Philadelphia, PA— On April 3rd 2016, the American India Foundation’s (AIF) Philadelphia chapter hosted a conversation with leading Indian actress and Social Activist- Shabana Azmi along with her husband, renowned lyricist Javed Akhtar on gender roles and women’s empowerment in India. The event was held in the South Jersey and attended by of a diverse group of individuals including the Indian diaspora, gender activists, academics and AIF supporters from the Greater Philadelphia area.
The conversation delved into issues of gender inequity and the imbalance of gender roles and power that continue to persist throughout the Indian landscape, despite India’s advancement in recent years, while reminding everyone that this is a universal issue. A number of important issues came up, including portrayal of women in Bollywood movies, upbringing of women in Indian societies, as well as Azmi’s thoughts on her roles in unconventional films like Fire and Arth. Azmi expressed her particular discomfort with item numbers, which lead to objectification of women. “Item numbers, in most cases, have nothing to do with the film. The way that they are shot, with focus on particular parts of a woman’s body are down right extreme. I don’t have a problem with celebration of sensuality, however these objectify the woman to the extent of commodification. What troubles me the most is that we let our little girls dance to these songs at weddings etc.- imitating the same obscene dance moves. This leads to the sexualization of children.” She also expressed her distaste for the romanticization of stalking in Hindi movies, and emphasized that modern cinema must play a larger focus on the issue of consent.
Javed Akhtar brought out the gender perspective from a man’s point of view. “The biggest problem with India is the fact that at any given time, India exists in three generations,” said Akhtar. “Indians today continue to dwell in the patriarchy that was created through the laws that existed through the feudal era, which did not recognize women as equals, and thereby gave them no financial or social rights.”
The conversation was moderated AIF Clinton Fellow and budding social entrepreneur- Nafessa Kasim. Dr. Kavita Gupta also spoke on the occasion and highlighted the work and vision of the Philadelphia chapter. Dr. Sanjay Gupta summed up the evening and presented the plaque to Shabana Azmi. Other members of the event host committee, including Ms. Rani Emandi, Mr. Ashghar Kazim, Ms. Erum Khan, Mr. Arshad Hussain and Ms. Prema Roddam were also present.