The Indian And The Nri Heroine

1744 words - 7 pages

In films, heroines reveal cultural values, gender roles, and social challenges experienced by their culture. Therefore, viewers may use Bollywood heroines as a lens through which to view the experience of the Indian woman and Indian culture. Recently, with the growth in size and influence of the Indian diaspora, a new strand of Bollywood films has emerged concerning the topic of first or second generation Indians living abroad. These non-resident Indians (NRI) face a reality very different from that of Indians living in the homeland. The dissimilarities between Indian and NRI culture are exemplified by their heroine’s different portrayals in Bollywood films, particularly through the song and dance numbers.
The young Indian female experience in the modern age is characterized by a conflict between Indian tradition and contemporary global culture. Historically the archetype of the ideal Indian woman has been used to build national unity, identity, and pride. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, public imagination equated the ideal woman to ‘mother India.’ This idea was fueled by art, literature, and particularly film. Heroines were characterized as “passive, victimized, sacrificial, submissive, glorified, static, one-dimensional, and resilient” (Virdi, 60). The social expectation of women to exhibit these traits persists in the modern day. Women struggle to reconcile these qualities with contemporary values such as independence, freedom, and gender equality. Therefore young women are still subject to the desires of their fathers, and the unofficial caste system still limits their social mobility; yet simultaneously they dance at nightclubs, and wear short skirts. Conflict between tradition and modernity is exemplified by events like the beer bar girls ban, in which young women who made a living by dancing in bars were banned from their profession on the grounds that it was immoral and victimizing. However, Bollywood has the potential to help reconcile this conflict. Innovative characterization of women in recent Bollywood films provides an arena in which to create a new female Indian identity, one that enjoys the modern age while still remaining true to Indian traditions. One actress who has been instrumental in embodying this new Indian female identity is Madhuri Dixit. She has successfully merged the family-oriented, ideal Indian woman with the modern, sexualized dancer through her portrayal of the working girl in Tezaab. Mohini, Dixit’s character, dances in clubs as a means of supporting her father. Therefore the profession that would previously have been morally questionable becomes a heroic sacrifice for the sake of family. Tezaab was the first of its kind, yet the increasing number of these films indicates the growing establishment of a modern ideal Indian woman.
While NRI women struggle with the same tradition/modernity dichotomy, they have the added complication of being in a foreign country, thereby being subject to the cultural...

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