Cut to—a pleasant sunny morning in a temple. We follow the sound of anklets and bangles as a hand takes tiny portions of the prasadam (sacred food) and places them in a straight line. It is followed by CG shots of ants eating the food.
Now we see the same woman dressed in a half saree chirpily jumping down the steps only to pet a cow and the camera tilts to her earring, her lips, her eyes, her bindi, and then pans out so we could see her face. Give or take a few shots, this is a typical introduction scene of how male and female leads are introduced in most Indian films.
The introduction scene of a character plays a major role in a film because it sets the tone of that character—who they are, what their wants, needs & conflicts are. But unfortunately, when the heroes are introduced as passionate dreamers, aggressive revenge takers, believers, and rebels, the heroines (who are mostly the love interests of the said heroes) are often shown in mothering, nurturing, caregiver roles in order to establish their capability of being good mothers, thereby a justifiable love interest.
Considering this as our premise, this study aims to draw a comparative analysis between the introduction scenes of male and female leads from five recent major Indian films that are available on OTTs. The results are as follows,
Mahaan (2022) / Directed by Karthik Subbaraj
The film opens with the present-day Gandhi Mahaan (Vikram), burning his car and looking dejected after fighting a battle. Soon we are transported to 1996 where Gandhi dreams of being the king of gambling in slow motion smoking shots surrounded by people chanting his name. This dream is shown to be shattered by his son as instructed by his nagging wife Nachi (Simran). Nachi is introduced in the morning rush of cooking and getting her son ready for school while also expressing her frustration of not having enough money to run the house—all in an animated style for comical relief to the male audience. Nachi is portrayed as nothing but a nagging wife who questions Gandhi’s ethics that she presumed he had.
Hridayam (2022) / Directed by Vineeth Sreenivasan
A film that invoked nostalgia for all the right reasons uses the age-old template for female lead introductions because, in the end, it is still a man’s coming of age story. Arun Neelakandan (Pranav Mohanlal), who boards a train to a new city, drenched in rain in a black hoodie, is introduced as a man with hope and dreams fluttering in his eyes, while—both Darshana (Darshana Rajendran) & Nithya (Kalyani Priyadarshan), his love interests are introduced with slow-motion shots that emphasize nothing but their beauty because they are seen through Arun’s eyes.
Shyam Singha Roy (2021) / Directed by Rahul Sankrityan
In this period of romantic drama, Vasu (Nani) is introduced as a dreamer—an aspiring filmmaker who is working hard to prove his talent to the producers. While his love interest is Keerthi (Krithi Shetty), a psychology graduate is introduced as a smoker yet kind, modern yet compassionate while focusing on her body movements just to show that she is bold & different from “other women”. This pattern is repeated even in the past life portions. In 1969 West Bengal, Shyam Singha Roy (Nani), the macho social reformer and revolutionary writer with communist ideologies are introduced to smoking on a sailing boat with a pen in his hand. While his love interest Maitreyi (Sai Pallavi), a woman of the dancing community is introduced while dancing in a temple. One may argue that Maitreyi could not get a better introduction because all her life she’s known only dancing—agreed! But apart from her talent Shyam Singha Roy undoubtedly falls for her looks and the fact that she is compassionate through the scene where she blesses an infant from the crowd when other women don’t—a sign of being a good mother.
Bro Daddy (2022) / Directed by Prithviraj Sukumaran
Marketed as a family entertainer, Bro Daddy can be considered a template for many commercial films that attempt to have awoken quirky touch but fails in their approach. For a film that takes a lenient stand towards live-in relationships, premarital sex, and even pregnancy of unmarried women, the role of its women is restricted to the kitchen and bed. While John Kattadi (Mohanlal) has a comical introduction that speaks about his steel bar business Annamma (Meena) enters on cue bearing a tray of coffee with a smile on her face. On the other end, the other couple, Eesho Kattadi (Prithviraj Sukumaran) gets a slow-motion bottom to top slow pan shot linking him with Jesus because his name ‘Eesho’ is the Malayalam term for Jesus. While, Anna Kurian (Kalyani Priyadarshan), Eesho’s progressive live-in partner who works in IT, gets the typical insert shots of her lips, eyelashes, nails, and tattoo as part of her introduction scene. It was also not a surprise to notice that though Anna Kurian and Eesho work in Bangalore, there are no scenes of Anna actually working while we see a lot of what and how Eesho works.
Gehraiyaan (2022) / Directed by Shakun Batra
Gehraiyaan is a saving grace on the list. Though the film begins in the past, Alisha Khanna (Deepika Padukone) is introduced in the present as a hardworking woman with a goal when she runs a pitch for her yoga app to potential investors. Karan Arora (Dhairya Karwa), her first love interest, is introduced while speaking to her over the phone. Tia Khanna (Ananya Panday), Alisha’s cousin, and Zain Oberoi (Siddhant Chaturvedi), Alisha’s second love interest are introduced as a happy, rich couple on a yacht. From the tone of the introduction scenes, it is evident that the story revolves around Alisha. The point where Gehraiyaan differs from the rest is that Alisha’s counterparts are still introduced as people with defined careers or goals or anything but their beauty.
Analyzing introduction scenes might seem trivial but for young girls who are conditioned to think that they should always look beautiful or give importance to beauty to be worthy of love and for young boys who presume they’ve fallen in love when they met a girl’s eye while the wind brushes her hair—this study is an important step to break those myths.