Where’s the female bildungsroman?

Where’s the female bildungsroman?

Many coming-of-age movies have received rave reviews but none of them tell the story of a woman, writes Anusha Bhat

Katheyondu Shuruvagide

In recent years, Sandalwood has made several coming-of-age stories. In Katheyondu Shuruvagide, the demotivated hotelier, Tarun experiences tremendous growth when a girl enters his resort and his life. In Love Mocktail, Adi grows from a naive boy to a devoted husband and a successful professional. The most non-problematic film of all, Kirik Party, gave us Karna, who grows while grieving his beloved’s death. While each of the films received rave reviews, none of them told the story of a woman.

While the stories are generic enough to make a female audience “relate” to the incidents, the hero is always the man. The woman is simply a plot device to cause transformation and growth in the man. By themselves, they don’t have a story to tell. The woman in Kannada coming-of-age stories is either a mother, a lover, or a friend of the lover. The women view themselves in relation to a man, without exception.

A breath of fresh air was Gantoomote. Viewed from a distinctly female gaze, the film follows the life of Meera, who is grappling to come to terms with the reality of her lover’s death. Directed by Roopa Rao, the film is a story of grief, friendship, and emotional growth.

Another film that focused on the dreams of a young girl was Jeerjimbe. The film was sweet, sensitive, and important; it spoke about the ills of child marriage. A relevant topic, but it cannot be that we explore women characters only when we want to fight social ills.

More recently, there was Yaana. Though pitched as a female bildungsroman, the story was rooted in patriarchy and upheld misogynistic notions. An excellent example of women viewing themselves through the male gaze. The film lacked the gravitas that is usually extended to male stories.

That Kannada films lack female-centric stories is a structural, systemic issue. The film industry echoes with the voice and stories of men — even the coming-of-age tales. A predominantly male network of writers, producers, and directors, actively churns out content where a woman has little role. There are under ten noteworthy female directors in Kannada, and nearly 200 male directors. The capitalistic structure prioritises male stories because they sell. The creators are men, the producers are men, and the films are written for men. The camera looks at women through the eyes of a man. It hypersexualises the female body, objectifies them, and reduces them to purely sexual beings. Meanwhile, female coming-of-age stories directed and shot by women show the desire of the female character, and hence the desire of the female viewer.

It is interesting to note the difference with which Kirik Party and Gantumoote dealt with grief. While Karna grows into an angry, young man who hates the society, Meera is constantly looking inwards for the closure she might never get.

Both bildungsroman films explore love and death, but their approaches are so very different. This is what representation and diversity in storytelling gives us — good, well-rounded movies that show both men and women in all their flawed glory.