Rabindranath Tagore’s reaction to the Partition of Bengal came in the form of writing a novel called Ghare Baire. One of the key characters of the novel is Bimala. Bimala, a character with several grey tints, is portrayed as a woman, who at first is confined to domesticity, content with her role in the household and is devoted to her husband Nikhil. Her character undergoes a change when her husband’s friend Sandip, a nationalist leader of violent intentions enters her life. Sandip tries to make Bimala believe that she is his Muse, the re-incarnation of the center of power from which he derives both his drive and his desire to liberate his country from the clutches of British misrule. Nikhil makes the mistake of liberating his wife from the clutches of the “andarmahal” and introduces her to Sandip. It is this liberation that forms the crux of the story. In the end, Bimala realizes her love for her husband and and Sandip escapes. Tagore’s depiction of Bimala in this story only partially fulfil the notion of liberation. In this manner, both the notions of feminism and nationalism remain incomplete.
Similarly, in the character Charulata in Nashto Neer and Vinodinee in Chokher Bali, the liberation of the Indian woman like that of Bimala remained only partially fulfilled. They were ultimately women bound by the norms of society.
The portrayal of women has changed significantly in the literature of modern times. From books to theatre and movies, the depiction and role of women have undergone several changes.
Khaled Hosseini’s book “A Thousand Splendid Suns” portrays a beautiful and emotionally draining story of the relationship between two wives of one husband and their trials, struggles and friendship. In books like this, stereotypes are broken and unexpected facets of human emotions are revealed.
“The Palace of Illusions” is a novel by award-winning novelist and poet Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni. It is a re-telling of the epic Mahabharata from Draupadi’s point of view. It portrays the patriarchal society from a woman’s eyes. It is in today’s society that authors come up with these viewpoints and take up the cause of feminism in a significant manner. Tagore had tried doing the same but had left it incomplete somewhere.
Movies, which are known to be a portrayal on the current society have also depicted women in their full glory in recent times. “Queen” starring Kangana Ranaut depicts the journey of a shy Punjabi girl after she is dumped on the day of her wedding. She goes on her honeymoon alone and thus embarks on a journey of self discovery. “Lakshmi”, a movie starring Monali Thakur deals with the harsh realities of girl trafficking and child prostitution. It traces the journey of a young girl, who was sold to the flesh trade, but never gave in, and survived in spite of rape and other brutalities that were inflicted upon her. The examples are countless. From “Kahaani” to “Highway”, women have been portrayed as courageous and brave. The bottomline remains, that nowadays, scripts and storytellers don’t shy away from telling the tales of brave women. They celebrate womanhood instead, breaking away the shackles of domesticity and tracing their joyous victories.
Theatre too, has undergone certain changes. One of the most remarkable shows, that caught my attention was “The Vagina Monologues” by Eve Ensler. It is an unusual blend of comedy and heartbreaking drama. It comprises of a number of monologues, each depicting a different feminine aspect like birth, sex, love and others. The fact this show ran to packed houses even in Kolkata, goes to show how progressive the society has become. It shows how openly feminine issues are depicted and dealt with.
Tagore and authors of his age depicted women differently. Their conceptions and portrayals dealt mainly with the domesticity of women. Much has changed since then. Authors today have become more bold and progressive.