Camera Can Never Be Neutral

Categories: CameraDigital Cameras

Cinematic elements are often negotiated through the dichotomy between real and fake or through the notions of authenticity and inauthenticity. While common assumptions state that movies act as a mirror to society, this paper will discuss the construction of reality in movies through the biased lens of the camera.

Baudry (1986) states that the narration of movies often underpins the production and construction of cinematic images, however using sequences in movies like The Dirty Picture (Luthria, 2011) and Singham (Shetty, 2011) among others, the paper will attempt to uncover the bias nature of the camera. Using the feminist approach and the theory of psychoanalysis, the paper will aim to argue that the camera can never be neutral and instead is an ideological apparatus of representation pertaining to firstly the male and female representation and secondly to the Hero and villain representation.

Using a feminist perspective the imperialist gaze of the camera is often compared to the male gaze (Mulvey, 1975). The camera acts like a “gallant-colon” (Khoerathy, 2018) which fetishes and gazes at the woman’s body especially for scopophilic desires (Mulvey, 1975).

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This tendency is commonly depicted in the depiction of women and item girls in Bollywood movies where the camera gazes at the female body portraying it as an “erotic spectacle” (Mulvey, 1975). For instance, in the movie The Dirty Picture (Luthria, 2011), the camera pans to the female protagonist, Silk’s (Vidya Balan) erotic movements of her body especially in dance sequences like “Honeymoon ki raat” and “Oulala Tu Hai Meri Fantasy” . Silk in the movie says that “Silk bani hi hai maza den eke liye” but it is actually the camera works that exploit her erotic nature.

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In one of the song sequence, “oulala”, the camera pans from her breasts to her belly and then moves to her face. The camera lingers through her body purposely zooming to specific body parts so as to sexualize the female body as an object of desire to both the audience and the characters (mostly males) in the movie (Mulvey, 1975). Throughout the song, the camera uses different angles and techniques to focus on her body parts and lusty expressions. For example, at different intervals during the song sequence, there are bottom shots revealing a full close up of Silk’s body or multiple camera pans or tilts to show her cleavage (See picture 1 and 2). The camera focuses on the wet and red saree that accentuate Silk’s “curvatures and sloppy body” (Kaskebar, 2002) while she engages in an erotic and passionate dance for male’s scopophilic desires. The bias nature of the camera is foregrounded as it does not gaze at all the female characters with the same lens but only those who fit the conventional standard of beauty of the society. In the Indian society, the standard of beauty aligns with fair skin, youthful and curvaceous body line. This can be clearly depicted in the storyline of the movie The Dirty Picture (Luthria, 2011) while the other actress is only meant to satisfy the on-screen Hero’s desires, Silk is overtly sexualised by the camera for general public’s desires. Moreover, the camera discriminates between the male and female representation as well. For example, irrespective of the male’s protagonist appearance, the latter is depicted positively and hero-like. Just like Surya Kant (Naseeruddin Shah) in the movie is old and unfit yet the camera views him as the Hero. Therefore, applying a feminist perspective, the bias nature of the camera is revealed to be double bind; first it discriminates between the male and female characters, that is the female has to match certain requirements to be ‘worthy’ of the camera space and secondly amidst the female characters, the camera creates a dichotomy between the Madonna and whore by sexualising the latter. One perfect example of the Madonna and whore dichotomy is in the movie Aitraaz (Burmawalla and Burmawalla, 2004) in which the camera repeatedly focus on the body of Sonia (Priyanka Chopra), the whore, while Priya (Kareena Kapoor) is depicted as a non-sexual individual dedicated only to her husband. At no point in the movie, the camera focuses on Priya’s body which clearly states that the camera chooses who to gaze and how to gaze.

The mainstream movies’ camera does not only adopt a gendered gaze but according to psychoanalysis, the nature of the camera itself is bias as it tends to depict the imago instead of the true self. The dichotomy between the self and the imago can be explained through Lacan’s mirror stage theory. Lacan states that during infancy, an infant watches himself/herself on the mirror and develops mastery over the image but not on the real self as the real self is more complex than the image he/she sees on the mirror. Similarly, the camera tends to represent imagos (rigid and stereotypical characters) within a clear categorisation of the good (Hero) and the evil (villain). The way the camera gazes at the characters gives an immediate signal to their respective roles. In other words, without dialogues or knowing the actor’s filmography, one can guess who is the Hero and who is the villain.

For instance, in the movie Singham (Shetty, 2011), the camera uses wide shots to reveal the grand entry of the Hero. (See picture 3) The camera pans to a crowd of people facing the Hero as if celebrating his entry. Bajirao (Ajay Devgan) is introduced as a religious man doing “dupki” in the sacred lake symbolising he is pure and good. The camera focuses on the background artists who are shown doing “arti” in the direction of the Hero, literally praying him. The camera paints the whole scene immediately giving the cue that it is the entry of someone important and simultaneously zooms to the actor’s muscular bare chest and arm to portray his masculine demeanour. In contrast, the villain’s entry is not shot in positive limelight. The camera gazes at Jaykrant (Prakash Raj) by giving a tight close-up shot of his red-eyed angry face accentuating his resentful and indignant expressions (See picture 4). In the sequence, he is seen torturing and strangling a young boy and the camera shifts to show Jaykrant from the perspective of the young boy. The camera is placed at the bottom showing an overpowering image of Jaykrant and the lighting as well is sombre revealing his dark character. To add to the camera’s representations, the usage of non-diegetic sounds for both the entry of the Hero and the villain makes the categorisation clear.

In a nutshell, the camera in mainstream movies is never neutral instead adopting an imperialist gaze, it focuses on characters and sequences to evoke specific emotions from the audience. The camera does not simply depict cinematic images but through a combination of cinematic techniques, mise-en-scene, editing, lighting, diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, it drags the audience to feel the anticipated emotions vis-à-vis the movie.

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Camera Can Never Be Neutral. (2021, Oct 12). Retrieved from

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