Interview With Gemma Commane – Zainab Mogul

Uncategorized, Zainab Mogul

For my 381MC week two task I interviews Coventry University’s very own Gemma Commane a lecturer in the Media and Communications department, with a undergraduate degree in Media, Communication and Culture, Gemma Commane then went onto completing her PHD at the University of Kent specialising in the field of subcultures and the representation of femininity. The topic of my interview was Female representation through Bollywood item songs this is a topic which I find particularly interesting coming from an Indian/ Pakistani background myself the way women are presented within these films has left me wondering if I am concerned by this representation it would be enlightening to know what someone who wasn’t from my cultural background would perceive this.

Hello my lovely Bloggers,

As we all know I have a wonderful mother who let’s just say enjoys her daily dose or doses should I say of the Bollywood entertainment industry, don’t take it lightly to the fact I can pretty much reference every sharukh khan memorable quote but that’s for another day what I wanted to talk about today was a topic which only hit me the other day when my 6 year old cousin was dancing to the song ‘hip hip hurrah’ doesn’t sound bad right? I laughed at first then was horrified when I carefully heard the lyrics   “my top is tight I will turn you on” “you’ll do some loathsome acts” at this point you would presume that I did what any older cousin would do I grabbed the remote and turned it to a more appropriate channel of course my cousin wasn’t happy with it but I guess she has to deal with the perks of having an older cousin. All day the idea of what my younger cousin was dancing to was disrupting my day, she doesn’t even know what it means? Are all girls her age dancing to what is a very provocative and erotica based songs? And if they are should they be played on the likes of a Bollywood music channel. I felt it important to address the question I got in touch with well-known lecturer in my building and asked if I could ask her a few questions based on this topic and to my luck she agreed. Now before the interview I knew that Gemma would most likely be unaware of the meanings behind Bollywood songs or new very little about Bollywood itself but I because Gemma specialises in Female representations I thought it was a great idea to go and ask her a few questions based on this.

When I asked Gemma what first came to mind when I asked her what comes to mind when thinking about Bollywood films? She replied as I would of imagined she had “it’s a very kind of joyous, in films it’s very much a normative love story between a man and woman” she then went onto suggest that India often uses the notion of taboo love within their films. Which I would have to agree with this whole idea of secretly dating and falling in love with someone you’re not meant to sparks a sort of thrill and urgency I would imagine so in anyone. Its “love conquers all”. That idea that when you finally have something that you weren’t allowed, she goes onto state the most universal idea about Bollywood film there are very “normative discourses when it comes to both men and women” Now it’s this comment which makes me wonder about Indian films are these normative discourses still around? All the Indian films which I have seen recently are about dancing and partying with friends I guess a brilliant representation of youth today

My next question was, Bollywood Cinema has gone through a tremendous change from conveying the ideal social conventions of what a typical Indian family should look like to adding masses of erotica to their big screen what is your take on this change? Gemma suggest that “when we are looking at any sort of media text” she explains that it is important to look at the representation so if we are looking at Indian Cinema, particularly at social norms it can convey that “if you’re a young man or a young woman there are certain prerequisites about what you need to achieve i.e. getting married, get a good job have children and continue that family line and there are a very set characteristics in terms of that” Gemma then goes onto to state that Indian Cinema can very much link to what “Frank Mort and Jeffery weeks” say about “gender discourses” within family, She looks slightly confused by the adding of the term erotica possibly because Indian cinema are not widely known for this in the western world as much as they are in India or Pakistan and other likened countries and communities “if young women are dancing quite provocatively it could be a sign of how culture itself is opening up to a lot of pleasure and leisure activities where woman are paid to dance or it could be a way of young women to express themselves in a socially acceptable way because young women can dance erotically or they are perceived to be dancing erotically but in actual fact they are dancing the way they want to dance. This comment guys enlightened me a lot I can often be a very judgemental person when it comes to things like this (I know I shouldn’t be) but the idea that maybe it’s their own choice and maybe there lifestyle is similar

Never occurred to me. It could be quite possible that they feel empowered by what they do and everyone feel empowerment in a different way. It could also simply be that Indian women are sick of being told to cover up their bodies you’re not ‘sex’ symbols and going against cultural norms.

Well guys at this point I knew it was time to enlighten Gemma in the world of Bollywood so for the next part I showed Gemma a video called “Baby Doll” this has become one of the newest item songs for Bollywood staring actress Sunny Leone who is a former Porn star I explained to Gemma that this had sparked a lot of controversy bringing a porn star into Indian Cinema she has been banned from various talk show appearances and even cities within Indian because of her background. As she watches the video she didn’t seem shocked or showed any sign of an emotion (unlike my mother who yell at me turn it off and tuts in a disapproving manner) at this point I most definitely anticipated her answer “its very kind of erotic” she said “I mean if we are looking at the pussycat dolls if were looking at a range of celebrity young musicians and how people across the world can access their music it does have an impact on how young women in other contexts are constructed and in terms of traditional Indian culture I can understand why this can be seen as a moral panic. Pussycat dolls I thought, the video was similar to those of English artists in the sense of it being racy and erotic then I questioned myself why is it such a big deal when we are watching our own ‘culture’ perform like this but now when we see other cultures? What is the difference? Or infact why were the western and Indian music videos so similar. I then asked Gemma a question which I hadn’t prepared but if I didn’t ask would just simply annoy me as much as my 6 year old cousins dancing

Due to online sources and globalization do you believe that woman from other cultures aspire to them and that’s why industries have to change even if there social conventions are very diverse

“I think in terms of demand in terms of producers or directors wanting to appeal to a certain audience they’ve got to pick out trends, trends are now not just in one location the internet can be accessed in such a global way and because of celebrity it does bring all these of ideas and all these types of felinities and identities to a greater number of people. She states that Ariel Levy and Natasha Walters who say when we are looking at celebrity culture now and feminity” as seen in the video which was shown that “this is the only sort of role model they have to look up to “if one wants to be successful and this is portrayed by “showing your body or assets and they problematize This issue by saying that there a limited role models” and also “limited way in which women can express their femininity” and that these types of videos can show feminity as being very singular “only one type of thing” as Gemma expresses in the interview and this can be a problem as it can be seen as right for women to be “objectified” therefore “ irrespective of the cultural context the issues surrounding women’s body their inability to have access to it in terms of money and success is all mediated through male desire or objectification. However it is also important to look at the fact that these women in these videos have made a choice to do this “that women there who’s a pornstar perhaps likes the fact that she’s a pornstar it’s a career it’s her choice” she highlights the point of radical feminists by suggesting that feminists such as Andria Dork would find this “highly problematic and is something that their forced into” possibly to even build their career in Bollywood and whatever way she “asserts her feminity it will always be questioned” with this being said its either please the people who say liberate yourself and be seen to others as objectifying yourself vice versa.

The term a ‘woman’s body is her temple’ is taken very literally in India but then why do you think Bollywood are conveying eroticism to its audience keeping in mind that Bollywood cinema has a lot of impact on society within India, “ I think when we are looking at traditional culture or traditional ways of thinking you even get it in the British kind of context or even the catholic kind of sense that body is a temple and how traditional values and norms are built in society they structure the ways in which we relate to our gender” but she goes onto say that “society develops and there have been more opportunities forwarded to women, more opportunities for them to express themselves, assert their sexuality in different ways” which goes for both “men and women” and “sex itself doesn’t have to be within the context of matrimony people are more sexually promiscuous so what the cinema might be

depicting is a reflection of what is happening in culture” and society and that it is not just “traditional views that are going on” and that even if a woman has many different “sexual partners it doesn’t necessarily mean that her body isn’t a temple to her” however Gemma expresses that this may be something which can be “difficult when aligning to cultural norms because in culture there is often “one way of seeing”

Do you think that Bollywood is conveying a negative image for both women and men across India, for “women first of all it may paint a picture that she’s a slag or this image because she’s dancing in this way because she’s given herself to someone does that give other people rights to do it and also men conversely it could be this negative image that all men are out for having sex with a woman or all men are there to attract a woman well what about men who are gay or men who want to respect women or perhaps want to secure her purity and protect and that again is reflecting gender normativity”

Do you believe that these new concepts and ideas about how women should be treated and gender discrimination are a result in violent acts which are happening to women all around India Gemma goes onto say that “when looking at any sort of media text it uses that same language and discourse that shape how we understand the world and when we are looking at gender normativity’s and rape culture it can be perpetuated by a range of texts and I think the ways in which people are depicted in the media could encourage people to blame or harass people” however this can be seen differently as Gemma explains that rape culture can be seen as a problem of “wider gender issues within culture” but it can still be seen how film in India can prolong the idea of misogyny

So my Bloggers that is all from me tonight but I have to say that this interview has given me a wider insight on the ideas of feminity and how it isn’t just a singular ‘form’ there are many types of feminine however ‘sex sells’ and although I believe the use of vulgar item songs are not needed to make a good song and in any case do not empower women it’s a marketing sell and it’s something we can only make a stand against.


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