*a play on Patrick Juvet's disco classic, "Où sont les femmes?" ("Where are the women?"). And now that I think of it, the French punk band Les Wampas did a slightly Bollywood-ish cover version. But I digress.
Or maybe I don't digress. Because for my final post for MOuchoPrema, I'd planned on looking at how the moustache affects the box office, by looking briefly at these three films, currently sitting at the top of the 2011 Malayalam Box Office, all three declared Blockbusters (and shown in 1,2,3 order):
Notice anything? Christian Brothers, number one at the box office, features four distinct moustaches. Seniors, four moustaches with a side of beard. China Town, in third place, only three moustaches (also with one side of beard).
I was going to make some glib comments about how if you want to succeed in the box office, you have to up your moustache quotient, but to be honest, I've been doing a lot of thinking about all this in the last couple of weeks, and I think that there's something to that, but it's related more to the idea of who's wearing the moustache than sheer numbers. Of course, the idea of putting three or four male stars in a film probably isn't a stupid idea, marketing-wise, since you can draw on their respective fan bases to ensure box office success. And these three films are proof that upping the male star power on screen certainly works to get people buying their cinema tickets.
More and more, though, I can't help but ask myself: "Where are the women in all this?" It's a point that was driven home a wee bit more last week when, on Twitter, in preparation for her latest WSJ Bollywood Journal column, Beth of Beth Loves Bollywood asked how DVDs were organized in the shops we purchased from.
There was a definite trend to organize DVDs according to the hero (the male star). It reflects, as Beth quite rightly points out, "the supreme importance of the male lead to popular films". That's true of Bollywood, and it's true of Mollywood, too. And Beth highlights the problem of searching out films when what you're really interested in is the heroines -- the female stars.
All of this thinking, this prepping for MOuchoPrema posts, this thinking about the supremacy of the mouch in the world of cinema dovetailed with my current reading material: Women in Malayalam Cinema: Naturalising Gender Hierarchies, edited by Meena T. Pillai (New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2010). It's a fascinating look at the role of women in Malayalam Cinema from a range of perspectives, but it also examines the role of men. "Cinema," Pillai writes, "has been used by a paranoid Malayali male psyche to serve as false mirrors, to borrow Virginia Woolf's analogy, which have the 'magic' and 'delicious' capacity to reflect the figure of the Malayali man twice or thrice its natural size while cutting down the figure of woman to the tiniest possible proportions. Popular Malayalam cinema reflects the anxieties and obsessions of Malayali men and seeks to undermine and sabotage the immense creative and productive potential of modern Malayali women."
Yes, the book doesn't pull any punches. On the other hand, given the lack of really good roles for women in films of substance, maybe that's not a bad thing. And I think those of us who watch Bollywood would probably agree that the situation there is pretty similar.
In fact, I think the films standing in the top three positions in the Malayalam Box Office are great examples of the kinds of films Jenny Rowena discusses in her article "The 'Laughter-Films' and the Reconfiguration of Masculinities" (also in Women in Malayalam Cinema). Rowena discusses chirippadangal or "laughter-films" specifically, but I think what she writes would work aptly for all three of these films, which represent, clearly, "male conglomerations" -- groups of men -- at their core. And it's not only the grouping of heroes; the nature of the heroes in these types of film change, too. These "new men" (as Rowena calls them) represent a shifting of traditional moral values, using laughter to treat them with disdain. "Thus," writes Rowena, "we had hero figures who lied, cheated and tricked their way through the films, pretending to be who they were not and wearing many masks and disguises, throwing all scruples to the wind." One of the results? Women are dispatched to the margins, which is clearly the case in all three of these box office blockbusters.
Don't get me wrong. I love my heroes, and if you want to throw three or four of them at me in a film, I'm not going to complain. Though if I'm honest, of these three films, only Christian Brothers -- more of an action film than a true laughter-film -- would have a chance of making my 2011 Top Ten list. China Town had a few good moments. Seniors was a messy pastiche of so many other, better films.
And I've enjoyed MOuchoPrema and its celebration of all things Moucho immensely, and have to offer a huge thank you to Dolce and Namak Talk Indian Movies for coming up with the idea. It's been great fun, and it's also been thought-provoking.
But at the end of it all, I can't help asking, "Where are the women?"
So I've been thinking. Why not devote a whole month to the women? To great heroines, great actors, great directors, great roles, great films featuring women and women's issues. A little equal time to balance things out. I don't have a title for the thing yet (suggestions welcome), but I'm thinking that since International Women's Day is March 8th, why don't we aim for the month of March to do this? Let's celebrate the"immmense creative and productive potential" of women.
Are you in?