New TISS, U.S. Consulate Report Reveals Need for More Equitable Gender Representation in Hindi Cinema

A new research report by the School of Media and Cultural Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, reveals that on- and off-screen women and queer representation in box-office hits remains largely stereotypical.

Noted actor Ms. Vidya Balan; actor, filmmaker and social advocate Ms. Nandita Das; acclaimed film producer and two-time Academy Award Winner Ms Guneet Monga Kapoor; Nitin Tej Ahuja, CEO Producers Guild of India, B N Tewari, President, FWICE, WIMPTSEA released the report, “Lights, Camera, and Time for Action: Recasting a Gender Equality Compliant Bollywood,” at Estella, Juhu on the evening of June 28th, in the presence of Prof Shalini Bharat, Director, TISS; Consul General Mike Hankey, U.S. Consulate General, Mumbai; and Prof Lakshmi Lingam, Research Study Director. The U.S. Consulate General, Mumbai, funded the project.

An engaging conversation moderated by film critic Sucharita Tyagi followed the report release. Representatives of several film industry bodies, film professionals, and media and communication students attended the event.

Research for the report, supported by a research grant from the U.S. Consulate General, Mumbai, consisted of both quantitative and qualitative studies. The quantitative research studies analysed 25 2019 box-office hits to capture a full year of pre-pandemic theatrical releases, as well as 10 ‘women-centric films released between 2012 and 2019 as a representative sample. Researchers analysed 15 crucial parameters, such as intersectional representation, occupation, degree of sexual stereotyping, consent and intimacy, harassment. The studies also analysed women’s participation behind-the-scenes and off screen.

In addition to the quantitative studies, TISS carried out three qualitative studies with the experiences and perspectives of women and queer screenwriters, directors, and young online media critics.

TISS earlier shared interim findings of the study at marquee film festivals like the International Film Festival of India, Goa; Pune International Film Festival; International Association of Women in Radio and Television Film Festival, New Delhi; and the India Film Project, Mumbai.

Here are the main findings:

• 72% of characters in the analysed films are played by cis-males, 26% by cis-females, and 2% by queer actors.

• 36% of box office hits and 100% of women-centric films passed the Bechdel test.

• The most popular skin tone for women characters is fair skin and body type is thin for lead characters and medium for all other support characters.

• Expression of romance and intimacy is restricted in the box office and women-centric films, but most often it is male characters who initiate intimacy. The idea of consent is still fraught with ambiguity, specifically because there is a greater emphasis on women remaining demure and expressing consent through non-verbal and symbolic gestures.

• Women in employment and in public domain work are shown in films, however, the work roles they play are gendered, with a greater presence of women in health care, education, entertainment, and journalism.

• Women-centric films have greater diversity and explore inbound subjects dealing with relationships, sexuality, motherhood, and other sensitivities.

• Box-office hits have outbound subjects like war, politics, corruption, gang wars, and crime.

• Majority of characters in films are in the age group of 21-45 years, and belong to Hindu dominant castes.

• People with disabilities are rarely seen in films. Only 0.5% of characters are shown with disabilities.

"This is an important study and a timely one. The report offers an opportunity to foster a diverse, more representative Hindi cinema. I hope this report engenders a conversation that looks towards meaningful change,” said Prof Shalini Bharat, Director, TISS.

“The U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai is proud to support this project because we know that for Bollywood and Hollywood to thrive – for India and the United States to thrive – we must work together to improve conditions for women. This work goes beyond the realm of art and entertainment; it also holds profound implications for international relations” said Mike Hankey, US Consul General, Mumbai.

Sharing her thoughts on the findings of the study, acclaimed actor Vidya Balan says, “When I read the report I was surprised because the ground reality seemed different to me. I don’t think we have creche facilities yet but definitely POSH committees have been instituted on every production that I have been involved in and I can say that a lot of production houses are following that.As far as more women in cinema goes, there has to be a holistic solution to it. I don’t see why it's a bad thing if women directors are hiring women technicians & women heavy crews . Eventually that will percolate into male led films also. I have seen that change with movies like Mission Mangal.”
Actor , filmmaker and social advocate filmmaker Nandita Das adds, “This is a very important report that tells us where we are in terms of representation in Hindi films, both, in front and behind the camera. Anecdotally we may feel we are far better than where we were, but the research and statistics show us that we have a rather long way to go. It is a detailed and thought through report that needs to be seen by anyone who cares to be part of the change that we want to see in the film industry. That’s why it’s rightfully called - Lights, Camera and time for action.”

Talking about hurdles for female producers Guneet Monga, Founder, Sikhya Entertainment laments, “I absolutely miss a group of producers who are doing independent films. I have seen a lot of them give up after producing one or two. Having produced more than 40 independent films, I think there is a need to have more female producers. I think women are incredible at multitasking and are generally able to run the world better

She ends on a hopeful note saying “We are beginning to have conversations and create awareness with Mumbai Film festival and researchers, I think this decade looks good for women.”

Media is an important player and institution in the promotion of Gender Equality (Sustainable Development Goal 5). Gender representation both in terms of how men, women and gender queer are depicted in cinema as well as in terms of the numbers that are present, visible, and have a voice in various professions related to filmmaking is crucial in promoting gender equality in the media. Given the reach and scope of the entertainment industry, it is time that the industry assesses its performance not only on aspects of business, revenue and growth but also on issues of gender representation, diversity and inclusion in the content and the production of content.

About Tata Institute of Social Sciences

The School of Media and Cultural Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences has done pioneering work in critical media education in the country. The vision of the School is to be a centre of excellence that actively promotes critical thinking, education, research, production, dissemination and advocacy in the areas of media and contemporary culture, with a focus on equity, social justice and human rights. A unique feature of the School is the close linkage between its technical and academic work. The School offers a two-year full-time Master’s degree and a PhD programme in Media and Cultural Studies. The School has to its credit several awards for its documentary films at national and international film festivals. The films are widely distributed and used as teaching and advocacy resources.

About U.S. Consulate General, Mumbai

The U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai is a branch of the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to India under the direction of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. The U.S. Consulate General Mumbai is located in Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai. The Consulate represents the United States in Western India, including the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Goa.

One of the busiest consular operations in the world, the Consulate provides an array of services to American citizens residing or traveling in our consular district, such as assistance in emergencies and help with passports and reports of birth. We assist non-Americans with visas to the U.S., both for short visits and for immigration. The Consulate can also assist Indian companies looking to invest or do business in the United States, and provide information on study and exchange programs in the United States. Dosti House, Your American Space, is located at the Consulate in Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai, and provides information about the United States, programs on U.S. culture and society, and offers space to partners for programs on issues of mutual importance to the United States and India. The Consulate also works in coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Delhi and Consulates in Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad to ensure a strong relationship between the United States and India.