Whenever you think Indian cinema has made some headway with Sapphic portrayal in cinema, a straight cis-gender man will come fill that void for you by portraying Sapphic relationships in Indian cinema purely for the fetishization of women who love them. female relations. the male gaze.
Ram Gopal Varma, famous Indian filmmaker, who makes’Dangerous‘, a film which is cited as “The First Indian Lesbian Crime Movie“described it as a story that revolves around two women who, after having had bad experiences with men in their life, fall in love with each other. Not only does this portray that sexuality is a choice, which it is not, but will also sexualize these women, under the pretext of “”representation”, While actively responding to the male gaze.
What exactly is the metric to analyze if a film operates from the male gaze or not? The very term “male gazeWas first invented by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey in her essay Visual pleasure and narrative cinema which deals with the psychoanalysis of cinema theory. This is now a widely read feminist theory, which asserts that in the visual arts and literature, women are portrayed from the perspective of a heterosexual man. The three ways in which the male gaze takes shape are: the gaze of the man behind the camera, the man in the film, and the man watching the film.
Here, Mulvey explains how the patriarchy has subconsciously structured film trends to represent women from a man’s perspective. In a subsection, she talks about ‘pleasure of watching or scopophilia‘. She explains that viewers are “voyeurs whose only sexual satisfaction can come from looking in a sense of active control, another objectifiedMeaning that the man watching a movie resonates with the main straight man in the movie. The screen is his substitute and he considers sapphic relations as an object of desire and not as relations between individuals of their own will.
In addition, she explains that scopophilia, or the pleasure of watching, is of two types- voyeuristic scopophilia which means that a man considers himself the ‘matter’ and the woman on screen as a ‘object‘, and narcissistic scopophilia where a man identifies with the main protagonist and therefore thinks he has control over the women in the film just like the men in the film.
Mulvey goes on to say that women are “isolated glamorized, exposed, sexualized”. The three main ways it comes into action are first the angle of the camera which focuses on certain parts of the body rather than the woman as a whole, which also introduces us to the concept of “fourth wall‘. the fourth wall the theory proposes that the viewer sees themselves as being in one room, with the three walls of the cinema screen and the fourth wall being the one behind the viewer, which creates a false sense that they are part of the story and makes it easier to relate to the movie and makes objectifying women more natural.
The second way is to place women for aesthetics while their characters are irrelevant to the plot. The third and most important with reference to Ram Gopal Varma’s film concerns the sexualization of women who are in control in films so that they do not appear threatening to audiences and are easier to watch.
Read also : An investigation into the internalized male gaze: who owns this camera anyway?
Movies like these also promote forced heterosexuality. The performative representation adds nothing to the liberal view of the Sapphics, but rather makes homosexual women see themselves as an object of desire for men. Women in turn, repeating the pattern from the films, also begin to look at themselves through the perspective of a man in everyday life.
Voyeuristic films like these further reinforce heteronormativity and the practice of women subconsciously trained throughout their childhood to see themselves through the male gaze. Where does this perception come from that women dress for men? A lot of it goes back to how cinema let women down and the only contribution women have in most mainstream films is to be a purely perceivable object with no depth or dimension of its own.
This is very damaging to self-esteem as women start to see themselves in a third person perspective just like a man would. It also translates into real life. To contradict this trope and not to be recognized as another ”bimbo“Women go against that, to embody another gendered trope of being”not like other girls”. It is just as damaging if not more.
Women feel the need to want to break free from the media version of a woman and, therefore, desperately try not to be the mistaken idea of a typical cinematic woman who is only in the movie to ask questions. stupid or trampling on men and having their bodies objectified. . This often leads to a feeling of superiority in women, of being better than other girls and cause them to become completely alienated. All this evil just to fall back into the trap of the male gaze, because it is still an attempt to feel validated by men.
There is active conversation about the male gaze around Megan Fox in Transformers, and the movie The wolf of Wall Street among others, but a very important example of a masculine gaze that is conveniently missed would be the series: Game of thrones. Emilia Clarke, one of the show’s main actresses, has tried out a powerful Dragon Queen onscreen. The character was found to be in a position of authority and power, but to make her less threatening (suggested in Laura Mulvey’s essay), she was also often shown nude in the show’s first seasons.
Later she noted that the show’s creators pressured her to perform nude scenes so as not to “To disappoint his fans”. Here it was clearly being exploited for the gratification of men. Since she was still new to filmmaking and had worked more in the theater before, she was easily susceptible to such pressures.
We’ve already seen enough bimbofication of women in Bollywood movies as characters who add nothing to the plot but are there for the perverted male gaze and the sexualization of the female body in the songs. When we approach Sapphic relationships in cinema like the one in Ram Gopal Varma’s film, there are many other layers to the problem. By fetishizing Sapphic relationships, the vulnerability and emotions involved are completely erased. Scratch that, two women in love are not even shown as women in a relationship of mutual desire, but rather as two women in a performative act in the eyes of the perverted cis man.
Fortunately, on the other hand, we see positive portrayals of same-sex relationships that don’t respond to the male gaze with explicit sex scenes for male gratification, but describe the raw, emotional, and vulnerable sides of the relationship.
Read also : Blue is the hottest color: Abdellatif’s masculine gaze and his treatment of love
We need to have more films that empathize rather than objectify women and go beyond their physical attributes. Indian cinema is still far from perfect in this regard, but the least that filmmakers like Varma can do is create a safer space for a more accurate portrayal of Sapphic relationships.
Abhigya Barthwal is an undergraduate student currently studying economics. She enjoys reading poetry, feminist literature and fiction. She loves watching movies and then dissecting their meaning later. She also writes sometimes, to make sense of the world around her. You can find it on Instagram
Featured Image Source: Stage milk