. The ladies allow themselves to be set ablaze inside their brothel since they have nowhere else to go except away from their alienating families. The story of an exploited community defending their sole source of income is finally marketed to the general public as the embodiment of female power.

The courtesan, as shown in Umrao Jaan and Devdas, occupies a middle ground. She performs mujra and astounds the hero with her beauty and grace, which sets her apart from other sex workers. In the former, Aishwarya Rai successfully secures a position as a courtesan. Despite being close to the trade, she is treated very differently than Kareena was in Fevicol. Her high-class and renowned customers appear to be sheltering her from these traditions; she is neither poorly dressed nor surrounded by guys.

Bollywood courtesans continue to maintain an image of luxury and power, even in more recent examples like 2012's Dil Mera Muft Ka. The reality of the field now is significantly different, according to Saad Khan, the director of a documentary that will follow the lives of mujra dancers in 2020. To meet the needs of its new clientele—working-class males—it has developed into a hypersexualized type of dancing.

The film directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali is based on the true story of Gangubai Kathiawadi, a 16-year-old girl who was sold into Kamathipura's brothel business and subsequently became its proprietor.

Although the real Kathiawadi was a strong woman and activist, as seen by her well-known speech at Azad Maidan, her struggle was not motivated by girlbosshood or a desire to practice altruistic feminism. It was a story about a victim of male assault and their desperation to survive. Women who are coerced into the profession frequently have no other option but to open brothels, which feeds the cycle of intergenerational sex work.

Even though it is asserted that Kathiawadi respected the consent of her employees, the specifics of consent in a capitalist and patriarchal system are ambiguous. Sex workers in Kamathipura currently struggle to get food and housing because of COVID-19 limitations. Even if the neoliberal representation of sex work by the film community creates a far more distorted view, choosing to perform sex work is never a choice when the alternative is being unable to pay your rent or feed your children.

Ruchira Gupta, the founder of the anti-trafficking NGO Apne Aap, has noticed this change in narrative. In a 2017 interview with the NewStatesman, she said that the term "sex worker" was "actually developed in front of our eyes" in India. There were no underprivileged women or girls in India who believed that "sex" and "work" should go hand in hand. If Bhansali's upcoming film is to portray women honestly and progressively, it must be careful to avoid romanticizing the sacrifices made by one of India's most disadvantaged communities and speak out against the misogynistic stereotypes that are applied to sex workers.

Brothels themselves are not the extravagant situations that are portrayed in item music. One of India's main red-light districts, GB Road, was recognized to have "inhumane conditions" in 2020 by the Delhi Commission for Women, including a lack of food and poor personal cleanliness.

Fiction and practical reality cannot be separated in a nation of ardent movie fans. It is more important than ever for mass media to promote social responsibility for these marginalized communities, as women in sex work continue to face the brunt of social and economic upheavals brought on by the pandemic.

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