Famed Bollywood director, Imtiaz Ali, has released a short film that not only highlights but subverts the negative stereotypes faced by women in the Indian sex working industry.
A relic of early-era Bollywood, most Indian films portray sex workers as disenfranchised if meek, or depraved if confident, but never in a way that commands respect. This outlook may have originated from traditional Indian views of prostitution, however Bollywood has been accused of perpetuating them.
Ali's short film aims to defy that accusation.
Titled 'India Tomorrow', the five-minute film tells the story of a stockbroker and the sex worker he frequents. During their session, the stockbroker receives a sudden call from his boss about a freak market crash that has caused him to lose all his money.To his surprise the sex worker appears more knowledgeable on the topic of investments than he. But reticent to give a sex worker due credit for her intelligence, the stockbroker is at first dismissive of what she has to say.
"Hey! We aren't talking about your flesh trade," says the stockbroker to the sex worker when she first interjects, highlighting how most people treat the profession and those in it with little respect.
As she continues to show case her vast knowledge on the subject, the stockbroker threatens the sex worker with violence. But she remains steadfast.
"I'll slap you-" he threatens.
"Go ahead! Try to touch me!" she shouts back.
Finally, the stockbroker asks the woman if she is a student, saying she could leave the pleasure industry and "become an investment banker" if she wanted to.
"Don't worry about me. I'll take care of myself. Think about yourself."
This isn't the only cultural misdemeanor Bollywood is guilty of encouraging. The industry has also come under scrutiny for its frequent portrayal of 'eve teasing', i.e. a flirting technique where a man aggressively chases a woman until she's worn down. Its portrayal in film has been linked to the continuing high rates of domestic violence and rape across the country.
Modern Bollywood filmmakers have been taking a stand when it comes to these issue. More and more writers and director and creating stronger female characters, as well as male leads who are vigilantly respectful of women.
For example, 'Tevar' is a 2013 Bollywood film whose protagonist fights for the respectful treatment of women in society.
And with 'India Tomorrow', Ali appears to join this movement wholeheartedly.