Omission of Menstruation in Female-Centric Bollywood Movies

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

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Singh, P(2020, September 16). Omission of Menstruation in Female- Centric Bollywood Movies. BeyondBlood.https://www.beyondblood.org/post/omission-of-menstruation-in-female-centric-bollywood-movies



Introduction:

Analysing the depiction of the menstrual cycle and issues in Bollywood is a particularly peculiar and difficult task, owing to the fact that mainstream Bollywood movies refuse to acknowledge even the existence of menstruation. It is something that exists in a void, away from the public eye, supposed to be a private issue, and thus, not something meant for hundreds of thousands of people who watch cinema. This lack of acknowledgement manifests itself in female characters whose lives in no way or form are affected by menstrual cycle, and it becomes a part of their life not important and significant enough to be discussed or depicted. Cinema, especially mainstream cinema, both reflects and perpetuates the popular cultures and norms in a significant manner. The age-old taboo of menstruation being a private matter and to never be discussed in front of men has further silenced the conversation around Menstruation. This refusal to discuss menstruation and the issues related to it guides and provides an argument for Bollywood movies to not depict, represent or even mention menstruation. Moreover, this continued silence around menstruation in mainstream cinema fuels the taboo around it further. This pattern of minimal to no representation of menstruation in Bollywood becomes even more profound and problematic when it becomes a part of contemporary ‘female- centric’ films-a relatively new phenomenon which focuses on female protagonists and stories. The fact that the entirety of these movies revolves around a female character(s), without even once mentioning mensuration, reveals how intrinsically rooted are taboos around menstruation and how difficult it is for us to discuss it.

The argument doesn’t revolve around how often Bollywood movies do not mention menstruation, the argument is how often do movies consciously omit to talk about menstruation, especially in narratives where menstruation can take up important space. Cinema is one of the most consumed and impactful form of media, with a wide base of audience, where actors are hero-worshipped. Movies are influential in shaping the principles of dissimulation, perpetuating the norms of the society, and influencing the opinions of the majority. The only depiction of menstruation that is available to us is seen in sanitary napkin advertisements, which in themselves are very unrealistic and problematic. Menstrual hygiene advertising has strengthened cultural taboos that menstruation is unwanted and dirty and something that must be concealed (Yagnik, 2013). In these advertisements, menstruation is seen as a negative aspect that must be hidden and it is the menstrual products being advertised that provides a way to conceal menstruation. This method of advertising reinforces the idea that menstruation is extremely impure and unwanted (Simon and Berg, 2001). Other than advertisements the only other knowledge of menstruation comes form school books, which are incomprehensive and absence of sex education further stigmatise the idea. Thus, it becomes important to have an open, comprehensive and educational conversation around menstruation and its health impacts on women, and movies are an impactful medium for the depiction of these conversations.

The accurate portrayal of menstruation in media, especially movies, becomes important and its omission becomes problematic because menstrual hygiene in India is abysmally low and there is an absence of knowledge around menstrual issues like PMDD, PMS, PCOS, Dysmenorrhea, PME and the phases of the menstrual life cycle. AC Neilson’s (1) report, 'Sanitary Protection: Every Woman's Health Right' showed that only 12% women in India have access to sanitary products, and the remaining population of women are vulnerable to many serious diseases (Goyal, 2016). Another major conclusion from the report revealed that around 23% of women do not leave schools after reaching menarche, as either a result of embarrassment or restrictions from family. A realistic depiction of menstruation in movies will helps in lifting the stigma around it and makes it easier to discuss the various spectrums of menstruation.


The cultural norm around menstruation is silence and stigma and it is perpetuated by the media (Yagnik, 2012). The menstrual cycle also has deep implications on both the physical and mental health of females. The taboo around menstruation makes it difficult to talk about health issues related to it and thus getting proper treatment. The only time a female’s menstrual cycle is discussed is when it is done in the context of reproduction. Here is why talking about menstruation in female-centred movies becomes even more important. It makes the character relatable, human and most importantly helps women to identify their problems with that of the protagonist. Other than paving the way for conversation, representation of menstruation in these films can help in breaking the stigma of menstruation being a private issue, and bring forth the need to discuss menstruation and its various health aspects and treatments in the open. Female characters are constantly shown as 'perfect' women and a conversation around menstruation provides the danger of looking at that character as 'impure', and thus, menstruation is constantly concealed and considered a part of private life, and not public discourse.

Absence of Menstruation from Female-Centric Movies:


Female centric films are marketed as feminist, revolutionary, refreshing and a much-needed break from male-dominated storytelling. These movies revolve around women, their stories, friendships, career and tries to mark a significant departure from traditional roles ascribed to women in Bollywood. While there can be an argument around whether this wave of women-centric films is the commodification of feminism or an attempt to subvert dominant status quo in Bollywood, what cannot be denied is that these movies do provide a fresh wave of storytelling in a world of ‘hero-saves heroine’ narratives, where women are not provided with any active agency in the movies. Films like Lipstick Under my Burkha, Veere di Wedding, Angry Indian Goddesses, Razi, Mary Kom, Panga, Parched, Mardani, are some of the examples of woman-centric films. While each of these films can be venerated or criticised individually regarding their portrayal of female characters, what remains common in all the films is no mention of menstruation, a feature of every mainstream Bollywood movie.

The first kind of female-centric movi