Representation of Identity in Cinema

The fact is, entertainment shapes us. It shapes us in the way we behave, interact and react. So, it becomes important for us to seek where we are getting wrong.

Raj Ajay Pandya
5 min readJul 6, 2020

It is a matter of fact now, that movies, TV shows, literature and pop culture, create a sense of living amongst audiences and readers. Gone are the days when people used to consume entertainment for the sake of entertainment. Movie Gods and Rockstars have become cultural phenomenon and affect us at many levels. Now if a movie has a rape scene which adds no value to the plot (used to happen in the Bollywood of 80’s and 90’s), a viewer stating “why do you care so much? It is just a film”, will quite be an understatement. The fact is, entertainment shapes us. It shapes us in the way we behave, interact and react. Especially in the world of social media where memes can actually shift perspective of the masses. Representation of certain classes and genders will have an effect on the minds of the people who are consuming content. So, it becomes important for us to seek where we are getting wrong and where we are actually using tactics to get away from making a larger statement.

Yes. Some films just get away by using token characters. The phenomenon is called Tokenism. Tokenism is a practice to show a symbolic effort wherein characters representing minority groups appear in a given piece of entertainment. It is usually done to create an impression of diversity which eradicates the assumption of discrimination. Hollywood is doing this since a long time. Hollywood’s absence of decent variety was on full presentation when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences neglected to nominate a solitary actor of colour for Oscars in both 2015 and 2016. Which also gave birth to the viral hashtag (#OscarsSoWhite). Minorities represented a simple 12.9 percent of leading roles in 163 movies overviewed in 2014, as indicated by the 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report. Adding further, Tokenism is when a character of colour (Usually Black) doesn’t have a story of his/her own, rather they are there to enhance the character in lead (Usually White). Also, to create a sense that the lead character is not racist. An example for this is in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, where a black character who is there to create an impression of social inclusiveness becomes unconscious and remains unconscious throughout the film. Another example is from the blockbuster Interstellar, where Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey’s characters are being missed and loved by their closed one left on earth, but there is no family relationship shown for David Gyasi’s character.

Talking about Bollywood, we create token characters and stereotype them heavily. Why any Nepali character in any movie has to be the lead’s worker/driver/ security guard? Why they need to speak in squeaky tone “Shaabji”. Prime example here is from the film Kapoor & Sons where Alia’s character has a housekeeper who is Nepali. Kubra Sait’s character in Sacred Games as a transgender woman, is I feel as an extended effort in tokenism. Her story adds a bit to Nawaz’s character but then she dies (Because then how the story will move forward). Some mainstream Bollywood masala films has their leading ladies opposite the lead hero, as token characters (Yes, this is for real). Take any Kareena Kapoor film.

Coming to Rape in films, Bollywood has a history to treat rape as a device to pull audiences in theatres. It happened a lot in 80’s and 90’s where when writing the script (as if), the writers were told to add a rape scene somewhere in the middle of the film. This kept on going until some woke human in the industry might have pointed out that it is actually very very wrong! It is often used a plot device which will take the story forward. The real problem in showing rape in films and literature is, we might end up sensationalising it. We must understand that some subjects have to be treated in a dignified manner. Racial stereotypes are too often constructed at least partly out of sexual stereotypes, and sexual violence, and the figure of the “pure white woman” — and the predatory Black, Arabic or Indian male — is standard fare in the literature of the imperial “Civilising Mission”. Violence against women is sensationalised when it is used to shock, horrify, and/or intrigue the audience. Which is what happens in most of the cases. Shekhar Kapoor ended up making a whole film on rape without actually talking much about it, instead showing it to the audiences. The lead character in the quintessential The Bandit Queen, gets raped in every 20 mins. Celebrated writer and Man-Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy criticised the film so much that she ended up making a statement calling it “The Great Indian Rape Trick”.

Rape as a plot device gets us to the gendered violence in films and media. The treatment of Batgirl in The Killing Joke is sexist. Barbara Gordon, AKA Batgirl, in the original 1988 comic by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, is gut shot, stripped naked, and photographed by the Joker as part of his plot to terrorise her father. When the writer tries to use sexual violence against women to motivate the villain, there’s a problem. It is considered as misogynistic. Some people might point out that Joker is ruthless and has killed almost everybody there. I am saying ‘How you kill it is important’. The others were killed very casually in the film. When women are targeted for violence, that violence is overwhelmingly sexual. The Joker doesn’t just shoot Barbara; he strips her and takes nude, voyeuristic photos, transforming the violence into a symbolic rape. The point here is, that sexualising against women tends to be more exciting for the audiences at large and so it is added now and then. Men, in the film, tend to control women’s sexuality which can be seen as a thumbnail form of patriarchy.

I would like to end this by saying that, we as filmmakers/writers/artists etc have taken the commercial prospect in such a way that we often forget the socialistic and moralistic conduct that every society should possess. An actual representation of diversity is required. Women need to get their place in the World of the story and not an overtly sexualised plot point. Stories should be weaved in social harmony. The problem is not that we show rape because it exists. Yes, it exists. It is a problem. but, the way we treat it, is a problem. The way we sensualise it, is a problem.

I hope the coming generation of creative people who are raised on twitter conversations and snapchat stories have the power to condemn what is long going in our history of storytelling and bring change.



Raj Ajay Pandya

Writer | Journalist Instagram: @rajajaypandya Twitter: @RajAjayPandya