1960’s Bollywood: Women In Transition

Bangles slide against her wrist as Malha Sinha stands and brings her hand up to her forehead.

The pleats of her plain white sari lie wrapped around her waist.
It winds its way across her body , hanging off her shoulder.
Her other hand clings to her thigh.
She gathers the folds and lets delicate fabric brush against her skin.
The fabric falls to the ground, black hair flowing loosely down her heaving chest.
She presses her wrist against her forehead while looking into the distance.
Her eyes speak as she clenches her fingers and feels something that is heartfelt.

On the other end of the spectrum, we see Asha Parekh dancing to the tunes of “Parde mein rehne do parda na uthao” (let me remain hidden under my veil, do not let anyone remove it off of my face).
Bangles slip against her wrist as multi colored fabrics lift themselves into the air. The catchy beat and off beat colors makes everything stand out as she continues to lip word the song “ parda jo uth gaya to bhedh khul jayega” (if you lift my veil, the secret will come out) “Allah meri tauba- allah meri tauba ( otherwise God forbid what will happen), she says with a tinge of surprise.
Her playful exterior masks the pain and suffering within.
She allows you to get lost in her world.

. . .

These two contrasting images took over the 1960’s scene. They made their way across cinematic time, leaving imprints in our mind even today.

What you see today , however, is linked to the past.
It’s as though one holds onto a rope that connects everything together and entices you forward.
The journey takes you places.
These images are part of an album of many images that allow one to bridge the gap between what Bollywood was and is today. They stand like photographs, frozen in time.

So let’s begin by going back to 1913.
This is when the first Indian feature film “ Raja Harishchandra” was made. It is interesting to note that in this film the cast was all male.
Based on the famous Mahabharata tale, even the role of queen Taramati was played by a young man. There was a reason for this, even back then.

In Indian culture, women have always been kept inside a glass frame.
Here, they were positioned nicely for everyone to see.
Tears were prohibited , and women did not move beyond their limits.
Women were supposed to be well groomed and maintained.
While adorning themselves with the sola shringaar or 16 traditional ornamentations, one could trace the soft curves that formed a big part of the Indian concept of beauty.
As the bindi glowed on her forehead, she would look at you with kohl lined eyes.
If looks could kill…

Initially there was more sophistication in the art of seduction, the unseen being more tantalizing than the seen.
Swaying hips, and dark, long hair added a certain exoticism to an Indian woman.
But everything was kept inside.
Women bore the burden of representing the family.
Status and respectability was very important.
She could not taint her white image, and covered herself up so that she could fit and live up to the expectations of the social realm around her.
She had to be pure and simple, almost angelic in her approach towards life. Compliance, submission, subordination and modesty were some of the stereotypes she was stuck with.

The first Indian feature film catered to this way of thinking.
No one wanted to challenge the status quo.
Indian cinema did not step out of the bounds of what was considered “decent” or “right”.
Women who were cast in the 1920’s were from mixed British or European and Indian parentage, consisting of Christian or even Jewish backgrounds.
They were Anglo Indians, and therefore did not fit into the mold of what it meant to be truly Indian.
Most of these actresses adopted more Indianized nomenclature, although some kept their real names on screen.
Due to their mixed cultural influences, they were considered to be separate from the norm.
They were not as tied down to social conventions concerning respectability or status.

In fact, the social aspect of Bollywood is one of the features that differentiates it from movies made in Hollywood.
This needs to be addressed in order to understand the portrayal of women in Bollywood.
Emotions in Bollywood do not refer to an individual character’s internal state, but is defined in terms of the character’s relationships with others.
The protagonist is placed in a web of social relations of which kin and family members are the most important.
All conflicts and emotions arise out of this interpersonal context.

This is what differentiates Hollywood from Bollywood.
A woman can not act freely, but must take others into consideration.
How would family and friends react?
The woman is socially bound in her journey.
And as she moves forward, she tries to live her life .
You can almost hear her say to herself:
“A tug of war goes in my mind.
The rope lies hard and twisted in my hand.
As fibers scrape and burn,my fingers grasp to hold.
Skin cracks open, exposing raw flesh.
Red blood trickles across the palm of my hand, dripping onto the floor.
I try to hide them, but the color seeps through.
What do I do?”

In Indian cinema, a woman is depicted in many different ways.
One of these depictions is that of the mother (Maa).
The mother, like the goddess figure, is someone who is all giving, all nurturing. Her love for her family is clearly evident on the screen because she is the key figure by which the whole household runs.
This trend can be traced back to long ago.
It is a continual strand that makes its way into movies such as Khalnayak.
In this 1993 film, Rakhi, the mother, shows her love for Sunjay Dutt.
Sanjay Dutt has very negative shades in his character and plays the role of villain. The image of Rakhi praying for her son must always be kept in mind.
This movie has its own place in the photographic kaleidoscope of Indian Cinema.

The social aspect also ties into the epic quality of Indian movies.
Good stories in India involve multiple generations, family relationships, consequences of past actions, moral conflicts and sacrifice.
This gives a heightened sense of drama and grandeur to the audience, keeping them breathless for more.
One is, once again, reminded of the “Mahabharata” which is actually what the first Indian feature film was based on.
Epics have a vast number of characters, with interweaving plots.
This makes them not only complex, but hard to follow.
There is an absence of a straight forward linear narrative, making Bollywood cinema once again unique in it’s approach.
Unlike Hollywood, how did something get to this point, or why did he/she do that?…these are the questions that are asked in this style of filmmaking.
The “what” or “ when” of something is not as important.

The role of an Indian woman is defined by those around her.
As we hold the rope and are lured further in time, one can get deeper insight as to how all of this evolved.
We now come to the 1950’s.

The post war period triggered an interest in the dark side of the human personality, and this was evident as the “Film Noir” in Hollywood.
Similarly, after independence left its toll and the grim reality of the partition came to the forefront, India also began to explore similar themes.
Human beings are not black or white, and it is the gray areas that were now going to be acknowledged.
These imperfections, part of every human being, became the center of attention, around which all characters were created.

The birth of the “Indian Film Noir” led to movies such as Mother India.
In this movie, the character Radha, played by Nargis, fought to keep her virtue and dignity intact.
Despite her poverty and struggles as a woman who tried to fit into the mold of tradition, she raised her two kids on her own and fought hard.
Although the lecherous moneylender does everything he can to take advantage of Radha, there is an internal conflict that plagues her right till the end.
The movie ends with Radha killing her son, despite social condemnation and stereotyping.
Another snapshot in time.

Interestingly enough, this sharp delineation of what is good and bad, and the predominance of moral conflicts over psychological ones goes back to the epics.
One is reminded of the battle scene in the Mahabharata, where Krishna rides the chariot and Arjuna is confronted with his own dilemma.
He can’t do it.
Arjuna puts his sword down in despair …
“How can I kill my own blood ?”, he asks Krishna.

The tug of war continues…
Which way do I turn?

We can take this moral conflict further and apply it to the context of the role of women in Indian cinema.
Amidst the emerging patriarchal or male dominated industry, women were given a chance to take center stage in some women oriented movies in the 60’s.
These movies did exalt women, putting her at the center of things.
Paradoxically, however, they dealt largely with the glorification of suffering. These women were portrayed as martyrs: Meena Kumari , Nutan and Mala sinha being the main protagonists of this genre.
“Hai isi mein pyar ki aabroo who jafaa kare main wafa karoon” ( this is the way love is: he can play around while I remain loyal to him ) is the lyric of a Malha Sinha song from one of her hit movies Anpadh.
The title of a Meena Kumari hit “ main chup rahungi”( I will remain silent) also captured the essence of what it meant to be an Indian woman.
This was reflected on screen.
In Saraswatichandra, Nutan played the role of Kalyani.
Her character was true to life. She appeared still and calm amidst all the turmoil that was going on around her internally and externally.
Kalyani remained dutiful to her parents and quenched her own desires to do what was considered right according to those around her.
She kept quiet, but was burning inside.
The build up to and execution of the scene where she reaches for the bottle of hospital poison to kill herself was poignant in its effect.

If we look back at our footprints, we will notice that the 60’s started this trend of demure suffering.
If we continue to hold the rope , we can trace this trend all the way forward to the 1993 movie Rudaali.
Here, Dimple Kapadia beats her fists against her breasts and learns to mourn for others, unable to express her own grief.
From then till now, the struggle continues.
These movies portrayed the plight of women realistically, and successfully.

This was in sharp contrast to the general trend of escapism that predominated the Bollywood scene of the 60’s.
From where did this trend start?
With two wars in succession, the 1962 conflict against China and the 1965 war against Pakistan it was as though something snapped.
The audience, amidst the journey could not deal with the pain.
They barely held onto the rope and started to look at cinema as candy for the mind. The denial of reality was a way of coping with everything that was going on.
Thus, these movies catered to the mindset of the audience, giving them something sweet to taste as opposed to something bitter, or sour.

Now the heroines of the 60’s no longer came from the stage and did not experience the financial struggles that previous actresses did.
They were therefore able to succumb to the aspirations of a large population of India who wanted to be part of the middle class or affluent elite.
Actresses such as Asha Parekh, Sharmila Tagore and Hema Malini were able to use their privileged backgrounds to their advantage, since they had the perkiness that was part and parcel of the light romantic comedies that dominated the decade.

The movies of the 60’s were high on surface gloss but low on subtext.
Escapism was the theme.
The movies of this time exploited the desires of the audience, while distancing themselves from the reality around them.
Fantasy dance and song sequences, a prerequisite for every mainstream commercial film, added to the dreamy, frothy feel of the movies of the 60’s.
Whip cream on top of hot chocolate.

The advent of color also redefined what it meant to be chic and fashionable.
Glamour was now in the forefront, and even senior heroines were forced into changing their appearance.
Clothing became very important and black and white images were replaced by colorful scenes that graced the photo album of time.
One could not mask the sewing and stitching abilities of tailored outfits such as skin tight salwar kameezes and zip on saris.
Foot high bouffants,out there eye liner and multi hued lipsticks also captured hearts, as women tried to replicate what they saw on screen.

Escapist themes reached a peak in the 70’s, when the Vietnam War and Cold War added further turmoil.
As color led to the trivialization of themes that would be investigated on screen, the distinction between bad and good became more blurred.
There was rebellion against status quo, and people were disillusioned by what they saw around them.
Independence was supposed to bring about positive change, but that was not what was happening.
The depiction of violence and sex was not only cathartic, but in tune with how India felt.
Chaos was everywhere, and that is what the cinemas of the 70’s would now capture.

The trend was to loosen things up, to break free from the orthodoxy of the 60’s. Protesting against Indira Ghandi’s continued presence in office, the 1975 state of emergency proclaimed by the Indian president also contributed to this change, shaking the very foundation of Indian social and political life.
Other forces would shape the journey that Bollywood Cinema would take, and these strands would tie everything together.
People were dissatisfied.
Sex and violence was seen as a way of going against the conservatism of the past.

Actresses such as Zeenat Aman starred in movies such as Hare Rama Hare Krishna , where the song “Dum Maro dum…mitjayay gm bholay subha sham Hare Krishna hare Rama” ( let us sit and smoke pot to forget our pain… day and night let us chant God’s name) became a super hit .
With her big, round glasses, long loose hair and mini skirts Zeenat Aman personified a hippyish approach towards life.
Her character Janice captured the imagination of thousands of adolescents, instilling them with her way of thinking : “ Hmko na roke zamanaa, jo chahenge hm karenge” ( The world can not stop me . I will do whatever I want).
This was in sharp contrast to the “ main chup rahungi” ( I will remain silent) phase of the previous decade.
Times were changing.

From the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s women became marginalized and were shown minimally, mainly in song/ dance sequences.
Sex objects,such as Zeenat Aman and Parveen Bhabhi started this trend of the “trophy” heroine: a trophy being all for show.
This way of thinking brought glamour and fashion to new heights, and further revolutionized what it meant to be chic.

Since it is hard to imagine a woman as being violent,forceful and driven to revenge it was natural for stereotypes to be solidified at this time where violence was a thrill to watch.
A woman was someone to be relished,an escapist figure in itself.
This continued until more snapshots got added to the album that constitutes Bollywood cinema.
Actresses such as Sri Devi and Madhuri Dixit then came onto the scene.
Movies such as Rekha’s “Khoon Bhari Mang” and Madhuri’s “Anjaam” redefined what it meant to be a woman and helped break open a new way of thought.

As we hold onto the rope and see the all the elements that make up Bollywood cinema, we can look back at the movie “Hunterwali” (1935) where Nadia,part Greek and Part Welsch became the hindi film’s first and only female action star.
Nadia pre-dated the feminist movement and was an independent woman who stood out from others in her fearlessness and strength.
This was how woman were now going to be portrayed.
Women could stand equal to men.
They could also make a difference and have impact on their surroundings.

So the 60’s were part of a transition.
This era was part of a continuum in time and inspired many a soul.
The images from this decade still haunt the minds of youth even today.


Malha Sinha strikes a pose.
Sunlight filters across the delicate white fabric that wraps around the curves of her body.
It seeps through, letting out a subtle glow that lies soaked in its transparency, like her expressive face.
Trembling lips come together,as a movement of the eyebrow communicates something within.
Everything splatters, splashing behind her kohl lined eyes that fill with fluid.
The inner storm betrays her calm exterior.

On the other end of the spectrum, Sadhana flutters her eyelashes to the beat of the music while Babita perfects the moue and the limp wristed rebuff to the hero. Accentuated movements and impeccable style were epitomized by Helen’s cabaret items that rocked the nation.
In this scenario, reality lies hidden,as Asha Parekh lightens up words that would otherwise have had a deeper significance:

Husn jb benaqb hota hai (when all of a sudden beauty is unveiled)
Who sama lajwab hota hai (that moment is full of astonishment)
Khudko khudki khbr nahi rehati ( one forgets oneself )
Hoshwallah bhi hosh khota hai ( and even the most sober person becomes drunk with love)
Parde may rehne do (let me remain under my veil)
Parda na uthao! (do not lift it)

Copyright @ 2004 Sherry Duggal.


Peace Poem

Palestinian woman runs with her children following what police said was an Israeli air strike on a house in Gaza city

The last time I was on my blog was for my campaign and with the blessings of my supporters, I reached my campaign goal.

In India, my homeland.  A different part of the world.

But the chaos continues.

NAACP office bombing in the US
Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, France
these are just reflections of all the inner and external conflict in our own lives.
It all starts as a child.
What are you doing to create a sense of peace in your own children?

I can’t have kids, but hopefully one day I will adopt.
Still a lot of instability in my life, but nothing like what I am seeing around me.
As you look into the eyes of your child, ask what sort of legacy are we leaving our children?

I am not a mother.
Don’t have that gift.
But I have been a child. A female child.
Everyone has had innocence taken away from them in one way or the other.

Revisiting a piece I wrote earlier in 2014.
All I have are my words.
It’s a cry, a plea.
I have titled this piece”A Child’s Plea”.
Decided to share the whole poem.

“A Child’s Plea”

for nine months
I was inside you
a fetus
without color or race
when I came out
I was just another one of you
with a different mind
a different face

but now
wherever I turn
my stomach forms knots
and I can’t help
but have these thoughts

Here, I see people like me
for land, water and air
I don’t understand
it’s for all of us
there’s more than enough
to share

Erase all the maps
borders define our worth
earth is my home now
this is the place of my birth

We all came from the same place
yet we are all diverse
ma, just because I’m here with you
does that make me any worse?

I have nowhere else to go
as people fight over what they believe
if we could all just love each other
imagine what we could achieve

I have not forgotten where I came from
it was so quiet, so calm
here foreign sounds scare me
why can’t we throw flowers
instead of bombs?

We shed blood over resources
that become more and more rare
soon there will be nothing left but raw flesh
empty bones, with nothing to spare

I did not come here
with money or power or even a name
why doesn’t anyone understand
that we are all the same?

Ma, I came into your life
it was destiny or fate
I am the child
you did create

The sacred bond
people do break
they’re not as giving as you
all people do is take

They hurt each other
ma, I have heard of the word rape
I want to go back into your tummy
and escape

I saw someone
break into our house
as you held me in your arms
this is a battlefield now
protect me from life’s harms

I don’t know who it was
a little girl on the tv
ma, there was an explosion
she looked just like me

Ma, do you see the wound?
the scar remains
the feeling never goes away
its embedded in my veins

So much going on
memories of what happened
they fade
this feeling is forever
worse than any crusade

Ma, peace dies
in the gore and blood
if all my tears could add up
there would be another flood

Wherever you are
my water
hits your shore
Ma, I was hoping for something more
than violence
and war

I just watch
these are not movies
playing on screens
governments create terror
it’s all
behind the scenes

So many questions
who is right?
who is wrong?
right now
I just want you to sing me your song
I learn from you
I am not weak
I am strong

Ma, my tongue has a truth
that you have shared with me
the truth goes beyond language
beyond the dust
and debris.

I remember how it feels
to be free
no divine intervention
others please hear my plea

I will lead by example
be outspoken
even though everything around me
is broken

Others try to bring me down
as memories fade
but I enter the realm of spirit
a place
where no soldier can invade.

copyright Sherry Duggal
February 2014.

“Beneath The Surface” campaign


To all my blog followers.
I have been very busy getting organized for my book launch and the moment has finally come.
My indiegogo campaign is up, so all are welcome to contribute.
Every small amount counts.

Interested in getting a copy of my book?
Get one for free by contributing to my campaign.
Check out the perks and spread the word !

More news, reviews and interviews will be revealed through regular updates!
More to come! 🙂

My website

To all my blog followers.
I have been wanting to create my own website for a while, and finally my upcoming book gave me the push to do so.

Here it is:

Any feedback is welcome.

I got my first book review which I have also posted below for everyone’s perusal.
I would really like to thank Gordan Djurdjevic for taking the time out to read my book and to express such wonderful thoughts. Coming from such a talented individual, these words mean a lot. Gratitude! 🙂


My followers are more than welcome to stay updated about upcoming events/ performances through my website.

My radio interview


To all my blog followers.
I wanted to share the link to my interview for RJ1200, one of the main South Asian radio stations in Vancouver, B.C.

During the interview, Shushma auntie and me talked about various topics including my upcoming book: “Beneath The Surface”

Gupshup. July 24th, 2014.

The interview was in English and you can listen by clicking on this link:

More to come…

“Being A Woman”


Due to many requests, I have decided to share one of my women’s oriented poems on my blog.
I wrote this piece while co-writing my comedy play “Eve: A Balancing Act” with Aria DeMaris.
We presented this play as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year and it was a once in a lifetime experience.

We did a lot of research while working on the script and tried to capture what women women go through. First world issues, third world issues and everything in between. As part of the process, we also interviewed women on the street. This was an eye opener in itself.

I dedicate this piece as an offering to women all over the world.

“Being a Woman”

Being a woman is being
at the same time
a taste of the sublime
a universal chime
encompassed in this rhyme

She takes you closer to god
closer to the divine
and shows you the compassion
beneath the crime

Being a woman is just being yourself
it can’t be learnt
she is a sweet fragrance
from that which is burnt.

passion and fire
filling you with light
she is the will behind the fight
standing up for what is right.

A staircase going up
she takes you to new heights
she can’t be learnt
gives you wisdom and insights.

She is the blue sky in disguise
the wonder in a surprise
she is sweat, blood and tears
the truth hidden in lies
all the hard work and struggle
before the coveted prize

being a woman is being human
it is our destiny
our fate
being a woman is all inclusive
like an inborn genetic trait

Being a woman is a talent
a clean slate
a leap of the imagination
the moment before you create

she is a new thought
an idea
that comes from deep within
she is a well full of treasures
a place we’ve all been

she is familiar territory
the ground beneath us all
outstretched hands
to catch us
before we fall

She is velvet
the smell of
fresh laundry
in the air
she is gratitude
and soft wishes
each and every prayer.

She is both medicine and pain
the intoxication
found in champagne
she is art
she does heal and sustain
the force
the mastermind
the brain
inside her are
drenched in rain
the future she does contain

She aims for the sky
grows like a tree
she is the sacred space
which children roam free
her roots hold it all together
we are her family

her eyes
are full of wild abandon
in them
I see
and me
she tells us to love ourselves
for who we are
hips, curves
and all that may be.

eyes lined with kohl
she shows us the window to our soul
her presence
makes us whole
helping us to fulfill
our goal

Being a woman is in our blood
emotions that flood
in tribal rhythms
and ancient songs
she drips
appearing as dewdrops
on a bud.

Being a woman is taking a chance
a step into the unknown
she is unchartered territory
that takes you out of your comfort zone.

there is music in her dance
as she takes you into a trance
she is
one of the seven wonders
full of mystery
and romance
she is the whole world’s mystique
creation in all its expanse
in one single glance

She is the language of a nation
sometimes lost in translation
the meaning in a narration
a life giving

she is captured
in this rhyme
frozen in time
encompassed in words
that foresee
being a woman
is natural
as close to nature as one can be
opening doors
she is the master key
giving birth
to you
to me
our progeny.

. . .

A little clip of me performing the last little bit of my poem “Being A Woman”.
Writers International Network Canada was invited by the Vancouver Multicultural Society to celebrate its 40th Anniversary by performing poetry at the Vancouver Art Gallery North Stage in downtown Vancouver on July 26, 2014.
I was one of the featured writers.

Thank you Lina Loo for the footage.

Summer special!


Sherry Duggal B.Sc., N.D. is a naturopathic doctor who is now focusing on her creative side.
Although she does not do full clinical case taking any more she is offering energy work sessions.

She also likes to incorporate visualization and guided imagery into each of her sessions.

Reiki and Craniosacral therapy are “creative arts” harmonizing body, mind and spirit.

Reiki is a holistic, non invasive approach to healing that activates energy flow through the meridians. This unseen life force energy is what causes us to be alive and is a central concept in all ancient forms of medicine.
By channeling and directing this universal energy to the patient, the reiki practitioner restores the body’s natural healing processes.

In this typical full body treatment, the reiki practitioner instructs the recipient to lie down. By gently placing his/her hands on different parts of the body, the reiki practitioner encourages the relaxation response and allows the energy to go where it is most needed. This is very individual, and the number of sessions varies from person to person.

Reiki is spiritual in nature, and works irregardless of caste, religion or belief.
It does not interfere with medical treatments, and actually enhances medication efficacy while quickening healing time.
It is said that one hour of reiki provides the same physiological benefits as three to four hours of sleep.

Reiki helps with virtually every chronic or acute condition.
Some of these include:
digestive conditions
pain relief
decreased immunity

Reiki goes to the root of the problem.
By focusing on the cause it eliminates the effect of any imbalance or dis-ease resulting from the mental / emotional/ spiritual realms.
Reiki is an excellent tool for health maintenance and disease prevention, increasing self awareness while enhancing creativity.

Craniosacral therapy
Cranio means head or skull, and sacral refers to the area at the base of the spine.

The craniosacral system is a body system, just like any other body system.
It provides the physical environment in which the brain and spinal cord develops and functions.
The brain and the spinal cord are surrounded by bones, membranes and that which is called the craniosacral fluid.
Just like you can monitor your pulse and breathing rate, craniosacral therapists can assess the craniosacral system.
They do this by listening to the craniosacral rhythm, which is caused by the movement of the cerebrospinal fluid. This subtle movement extends outward in response to pressure changes.
By restoring the flow of this fluid, order is dispersed through the whole body.
This occurs because of one simple fact :The health of the nervous system is essential to optimal control and coordination of all the body systems.
Mind exists not only in the brain, but also throughout the body.
The nervous system extends to every organ and tissue in an individual, and so this form of healing also caters to mind, body and spirit.

Craniosacral therapists use a light, soft touch to monitor the craniosacral rhythm and pinpoint areas of obstruction and stress. By doing this, craniosacral therapists improve wellness and enhance the body’s self regulating mechanism.

This gentle, non invasive therapy is good for numerous acute and chronic conditions.
Some of these include:
neck and back pain

Craniosacral therapy can be used as as a primary treatment method or can be combined with other traditional or complimentary techniques.
Like Reiki, this approach involves a lot of intuitive listening.
It has no side effects, and is a method of detection and correction that encourages your body cells to dissipate the negative effects of everyday stress and encounter with toxins.

Sherry is offering a summer special (40 dollars per hour session)
Her goal is to encourage flow and realignment of the body’s structure in order to improve its function.
A positive mental/ emotional state follows.
Her sessions include a passive phase, in which the patient receives treatment and an active phase in which the patient increases self awareness so that he/ she can make intelligent use of the body’s signs and symptoms.

Her speciality is encouraging healthy change through lifestyle coaching and open verbal dialogue.

Loose, comfortable clothing is recommended along with proper intake of water before and after each session.

Sign up and take advantage of this summer special now!