Monday, February 17, 2014
Construction of Gendered Realities through Cinema - Shyam Nair (1324110)
Immanuel Kant suggested a radical notion of the dichotomy of reality in his work on transcendental aesthetics. According to Kant we can never experience reality, rather we have access only to our perception of reality. Kant followed Hume in believing that man’s ‘knowledge’ is necessarily limited and distorted, because it is mediated by the senses
The dichotomy that this understanding generates is that between “Phenomena” (which constitute the immanent world of common experience) and “Noumena” (which constitute a transcendental world to which we have no empirical access, which is reality.) The dichotomy is of importance to the study of the construction gender in a phallogocentric system of meaning making.
Cinema is a medium that has had a stronghold over the Indian population for the longest time. This visual medium surrounds individuals and create a unified common experience of the world, which becomes the perspective lens that people use to view reality.
The male language that structures cinema will be studied in detail in this paper through a critical analysis of the Malayalam movie Pokkiri Raja directed by Vyshak. The reason for the selection of this movie is because of the evident nature of the construction of gender power asymmetry in the movie and due to the popularity it enjoyed. The movie was a blockbuster in 2010 and has been dubbed to Tamil (Raja Pokiri Raja) and remade in Hindi (Boss).
The paper will conduct an in depth analysis of the scenes where the female lead appears in the film and study the manner in which the woman has been objectified by this medium of communication.
Jacques Lacan in ‘The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function I’ suggests that a child undergoes a process of identification during the Imaginary stage, which transfers her/him from the Real to the Symbolic. The Gaze is a psychoanalytical term to describe the anxious state that comes with the awareness that one can be viewed. The psychological effect is that the subject loses a degree of autonomy upon realizing that he or she is a visible object.
The Symbolic Order is phallocentric and hence the gaze that constructs the individual is the male gaze and the female gaze is negated. In her 1975 essay, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", Laura Mulvey introduced the second-wave feminist concept of "male gaze" as a feature of gender power asymmetry in film. Mulvey stated that women were objectified in film because heterosexual men were in control of the camera.
Film and all other visual medium of representation that influence our perceptions of reality are constructed in a male language where myths have been essentialised and women, objectified.
Scene1; Actor sees actress for the first time:
The actor is travelling in a bus along with his new neighbor who is engrossed in constructing a novel around the life of the young actor. The novelist suggests that the story will be incomplete without a heroin and starts describing various physical aspects to describe a beautiful woman. The actor who is gazing out of the bus window suddenly realises that the words uttered by the novelist can be see in a girl who is walking down an alley. The shot begins with the actor gazing out uninterestedly. The next few shots are close shots of the actress; the camera captures her feet, fluttering strands of hair, eyes and smile before we get a complete image of the woman.
The objectification of the woman occurs here at different levels. The male gaze is established when the camera puts the audience into the perspective of a heterosexual man. Here the woman is displayed on two different levels: as an erotic object for both the characters within the film, as well as for the spectator who is watching the film.
The camera lingers over the woman’s body and creates a desire in the male spectators to attain the object on screen. What is interesting is the female gaze is visually negated; women viewing the ad are not exercising the ‘female gaze’ but rather they are viewing the ad through the male gaze constructed by the camera’s gaze (directors gaze), the editorial gaze (the editing that draws out attention to only certain aspects) and the intra-diegetic gaze (the gaze of the male actor).
Scene 2; Anti-hero clicks a picture of the heroin without her permission:
The gaze is not only that constructed by the hero’s perspective but also that the anti-hero’s perspective. Here there is an evident violation of the woman’s autonomy through a gaze, which is technological at two levels. The anti-hero clicks an image of the woman using his mobile phone and the viewers partake in this objectification through the viewing of the film. The woman is gazed upon at different levels. The scene ends with the hero rescuing the passive heroin. The passivity of the woman character is established in this scene and it continues till the end of the film. The woman is always depicted as a figure waiting ideally to be rescued by her man. This is one of the myths that has become a fixity in dominant visual narratives due to the phallogocentric language used in the production of cinema. These fixities are often normalized and consumed by the audience as the unified truth and it in turn distorts their perception of reality.
Other instances where the woman is constructed in passivity are:
The hero’s brother barges into the heroin’s home and challenges her father saying that he will make sure that the two of them will get married whether the father likes it or not. The heroin appears on screen only when she is called for and remains silent throughout the sequence. Her responses are limited to gestures and her presence on screen is merely for the purpose of ornamentation.
The hero and his brother defeat the father’s goons and the hero gets engaged to the heroin. The myth of the need for a savior and the incapability to stand up for the self is glorified in this scene. The scene ends with the brother threatening the father saying, “Nothing should happen to the girl before the marriage”.
After a lot of drama the movie ends traditionally with the marriage of the hero and the heroin. There is nothing fascinating about the construction of the narrative as it is a classic Malayalam narrative that involves a boy, a girl and relatives who make life difficult for them.
What fascinates the researcher is that the method of objectification of the woman that this movie executes is similarly present in most mainstream Malayalam movies. Aaraam Thampuran by Shaji Kilas, Devasuram by I.V. Sasi and Ravanaprabhu by Ranjith are some typical examples for the construction of gender power asymmetry in cinema.
Heteronormative Men are at a considerably privileged position in this system of objectification and othering because the loss of autonomy at understanding that they are susceptible to the gaze is glossed over by the fact the gaze is male and that complying to the system will allow autonomy of a kind, of course this is nothing but false consciousness that stems from being closer to the phallic center.
Women and non-normative men on the other hand are objectified and forever denied the hope of attaining autonomy within the system. According to Kant the Phenomena is the only reality we know and we have no access to the Noumena. This could be true insofar as we understand that the phenomena is constructed in a particular manner and there is always a possibility of deconstructing the normative and hegemonic perceptions in favour of a new set of perceptions devoid of hegemonic gender power asymmetry.
Being pushed to the periphery has its advantages and disadvantages. It denies a position of autonomy with this system and perception of reality but it also presents a fluidity that results from the fading influence of the center, which affords space to experiment and construct a new notion of reality using other sets of perceptions. Feminists refer to this as play and by exercising their fluidity have been able to write in a new language that deviates from the established notion of reality.
The process is difficult but not impossible, the visual world is entrenched in a male language and sees only through the male gaze but the understanding that this is not a unified reality and the questioning power that this provides could result in radical changes in the visual medium.
Recent attempts made in the Malayalam industry reflect these possibilities. 22 Female Kotayam by Ashik is one such movie where the woman is not constructed in passivity. The initial phase of the movie focuses on the traditional understanding of women and the later half projects the possibilities that women can attain. The gaze remains male and the notions are still constructed in the male language but breaking the myths regarding the passivity of women propagated by visual media is the first step towards changing our distorted view of reality into a more gender inclusive perception of reality.
Though the paper concentrates on the Malayalam film Pokkiri Raja to study construction of gendered realities, the ideas discussed in the paper can be exported to almost all visual industries in our nation. A structural analysis of the Malayalam movie and its Hindi remake could throw light upon cultural differences and similarities that inform visual representation of the same narrative in two spaces.
A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present By M.A.R. Habib