Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why do actresses quit after getting married?

Another Indian actress calls it a day. I feel a little dejected that one more bright female will bow out after tying the knot, or in this case, the thali (the symbol of marriage that Tamilian and some other South Indian women wear).
Of course, I respect her choice. It is, after all, her life. Whether she wishes to give it all up and settle down with hubby, kids and in-laws or continues to stay in the limelight, should entirely be left to her. But, then, why don't women in other professions do so? I have hardly heard of a female software engineer or professor or manager or doctor say, "Okay, now that I got hitched, let me hang up my dainty sandals and make babies and bountiful meals!"

These, I think, are commonly the reasons why women drop out, especially in films:

(a) Time needed to acquire basic qualifications: In other professions, such as medicine, law, management, software and pretty much anything else, it takes many years, probably even decades to reach a certain position. Most of the regular office jobs and especially professional ones, require special degrees. Thus, a doctor who graduates with a specialization, is already in her mid-20s at least. When she gets married, usually some time before or just after 30, she hardly has had any experience. And what is the point of slogging through medical college if you were not going to make medicine your lifetime vocation?
Acting, however, is a different ball game. There are no prior qualifications expected. If one takes even a cursory look at the current line-up of heroines in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam or pretty much the film industry of any language in India, very few wannabes and established actors have undergone professional training in acting in the form of a full-fledged college degree.

(b) Premium on youth and looks: This, I think, is probably the most important reason of all. Some bloggers and writers have lamented about the fact that Hollywood actresses continue with their careers even after making babies, while the talented Indian ones bow out. In Hollywood, there are female leading characters in movies that are in their 30s and 40s. They may be crusaders like Julia Roberts in "Erin Bronkovich" or an FBI investigator such as Jodie Foster in "The Silence of the Lambs". Hindi cinema in the 50s and 60s had scope for such characters. Look at Nargis in "Mother India" or Waheeda Rehman in "Guide" or Sharmila Tagore in "Aradhana" or Rekha in "Ghar". These were strong, character-oriented roles that did not merely focus on the heroine's looks or lack of them.
Somewhere, in the 80s, Hindi cinema became the domain of the macho, can-achieve-anything man. The heroine was just a pretty girlfriend or dutiful wife or mistress or the loving, pitiable mother. In short, she had no identity of her own.
Then came the late 80s and early 90s with their teenage college romances and songs with lines that went something like "Main satara baras ka, tu solah baras ki" (I am seventeen, you are sixteen) - gosh! Hindi cinema was back to the "Sound of Music" days, only without the same charm. If most of the roles involved young people in or just out of college falling in love and battling the odds of conservative parents or villains or whatever-the-director-thought-of, then what hope could even a 30-year-old heroine have? Many actresses have expressed the same view.
Now, in the 2000s, we see hope in the form of fresh, young directors with new ideas. Thus, a much married young mom, Juhi Chawla, can get a role in a sensitive film such as "My Brother Nikhil". A refreshed Kajol, who embarked on a brief hiatus after marriage and motherhood at a young age, is welcomed back in "Fanaa".
But, in both cases, the said actress had built up a formidable reputation during the early days of her career. The same goes for men who come back at a later age. Would Amitabh Bachchan be praised to the skies even for the routine father roles he essays if it was not for the fact that he was India's superstar in his youth?
The Indian actress got the meatiest roles till she was about 30, or at the most, 35. So, the natural thing for her to do would be to make as much moolah and name as possible while she was in her late teens or twenties and catch a good husband and 'settle down' when she was considered "over the hill" (at 30/35, that is ridiculous!!). In Tamil cinema, I feel, that is still the case. We have new nymhettes for every other movie, but rarely, a strong female central character role, the likes of which Kamal Haasan or Vikram, essay.

(c) Stressful, time-consuming profession: This is what some actors seem to harp. As if there were no other vocations besides acting that had stress! In fact, I think actors have the liberty to choose to work fewer days in a year as compared to most other professions. If family was a concern, then an actress could sign one film in two years rather than three films in a single year. Granted, our films involve travel to exotic foreign locales for the dream song sequences, but then, can't a leading lady raking in lakhs of rupees afford to take along her kid on a flight with a nanny or, better still, a family member to help take care of the kid/s? And, there are enough films and scenes being shot locally, so what's so great? Women in other professions travel in overcrowded buses and trains for a few hours everyday and often put in more than the minimum 8 hours, then come home and spend time with their kids besides cooking and household tasks.

I think, the real feeling underlying all this is that, the woman must stay home and take care of the kids. It is the man's job to earn a living. Thus, acting when seen as a gateway to fame and money, not as a passion, is totally dispensable in favour of duty, i.e. being there for the family. But what about the actors who truly love their job and miss it?

(d) Taboo on the married woman's sexuality: This is what my mother would say to me : Women, after marriage, lose their sex appeal with the audience as the men in the audience tend to think of her as belonging to someone else.
A married woman belongs to her husband and must not be seen as attractive by other men. But, then, pray, what about the married man? If it is not okay to covet another man's wife, it should not be okay to covet another woman's husband, no? Nobody seems to have any problems with the fact that girls drool over Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan or Hrithik Roshan, all married fathers. Ditto for the dudes down South, Ajeeth, Rajnikant, Mammootty or Surya. With more urban women thronging the theatres, this trend will hopefully slowly change.

(e) Cinematic relationships reflect society: The reason why even a 40-year-old Shah Rukh stays hot and romances heroines half his age whereas heroines, at the slightest appearance of lines and wrinkles, start to lose it, is because in real life, too, it is the husband who is older than the wife. Typically, the Indian woman who is in her 20s, usually gets hitched before she is 30, given all the matrimonial proposals she gets from her relatives and family (this is largely true for even the urban, educated woman who chooses her own mate from the pool of suitors). The divorce rate in India is very low as compared to Western countries. Premarital sex is still a taboo. So, there are rarely any interesting love stories of 45-year-old women in real life. So, what credibility will it have on screen? In the West, people divorce and remarry even in their 50s. Dating is encouraged. So, you have all kinds of permutations and combinations that can be depicted on screen.
If more and more women start marrying younger men, like a Demi Moore who wed Ashton Kutcher, around 15 years younger, then cinema will wake up, too.

(f)Older women need to maintain their appeal in a graceful way: If women in their 40s, displayed their sensuality in a graceful way, rather than trying to look like a twenty-something hottie, they would truly charm the audience member with taste. Earlier, the over-the-hill heroine would usually be overweight and wear only traditional clothes without any pizzazz (nothing wrong with traditional clothes, they can look gorgeous, but there is a certain type of traditional dressing, if you know what I mean). But, with greater awareness of fitness and nutrition, we can begin to see the middle-aged woman in a whole new light.

Men, Women and IQs

This is what I have written on my other blog.

There is much brouhaha over the fact that, on an average, men scored slightly more than women on SAT (formerly called the Scholastic Achievement/Aptitude/Assessment Test according to Wikipedia) in a given survey sample, therefore, a conclusion is being reached that men are smarter than women.
For those who are not aware of the SAT, the test is an entrance exam for admission to an undergraduate college degree program in the US. It tests verbal and mathematical ability among certain other things.
By this logic, the passing percentage of girls is higher than boys for the SSC/HSC exams in many places in India. So, does that really mean girls are smarter than boys? Similarly, does it mean that a boy who gets into an IIT is necessarily more intelligent than a boy who misses admission by a few points? I think it is a very naive conclusion.
As for the argument that there are more men Nobel Laureates than women, the number of women who opt for high-powered research-oriented careers in science, economics and other fields is very low as compared to men. Naturally, the number of women Nobel Laureates is bound to be lower. There are several reasons for this. Research-oriented careers take up a lot of one's time and energy and for women with kids who do not have a supportive husband and family, this can be extremely difficult.
I had read a very touching, insightful book on the web.
This talks about the lives and struggles of various female Nobel Prize winners, starting with one of the most famous scientists of our time, Marie Curie. If you read the biogaphies of some of the women, then you will know that even in the 19th century, even in some so-called developed Western countries, women were not allowed to attend university.

The following URL (in which the above URL is a link) has a lot of books talking about women scientists:
U.S. News and World Report recently had an article about whether the people credited with important discoveries were actually the first to unravel them. One of those stories involved Rosalind Franklin, a female scientist who died prematurely and who contributed to the discovery of the DNA.

Watson and Crick ultimately got credit for it, but the entire story is very intriguing. This can also be found at the first link in this chapter.

There may be several such unsung heroines, people with talent, but those who dropped out due to family responsibilities or the unfriendly system.

Secondly, if you look at Nobels in science, we see very few people from Africa or Asia or Latin America, for that matter. Does that mean white people are smarter? Hell, no. This is what many women are arguing and I perfectly agree.

If we were to make a statement that one race is probably more intelligent than the other, then all hell would break loose. But, it seems perfectly okay to argue that one gender is superior to the other, without even verifying how authoritative the study is.

There is an interesting discussion at:

Please do go through it if you have the time, especially the comments. There are a lot of sensible arguments out there.

Funnily, many men do not accept that this survey by itself proves intellectual superiority of one gender over the other. The site and the commenters are mostly Westerners. However, reading the comments on this article on, one surprisingly overwhelmingly encounters opinions such as "men are definitely smarter" from guys.
And, this shows that brain size does not always indicate IQ. So, those harping that men have bigger brains and, therefore, a higher IQ, should stop trumpeting.

The bottomline is, statistics alone do not explain everything. In order to deduce anything useful from a survey, one has to study the underlying causes and several other factors. If you conducted the same survey in different countries, for example, you might get different results. Who knows, girls might score higher in some countries!

And, it would be completely ridiculous to say, that just because the number of men in the upper IQ range is higher,the average Ramu/Shyamu is more intelligent than a Marie Curie. Remember, the survey only talks about some men scoring higher tahn some women. It does not and cannot be applied on an individual-to-individual basis.

The views expressed here, although my own, have been expressed by others on the Web and elsewhere, so their influence on me, cannot be negated. They are, therefore, not unique to me.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Germaine Greer's "The Whole Woman"

I almost finished reading Germaine Greer's "The Whole Woman". A very thought-provoking book.
There is a perception about feminists in some quarters (correct me if I'm wrong) that they abhor motherhood and domesticity, hate men and want women to hold a superior position to women. I came across a particular blog on here: where the author has commented about the higher suicide rates of men. I just don't understand his logic there.

This book is totally different from what you would expect. She has, in fact, called upon women to be proud of their bodies as they are, to celebrate their womanhood, to not look upon their periods as dirty. She has talked volumes about motherhood and stood up for all mothers. All the pro-lifers and pro-choice people in the US and elsewhere must read what she has to say about abortion. She is neither on the left or right on this issue. What she says about sex and gender politics does make a lot of sense.
In essence, she has talked about giving single mothers social and economic support. Mothers should have the option to either stay at home or work. I have been thinking about this issue long before I read her book. Is our modern corporate culture itself unfriendly to women? I mean, our lifestyle is really so unnatural at times. People in cities have to work for long hours coupled with the harrowing daily commute. Where is the time for family or even for oneself? Parents, particularly mothers, might feel guilty about leaving their kids to the care of strangers while they juggle work and home responsibilities. Again, it is the mother who shoulders the maximum proportion of the blame.
The recent ascent of Indra Nooyi to the top slot at PepsiCo proves that when corporates lend a helping hand to women in managing their family life, there's nothing stopping the motivated females. Here is a post that talks of her success and on how she coped.
I have a lot to say about the possibilty of menstrual leave, but more about that on another day.