The latest edition of Eclectic Conversations was held at one of the most reputed educational institutes in the region, St Anthony’s College in Shillong. The topic discussed in this edition was ‘Women in Indian Advertising- A talk on representations of women in Indian advertising’. Speaker Shaheen Ahmed, who is presently pursuing her PhD in Visual Arts at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, spoke raised some pertinent issues in front of a packed house.
Speaking about the deification of women in Indian culture, Ahmed said, ‘A major problem in our society is that women are treated like goddesses. When women are deified, they are made to sit on a high pedestal. They have to follow the norms set by society such as not talking loudly, behaving and walking in a certain way. When any woman transgresses from that path of deification, they go down in the eyes of society and crimes like rape and other sexual abuse inevitably happens.’
Deconstructing a certain tradition of how women ought to be represented, she said, ‘During the 1950’s and 60’s, Hindi cinema used to have this ‘Mother India’ like figure who would be an epitome of virtue. Then there would be a vamp who was a bitchy woman, exact opposite to the ideal Indian woman. Helen used to play the cabaret dancer in most Hindi films of that period. We didn’t mind that because she was from Burma and in our eyes, her body was not Indian enough. Today, Hindi cinema has moved away (somewhat) from these kinds of stereotypes. Now, in movies like Kahaani, there is no clear demarcation between the perfect Indian woman and the vamp. This is fine because women should be treated with respect for who they are as an individual, not because they are mothers, daughters or wives.’
She further said, ‘If you look at the history of cinema, you will find that nudity and kissing was prevalent in the 1920’s. In those days, we were more progressive. This trend of censoring everything has started recently. Of course, you have to censor a few things. For me, extreme violence in movies is a big no-no. The kind of censorship which is happening today is nothing but an attempt to put the politics of the ruling party across.’
The event was sponsored by ERD Foundation which is the largest institutional network in the Northeast region catering to education and Young Indians (Meghalaya Chapter), a group of young achievers who wish to herald socio-economic change and prosperity. Mark Laitflang Stone, a social entrepreneur, represented YI at the event whereas the work about ERD Foundation was spoken about Nasreen Habib, Editor of Eclectic NorthEast. The success of the event was due to the full cooperation of the august institution St. Anthony’s and Ms Amanda Tongper, Faculty (Dept. of English, St Anthony’s).