Infertility in Bollywood: Omnipresent Motherhood and Omission of Menstruation
Updated: Aug 31
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Singh, P (2020, August 26). Infertility in Bollywood: Omnipresent Motherhood and Omission of Menstruation. BeyondBlood. https://www.beyondblood.org/post/infertility-in-bollywood-omnipresent-motherhood-and-omission-of-menstrual-cycle
Infertility has made its way into Bollywood movies many times. From old Bollywood movies to more contemporary ones, there has been a presence of themes around infertility. While some things have changed in the way infertility is portrayed, some themes have remained constant. Motherhood is the omnipresent theme in movies, even in those which are not necessarily related to infertility. This idea of motherhood becomes profound when taken in the context of infertility and it is depicted as an instinct that every woman has, irrespective of whether she has had children or not. Thus, motherhood becomes something that every woman strives to achieve, and without which life becomes incomplete. Herein, having children becomes an innate part of a woman's life, a notion that is being reinforced for centuries.
Cinema in its very essence reflects the popular notions, and this is exactly what happens when Bollywood movies deal with infertility: they reinforce the ideas of compulsory motherhood. What is even more peculiar about this whole discourse around infertility and motherhood is that it is disproportionately focused on female infertility and female need for having children. A close study of movies that deal only with female infertility exposes the omission of medical complications and/or menstrual issues that a woman might have. Infertility and motherhood become the centre of attention, and all other issues regarding infertility, and especially menstrual issues and complications take up no space in the narrative.
Infertility is a stigmatised issue and leads to fear, hopelessness, anxiety and depression among women. Research, conducted by Zehra Kaya and Umran Oskay(2019) on the level of stigma and hopelessness in Turkish women regarding infertility, concluded that higher levels of stigma in the family or society lead to increased levels of anxiety and hopelessness. The study also pointed to the fact that it is important to provide proper information to women about the causes and consequences of infertility and the need to set up support groups for women going through physiological and psychological troubles due to their infertility. Infertile women face huge levels of distress and a lot of it stems from the pressures put forward by family and friends and this increases with the duration of marriage (Yilmaz, Yazici and Benli, 2020). Not being able to be a mother and fulfil society expectation becomes a crucial cause of distress, anxiety and depression. It is only after a woman comes in contact with a doctor and gets proper information about infertility and the alternatives, that the level of distress is reduced (Massarotti et al, 2019). Infertility is a huge stigma in Indian society and regards women who are infertile as ‘cursed’. It becomes even more important in such a society to present infertility in a positive light. While Bollywood movies have tried to break the stigma, the absence of proper medical information and an over-emphasis on motherhood becomes an issue.
Infertility in females is an issue that is not mass represented in the media. The only source of factually correct information comes from the health care officials and doctors, but unfortunately, this source neither disseminates information on a mass level nor is it accessible to everyone. A young woman is more likely to receive information about infertility from a media source, rather than a health care official, and information from media remains informal and not always factually accurate (Lampi, 2011). In India, the only media source that has talked about infertility is movies. There are no widespread video or print advertisements centred around the topic of infertility and the only form of advertisement we get are for fertility clinics, which do not provide any medical information. Thus, movies become the sole basis of information about infertility.
This is the reason why it becomes important to introspect the way in which infertility, surrogacy and IVF are represented in Bollywood, and how much of space do menstrual issues takes up in those narratives. The reproductive cycle is an important part of the menstrual cycle, and if a movie is trying to represent infertility and problems in the female reproductive cycle, menstrual issues need to take up a certain amount of space. Moreover, the movies dealing with infertility also talk about medical alternatives like surrogacy and IVF, and the menstrual cycle plays an important part in all these procedures (Jukic et al, 2010; Qin et al, 2016; Gizzo et al, 2015). So far Bollywood movies have only been able to address the psychological effects of infertility and that too is limited only to the dejection resulting from the inability to be a mother. The next part of the paper will look at four mainstream Bollywood movies that dealt with the issues of infertility and how motherhood was omnipresent in them and the menstrual cycle was omitted.
Infertility in Bollywood
A movie as old as Amar Prem (1972) revolved around a woman who was thrown out by her husband, who remarried, and the social taboo and disapproval by her mother and society forced her into sex work. What is unique about the movie is that it is not focussed on a love story between the two main characters, but rather focuses on the female protagonists 'motherly love towards a child who was ill-treated by his stepmother. The main idea of the film, that it reinforced through various ways, was that even after not having any children of her own, the protagonist being a woman was ‘naturally’ a mother and motherhood was an essential part of a female’s life. Since Amar Prem, some movies have come out, especially in the 21st century, which tried to deal with the idea of infertility. Some examples of such movies are Chori Chori Chupke Chupke (2001), Filhaal (2002)l, Vicky Donor (2012) and Good Newwz (2019). There is no denying the fact that the characters and the ideas around infertility in these movies have changed substantially in the past few years. Earlier, movies had a way of depicting infertile women as a ‘helpless’, and more often than not their husbands would leave them. Over time these notions underwent a change and movies started to focus the narratives more on alternatives to reproduce in case of infertility. The above- mentioned movies dealt with surrogacy and IVF in great detail.
Chori Chori Chupke Chupke and Filhaal were two movies that brought attention to female infertility and surrogacy as a feasible alternative, and they were unconventional for representing such a stigmatised issue. Filhaal followed the story of a young married woman(Tabu) who is devastated after learning that she is infertile and goes on to ask her best friend(Sushmita Sen) to be a surrogate mother. Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, starring Salman Khan, Rani Mukherjee, and Preity Zinta, follows a similar storyline where a sex worker(Zinta) becomes a surrogate mother for an infertile married woman. While there is no denying of the fact that the movies tried to bring a refreshing change in the narratives of Bollywood movies, the scope of infertility, as well as surrogacy, remained extremely constrained. Chori Chori Chupke Chupke became more of a love story, heavily borrowing scenes from the Hollywood cult classic Pretty Woman and Hindi movie Doosri Dulhan, and didn’t deal with the mental, emotional and physical trauma that a woman suffers, either with infertility or surrogacy. Filhaal was a good movie in terms of dealing with human relations and emotions revolving around the process of surrogacy, but it also didn’t dwell much upon the subject it was trying to represent. One common theme is both the movies was the importance of motherhood for both the infertile women and the surrogate. There was a constant reinforcement of the idea that having a child and being a mother is a crucial aspect that makes one’s life and marriage complete, and because motherhood is natural to women, a surrogate mother will have a ‘motherly’ bond, causing rifts between the