Friendship: Zinda Laash, Representation of Sex Workers in Bollywood.
Duration: 00:03:18; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 15.080; Saturation: 0.226; Lightness: 0.341; Volume: 0.232; Cuts per Minute: 9.993; Words per Minute: 108.110
Summary: Friendship between women in prostitution and other women is a strict no-no in society as envisaged by Bollywood cinema. It is interesting to note that these two clips are from two completely different films. Devdas is a commercial film, an adaptation of a novel, a remake of an earlier version and also a period film. Aastha on the other hand, can be categorized as middle or art house cinema. Yet, we can see that the bias against women in prostitution mingling with so called domestic women is highlighted in both. However, in Devdas there is an attempt on the part of the prostitute to negate her solo identity as a courtesan, and this is also supported by the other lead heroine, the domesticated housewife.
Devdas (dir: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2002) was an adaptation of a Bengali novel by the same name written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. An earlier version of this novel was made in Bombay cinema in 1955, but it is definitely the more glamorous version starring Shahrukh Khan (Devdas), Aishwarya Rai (Paro) and Madhuri Dixit (Chandramukhi) that is better remembered. Parental opposition to marrying his childhood sweetheart, Paro, makes the protagonist Devdas a depressed alcoholic who eventually starts living in a brothel, forming a strange friendship with a famous courtesan Chandramukhi, who is hopelessly in love with him. The film is an interesting take on courtesans, Devdas would initially not allow Chandramukhi to even remotely touch him, he was disgusted by her and her profession and even lectures her on the roles of an ideal woman. Eventually he is able to see her despite her profession and even falls in love with her. The second angle to this is added by the female lead (Paro)- completely improvised on by the director (such a narrative is missing in the original novel), there is a friendship between Paro and Chandramukhi in the film. The two women are united in their love for Devdas, one married to someone else and one a prostitute. This friendship overlooks all stigmas of class and status, and is probably one of the most refreshing aspects of this film.
This is great, mother. This festival has brought a landlord's wife and courtesan together.
What are you saying, son-in-law?
What you and the entire village are witnessing - this woman, who has been introduced as the mistress's friend, is actually a prostitute, is that not right?
What is this I am hearing Parvati? Why are you silent?
Because she is embarrassed. History is witness to the fact that landlords used to keep relationships with courtesans and prostitutes. But now, even mistresses have started keeping friends from the brothel. It's surprising! You had started the drama Chandramukhi, I have concluded it.
No, Kali Babu, if you could do drama, then there would not be any need for courtesans. Even you would have run a brothel.
Both you and the entire village knows that it is because of the landlords that we have light in our houses, and it is because of landlords like you that we give birth to children. The blood in our veins is therefore same as the landlords.
Just because you are standing with the mistress, it does not raise your status.
I know, you are right. But just because a kind mistress thought of a courtesan as a regular woman, and invited her here, why should she be embarrassed? If anybody should be embarrassed, it should be you. Since you visit us regularly, where his ancestors have left marks of their philandering. Have you ever thought, that one among your community may even be your sister? Why sister, you would not hesitate to visit your daughter's brothel.
The clay from our brothel is used to create the face of the Goddess Durga. And this bond is not so weak. The drama is now over.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay
Get ready fast, we have to leave.
Not now? Not in the morning, not in the evening?
There's someone at home.
Oh, so you have now started at home also?
Who is it, sister-in-law?
Okay okay, I'll come tomorrow. Then don't say you can't make it! Bye.
Who was that?
How can that woman be your friend?
Because she is a pimp.
How do you know?
Everyone who visits big hotels, knows her. But you didn't answer my question.
How can a pimp be your friend?
This clip is from the film Aastha (dir: Basu Chatterjee, 1997). Mansi (Rekha) and Amar (Om Puri) have been married for years and have a daughter by this marriage. Amar is a professor in college, and earns a steady income, whereas Mansi is a housewife. Though they have a comfortable existence, they really cannot afford any luxuries. A chance encounter with Reena, who is a pimp, leads her into a life of sex and desire and she finds herself serving other men sexually in return for money. The film is progressive in the sense that it highlights a woman's desire and the increasing consumerism in today's world. The prostitute is not a poor, downtrodden woman who has to take up the profession because of dire circumstances. It about a middle class woman who takes it up to increase her income, enhancing her sex life in the process. The idea of guilt in the film is not so much based on morality but on emotion - because she breaks her husband's trust, who she loves and respects very much. The characterization of the female pimp is shaded; though she manages to convince Mansi that a life of luxury is not a sin, she later blackmails Mansi when she wants to leave the profession and tries to force her to continue.