Playing the damsel in distress | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 20, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:10 PM, October 21, 2017


Playing the damsel in distress

When Don 2 was released back in 2011, many South Asians living in Malaysia stormed the local cineplexes and halls to watch the movie. A remake of an old Indian gangster flick, a star cast, including Shahrukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra, pulled in quite the throng. As a part of an international conference in Kualalumpur at the time, a bunch of journalists from Bangladesh decided to watch the movie as well, catching one of the late-night shows after dinner.  

Even though it told the same old story from decades ago, the remake was slightly different in terms of the character sketches. Instead of playing a damsel in distress, Priyanka Chopra, a heart-throb in India and elsewhere, played the role of an officer of an intelligence team, travelling the world to find the culprit. Not only did she smile less and never once played flirtatiously with her hair (as many female characters are made to do), she actually trained in martial arts and other forms of defence techniques to play her character. Her character was seen fighting with the villains, wrestling for the weapon, and blasting a car or two.  

“One of the worst films I have ever seen,” commented one of the participating journalists, hailing from Chittagong, after the movie was finished. “What kind of a movie did we just watch? Does it look nice for the heroine to be all manly, fighting with the villains? That's not her job!” he added.  

“Bhai,” added a fellow participating journalist from Bangalore, Karnataka, “I was snoring half the time! This film did not make any sense to me—no proper dances or songs or colours. What was the point of having a heroine in the movie in the first place?”

Dhaka Attack Arefin Shuvo and Mahiya Mahi
Still from Dhaka Attack

(Of course, many a critic around the world did find the movie to be a waste of a remake of a 1978 classic, but thank God they had different reasons.) 

It's a fact that the majority of the audience living in South Asia like to see female actors play the damsel in distress, whereupon she is swept off of her feet by the ever-confident hero. The perfect formula to a box-office hit would also probably include scenes where the heroine is being dominated by the hero and she is enjoying it!  

Celebrated director Rubaiyat Hossain, says, “Women characters in most films made all over the world are certainly not the lead. When a woman is shown in a main role the films are called 'women-oriented' films. This goes to show that the norm is that the male is the subject and the woman is the object. Women in cinema from the beginning of its history have been used to add an erotic surplus on screen. Also, the damsel in distress is a phenomenon not only in cinema but also in literature. Just think about fairy tales and you will understand.”

Priyanka Chopra
Still from Don 2

“I would not say that I like the damsel in distress character, but yes, I do like to see the softer side of the female when I watch a movie," says Mukit Islam Tonoy, a 23-year-old medical intern, at a discussion that took place amongst friends after watching the recent blockbuster hit, Dhaka Attack. “I like to watch romance flicks. I don't agree with the fact that the female character is undermined in any way. They, in turn, help many of us to dream of something positive and enjoy ourselves!” 

Farhana Ahmed Nitol, however, thinks otherwise and talks about how the character of Mahiya Mahi from Dhaka Attack was disappointing for many. “Her character showcased a courageous journalist in the beginning, and turned into a nagging girlfriend in the end!” she exclaimed.  

This inconsistency in the character sketch was brought about only because the majority of the audience would never acknowledge a female taking decisions, coming up with more ideas by collaborating with her cop boyfriend to showcase stories on her channel, says Farhana, or simply not screaming in her squeaky, nagging-girlfriend voice when the bomb disposal unit member rushes to do his job. 

One must admit, however, that Dhaka Attack is definitely one of the biggest hits this year, and rightly so. The storyline, cinematography, the cast, music, costumes—everything seemed to blow people's minds. The polished SWAT uniforms, the bomb disposal suit and the certain nuances that a police official showcases in the real world were fantastically introduced into the film, as opposed to the typical FDC police movies that are usually made. And the ostentatious character played by the female lead should probably be forgiven. “I appreciate Mahiya Mahi very much!” said director of the movie, Dipankar Dipan at a live discussion. “It's also because of the fact that she is very popular and loved by the common film-goer in Bangladesh that we got so many halls right in the beginning,” he added. Not only was Dhaka Attack shown in more than 100 halls all over Bangladesh right from the time of release, but the movie also earned massive profits. 

We are living in an era of change, and we always hope with our hearts that the change is positive. Many such positive changes are happening right now in Bangladesh and Dhaka Attack happens to be one of them. No matter where you are, grab a ticket at the nearest theatre and enjoy the movie!  

Elita Karim is Editor, Star Youth, The Daily Star

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