Why don't women host Bollywood film award shows?

Can you guys keep track of the number of awards Bollywood hands out? There’s IIFA and Filmfare and Star Screen and Cine-something and almost a dozen others…. I happened to watch one (or some?) of them lately—I’m really not sure which, but it had Ayushmann Khurrana and Vicky Kaushal and Rajkummar Rao and Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan all ‘anchoring’ on stage. They made all these self-deprecating jokes and took potshots at each other and moaned about how new heroes are spawning like frogs in the Mumbai rain, while an adoring audience chuckled and applauded at what good sports they all were. (Of course one never knows if the adoring audience was actually there while the show unfolded; very often VIPs come, give reaction shots of themselves smiling and applauding and go home—and the channel then edits the footage to make it look like they were there all along.)

In between the jolly, witty anchoring that was being done on stage by the leading men, the so-called ‘leading’ women appeared to do dance performances and be at the receiving end of various ‘jokes’ and wisecracks.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

It is the same, depressing format every single time.

One that sends out the clear, unmistakable message that the heroes are the alphas of Bollywood—they stride the stage like colossuses, in command of the entire performance—while the women are just shiny decorative little item numbers, with no agency and no speaking time, shoved in hurriedly between the heroes’ self-centred monologues.

Why haven’t Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif hosted a Filmfare awards night yet? I’m sure they’d do a brilliant job of it! Why didn’t Sridevi and Madhuri ever do one? I can’t believe me missed on a performance like that! Why hasn’t Alia Bhatt hosted one yet? Or Taapsee Pannu? Or Parineeti Chopra? Is Alia in any way a less brilliant newcomer than, say, a Vicky Kaushal? Is Taapsee not as talented as Kartik Aaryan? How come nobody in marketing or event management or production has had the bright idea to entrust that all-empowering mic into a woman’s hands? How come none of our gutsy new girls are striding up and down those glittering stages, taking potshots at the industry and at the older guard and how the beauty pageants are spawning new girls every year ha-ha-ha and making some sharp mentions of me-too and the inequality of the pay-grade? And stepping aside now and then for Aaryan and Varun Dhawan to come put on an item number?

The Oscars are hosted by both men and women. Whoopi Goldberg’s done it. Ellen De Generes’s done it. Liza Minnelli, Goldie Hawn. It’s a long list of witty, confident women, who cracked up the audience and sent out the strong, unequivocal message that anchoring such a big night can be a woman-sized job.

We have equally witty, confident women in Bollywood—how come nobody thought of giving the job to say, the cast of Veere-Di-Wedding last year? Kareena, Sonam, Swara and Shikha? How come nobody even though of giving them a section to host?

Bollywood seems to believe that on awards night, the woman’s role is either to dance, or hand out an award, while wearing high heels and some dumb-ass, tent-sized gown. The only conversation she is allowed, is a little prepared speech on the red carpet about the designer she bought her gown from. She cannot wear something sensible (yet flattering) with flat shoes and neat hair, and talk about anything remotely intelligent. No matter how big a hit her movie has turned out to be, she cannot make politically incorrect jokes or take pot-shots at Shah Rukh or Salman.

It is like we are living in some macho, jungle raj. Where Sarabi and Nala can never hope to be Mufasa or Simba.