The powerful and enduring effect of timeless fairy tales such as Cinderella (1697) and The Ugly Ducking (1843) continue to shape the universal female psyche for centuries. It influences the popular cultures, both local and global, influencing them to adapt various versions, conversions and translations of these eternal masterpieces. The transformation of an Ugly Duckling to a Beautiful Swan’ remains as an inspiring narrative for countless women around the globe who crave for a life-alteration akin to Cinderella.
Moreover, such Geek-to-Chick transformation suggests a fulfilling love and a gratifying life that is tagged along with this transition and makeover. The exceeding popularity of makeover movies, fictions, online dress up and makeover games exposes the tremendous fascination and obsession for beauty and perfection. Consequently, it invites discourse on body politic as it involves fanatic fixation over corporal beauty and physical appearance.
In a postcolonial India, the media is still unable to rise above the racial body-politic. One is meted social, political, moral, and ethical privileges in the society based on their skin colour, facial features, and body types. In the contemporary Indian screen, female body symbolizes commodities to be taken over or to be taken care of.
With the tremendous demand of various fairness creams and the incredible popularity of ‘Barbie doll’, a doll which symbolizes consumer capitalism and idealistic (read unrealistic) body proportions, the female being is oriented to treat her ‘self’ and her ‘persona’ as passive objects. Herein lays the genesis of the process of materialisation of the woman and her physicality. This trend has become such a powerful phenomenon that it has crept into the Indian as well as global psyche unnoticed and has become a significant imagery.
Indian cinema as well as television industry witnesses the unabashed portrayal of geek women turning into damsels to live their dreams and to be united with their soulmates. On a superficial level, it might look idealistic, romantic, starry-eyed and candy floss, but it engages in an offensive interpretation of female consciousness. It goes back to the 1960 movie Love in Simla, a retelling of Cinderella where the plain looking Sonia (Sadhna) goes under a drastic transformation to make Dev (Joy Mukherjee) fall in love with her.
Consequently, Naseeb Apna Apna, a 1986 Hindi movie depicts the journey of a dark, unattractive, and rustic girl Chandu who goes on transforming herself into a beautiful woman to woo back her husband. Similarly, in the 1998 blockbuster movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, protagonist Anjali is shown as a heartbroken tomboy who later grows into a beautiful lady and wins back her love Rahul. It is important to mark that Rahul does not notice the ‘real’ Anjali till he finds her in a more feminine avatar. Anjali has to let go of her tomboyish ways to be a magnet for Rahul.
Similarly, movies like Khoobsurat (1999), Silsila Hai Pyar Ka (1999) and Main HoonNa (2004) and Kal Ho Naa Ho (2004) portray timid, withdrawn bores or jhallis who are magically transformed into damsels. Such depiction of these protagonists portrays the Indian women from different perspectives while dealing with various long held societal norms about female physical beauty.
On a similar league, Indian television boasts of its highly popular show Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin (2003) which was inspired by the famous American comedy-drama seriesUgly Betty. Jassi is an unattractive bore, bespectacled, with braces over her teeth and a terribly odd dressing sense. This girl-next-door image of Jassi was soon loved by millions of Indian viewers who could identify with this plain-looking-but-intelligent woman. However, the gradual makeover of Jassi, where she transforms from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan, definitely aims at exploiting a young woman’s self-esteem and self-perception and her reformation as a woman reaffirms the societal acceptance of a beautiful body.
Though the above depictions might boast of the renovation of the Indian entertainment in the 21st century, but one might reassess the fact by analyzing the use of body as a cultural text in these portrayals. However, Bollywood has also witnessed the emergence of geek women like Naina (Deepika Padukone), Gippi (Riya Vij), Meeta (Parineeti Chopra) and Sandhya (Bhumi Pednekar) in recent movies Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani(2013), Gippi (2013) Hasee toh Phasee (2014) and Dum Laga Ker Haisha (2015) respectively, where the nerd protagonists come in terms with their individuality as women.
These confident women seem to be in ease with their own skin despite being frequently derided for their geeky looks. They do not go under any extreme makeover to woo their love or to seek approval from the conventional society.
Being beautiful, attractive or presentable is different and forsaking one’s self esteem and individuality for the approval of the Prince Charming or the society as whole is an altogether different affair. Cinematic portrayal of these women characters should capture the struggle of marginalized women but not the way they seek reorganization and appreciation from others or crave to be treated as a ‘normal’ human being by altering their physicality.
The contemporary cinematic female characters should rise above the long-held notion of physical appearance and must not let others define their beauty. That sense of beauty must come from within and one must be able to see that her persona is much more than her appearance. They must take the plunge to be different and not live by the conformist societal standards.