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No country for Jawan or not so Jawan women – Is Bollywood falling into a testosterone trap?

The sidelining of female characters is not limited to Jawan alone. None of the other films that have made the big bucks this year have been able to avoid the testosterone trap.

A few days ago, while responding to a fan on X (formerly Twitter) who appreciated the fact that Nayanthara was portrayed as a single mother in Jawan, Shah Rukh Khan said that her storyline deserved more screen time in the film. I would add the names of all the female characters in the film to that list. But while screen time is not always proportional to impact, what was disturbing was the fact that these women existed in the film solely for the purpose of helping one or both of Shah Rukh Khan’s characters reach his goal.

When I saw Jawan a few weeks after its release, I left the theatre feeling like I had watched a dark futuristic film on how our industry went back to sidelining female actors and turning them into plot devices in a male-dominated film. The background score that kept chanting ‘massy maasssy maassy’ didn’t help matters.

From the little girl playing Nayanthara’s daughter, whose job it is to make Khan look noble for marrying a single mother, to Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone, who has a fairly long special appearance, the women in Jawan exist solely because of their connection to either or both of Shah Rukh Khan’s characters.

Nayanthara plays a successful police officer and a single mother, but it’s Shah Rukh’s character who is given cute moments with her daughter to make him look like a great dad before he has parented the child for even a day. A star of her calibre is reduced to participating in songs and making gun-toting appearances to connect one plot point to the next.

Deepika’s character Aishwarya, is merely a device to bring Azad aka Shah Rukh Jr. into the world and burden him with the task of revenge while he is still a toddler. She is an educated woman who puzzlingly seems to make no effort to fight against her death sentence in spite of having five years to do so.  The aggrieved women in Shah Rukh’s team are all female convicts. While it is nice to see women wield guns and hack computers, they admit that they have been chosen by Azad to be a part of his convoluted revenge and anti-establishment narrative. These women have just accepted their fate till Azad literally and metaphorically sets them free. But shockingly, after putting their lives at risk and helping Azad, all these women, including Nayanthara, who is a highly trained officer, are all locked up in prison cells at the film’s climax, while both Shah Rukh Khans and Vijay Sethupathi bask in all their massy massy massy glory.

But the side-lining of female characters is not limited to Jawan alone. None of the other films that have made the big bucks this year have been able to avoid the testosterone trap.

In Pathaan, Deepika Padukone played second if not third fiddle to Shah Rukh Khan and John Abraham. In the climax, she stood aside while the two men battled it out in jet packs and beat each other up in crumbling homes. Gadar 2 was essentially a Sunny Deol show with director Anil Sharma’s son Utkarsh Sharma hogging the remaining limelight. Satyaprem Ki Katha did give Kiara Advani and character Katha screen time, but the whole film was essentially a story of her husband Satyaprem (Kartik Aaryan) discovering the concepts of feminism and consent.

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