Lonely Indian Housewives: Gendered Portrayal of Loneliness in Bollywood Cinema
The Mumbai-based Hindi film industry, or Bollywood, has been producing films on many themes, with genres ranging from romance to action thrillers. While romance has been a staple ingredient of many Bollywood blockbusters, the nature of romance has changed and one has witnessed the slow erasure of the family of the protagonists into the background, portraying them as individuals in their own right. On-screen representation of loneliness in Bollywood films has adopted certain conventional tropes such as artists living reclusive lives, lonely men looking for a purpose and lonely housewives. These three tropes have their own specific settings such as lonely men often finding purpose through romantic association with the female lead (thereby rendering the women as passive tools) or the lonely housewives “finding themselves” by being seductresses in relationships outside marriage. Broadly speaking, Bollywood cinema grounds loneliness, more often than not, in the context and background of (often absence of) romantic relationships. This paper seeks to examine the gendered portrayal of loneliness on-screen through two Bollywood films—The Lunchbox (2013) and English Vinglish (2012). Both films involve lonely Indian housewives (evidently not receiving the validation and love they expect from their husbands) though while the latter focusses on the housewife as the key protagonist, the former once again employs the housewife as a cure to the male protagonist’s loneliness. Importantly, both are significant departures from the ‘housewife as a seductress’ trope while food plays a key role in shaping the identity of the two women. Through our paper, we argue that loneliness, as it plays out on-screen, is a gendered idea, particularly in the case of the tropes employed to portray the emotion. The spaces (both physical and social) occupied by men and women in their loneliness as well as their relationships which are portrayed on-screen vary greatly. While there is on-screen acceptance of men finding “themselves” with the help of women, women protagonists are portrayed within the borders of their (marital) relationship and the protagonist’s conflict resolution is scrutinised on the basis of how far they have stuck to the relationship’s boundaries or gone past them. Invariably, the social milieu and the constraints imposed by narrow gender roles are replicated on-screen even while portraying the emotion of loneliness.
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