Enrichment Lecture- Gender and Sexuality in Popular Culture by Prof. Neela Sarkar

Twelfth Enrichment Lecture

November 21, 2020


"Gender and Sexuality in Indian Popular Culture"


The Department of English organised the twelfth virtual enrichment lecture on 21st November, 2020. Dr. Neela Sarkar, Associate Professor at New Alipore College, affiliated to the University of Calcutta, was invited to speak on the topic "Gender and Sexuality in Popular Indian Culture".


Dr. Sarkar began her lecture with a concise introduction to the terms 'sexuality' and 'gender', and how expectations regarding them affect people. She placed these definitions along the lines of popular Indian culture, highlighting its major contribution in identity formation and challenging hierarchies. 


She discussed about the popular Indian TV serials regressing in their portrayal of women, comparing them with some earlier daily soaps such as Rajni, which dealt with strong female characters. She further discussed the objectification of women in advertisements and movies. Illustrating the advertisement of the soft drink Slice featuring Katrina Kaif, she elaborated upon the use of women as sexual objects for male gaze. Similarly, she commented upon the item numbers in movies and Bollywood songs, critiquing them for their explicitly sexist content. Dr. Sarkar also talked about the incremental change in some media, like certain advertising companies defying conventions. Movies like Lipstick under my Burqa, Pink and Queen, dealing with female sexuality and fantasies, their struggle for justice, and their modern independent selves were also brought into the discussion. More recent forms of media portraying homosexuality, like the film Kapoor & Sons, were also considered as hopeful and meaningful content in the popular culture.


Going deeper into the Indian culture, the speaker expressed her views of the polarized character types and gender roles, dating them to the ancient scriptures and epics. She also explored the recent emergence of the metrosexual male and the "pornosexual" identity, characterized by a voyeuristic thrill, as coined by the journalist Mark Simpson; and related it with Indian popular culture, such as the character of John Abraham in the movie Dostana.


With such definitions of "shifting and evolving paradigms" and the "fluidity" of sexual identities and gender roles, Dr Sarkar ended her lecture, which was followed by a Q & A session. The interactive session raised some more pertinent questions: the mercenary attitude of the influencers in keeping up with the TRPs and mass validation; the hypocrisy and absurdity of authorities such as the Censor Board, in rejecting women-oriented progressive movies; and, the vicious cycle of #NotAllMen and #MeToo.


The enrichment lecture engaged the students as well as the faculty members, with its insightful approach to popular culture, and turned out to be an excitingly thought-provoking discussion.