INDIAN CINEMA PROMOTES EVERYTHING WRONG
Indian cinema may be the world's largest film industry and may be going places, but its portrayal of women – especially in mainstream movies – has been stereotypical for way too long. Along the way, it has spawned a culture of prejudice and misogyny.
We don’t need to look back too far. Kabir Singh, a 2019 release starring Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani, set the box-office registers ringing. The story of an entitled man-child, one who wanted to control his girlfriend’s life, and who thought little of threatening to rape a woman at gunpoint showcased all that’s wrong with Bollywood.
Film critic Shubhra Gupta called out the character, writing: “Here's a fellow who thinks that going through life yelling and shouting, snorting-and-drinking on the job, assuaging his raging libido with crass directness, basically being a sexist so-and-so, is an acceptable thing.”
She is right.
As was film critic Anna Vetticad, who wrote in her review: “This is exhausting, but for the zillionth time: it is not the depiction of reality that is objectionable here, it is precisely because violent, destructive misogynists do exist and women for centuries have suffered at their hands that it is deeply troubling when a film portrays such a person as cool, funny, and, as Kapoor puts it, a man with a good heart' who 'loves purely' and 'wears his emotions on his sleeve'.”
While Abhay Deol’s criticism of Bollywood celebrities endorsing fairness products was received with mixed reactions from the film community, one thing is quite true: It is not just about the light skin color that these celebrities endorse. Bollywood mainstream films are also full of sexist overtones, both manifested and subliminal.
Since the very beginning, Bollywood has not only justified sexism but promoted sexual harassment, molestation, objectification of women, slut-shaming, and voyeurism. The main culprit is the mainstream cinema that refuses to recognize that continued insistence means harassment, that women’s consent is as essential as the desire of men and that promiscuous women need not necessarily be bad. Hiding behind the euphemism of romance, mainstream Bollywood has been promoting serious crimes against women like stalking, abduction, and even rape.
The idea of romance in Bollywood spins around the continued insistence on attention by men, as women’s consent is deemed immaterial. In fact, an exhortation to an extent of harassment is considered to be a part of romance and display of affection on the part of men. The worst thing is that this definition of romance has not changed or matured over the years. Consider this movie scene: A man follows a woman into an elevator, stops it mid-way, and starts singing songs for the woman, professing his love for her while touching her inappropriately. The woman resists his overtures, but the man doesn’t stop. At last, the woman gives up and coyly smiles and reciprocates his love.
Unfortunately, continued insistence is considered a way of professing love. A defiant “hero” harassing the heroine by following her and singing courtship songs like
“Lal Chadi Maidan Khadi” (Woman Who Wears Red) in Janwar (Animal)
“O Lal Dupatte Wali Tera Naam To Bata” (Tell Your Name, Oh Woman With Red Scarf) in Ankhein (Eyes)
“Aaj Na Chhodenge Tujhe” (We Will Not Leave You Today) in Dil (Heart)
“Khud Ko Kya Samajhti Hai” (What She Thinks of Herself) in Khiladi (Player), while she is visibly disturbed by his acts is a common sight in popular Hindi cinema.
From Pyar Hi Pyar (Only Love), released in 1969, to Ranjhana, released in 2013, the undertone of “romance” remains the same.
The worst part about these scenes is that the woman is shown to enjoy the ritual and reciprocate her feelings once the man has finished his machismo display. The male protagonist in the movie Dil not only kidnaps the female protagonist and manhandles her, but also threatens to punish her by sexual assault. He leaves her after reminding her that he can ruin her life by raping her, but will not do so because of the goodness of his character. The heroine falls in love with him soon after and professes her love by kissing him in public.
Haseena Maan Jayegi (Beautiful Girl Will Acquiesce), a vulgar comedy about two brothers who leave no stone unturned to stalk, harass and intimidate two girls to accept them as their lovers, can very well qualify for the criminal genre instead of a comedy. In Sholay, the male protagonist touches the girl inappropriately on the pretext of teaching her shooting. In Jodi No. 1 (Pair No.1), the male actor kisses a girl at knifepoint in order to escape from the conductor, stalks her and harasses her, and going by the Bollywood logic, the girl later falls in love with him soon after.
The male protagonist in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something Happens) completely disregards the feelings of the tomboyish girl, makes fun of her looks, and insults her for what she was until she adopts the traditional avatar by growing out her hair, wearing makeup and jewelry, and of course, switching her jeans for a traditional sari. The individual liberty of a woman to wear whatever she is comfortable in and to be accepted by men for whatever she is a concept alien to Bollywood. In films like Karan Arjun and Main Hoon Na (I Am There), female leads face rejection because they don’t wear make-up or feminine clothes. Their fortune changes the second they conform to the set norm.
In Yeh Jawani hai Deewani (This Youth is Insane), the male protagonist is seen consistently flirting with a girl and when the female protagonist confronts him, he justifies it as “being good for health” and slut-shames the girl by saying, “I can’t flirt with girls like you, so I flirt with these kinds of girls.”
We are shocked to see the utter brutality of the case of Nirbhaya recently in Hathras. A case of rape is making everyone think about women's safety. Feminists use to urge on these occasions to teach boys not to do that and respect women. A man must respect the dignity of a Woman. They make movies on Women Empowerment but they show vulgarity more. There are several factors behind such a skewed mindset and Bollywood is partly to be blamed for it.
In the 70s through the 90s, Bollywood enthralled the Indian audience with a unique concept - Jism ki garmi (The heat of the body). A Twitter page ‘Gems of Bollywood’ is digging up such filthy content of Bollywood movies where the 'Hero' saves 'Heroine' by literally raping her. Whatever one may say to justify these bogus ideas of Bollywood but IT'S RAPE.
Shashi Kapoor perhaps pioneered the rape-therapy aka Jism ki Garmi to save a life. In Aa Gale Lag Jaa, 1973 he had no option but to impregnate Sharmila to save her from Sardi ki maut wali neend. Sharmila Tagore is happy. She says - “I would have also done the same.” Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, and Akshay Kumar save the life of a cold caught the woman by raping her.
While kissing scenes were censored in Indian films for a long time, rape scenes were never censored. 'Sensuous scenes' were displayed to the audience through an act of an assault, intended to outrage the modesty of a woman. In many movies, it was depicted as a 'duty' of a man to save women, even if it meant having forced sex.
The Indian film industry has, knowingly or unknowingly, convinced a generation of people that rape is normal when done in light of the 'greater good’. The woman is not conscious, she has not given her consent but the guy thinks of sleeping with her naked instead of calling any person who can cure it. And after all this filthy drama, Bollywood shows the heroine in love with his rapist by portraying the incident in favor of her. They tell in the movies that it was all for her own good. Nonsense!
It is Bollywood that promotes rape culture. Millions of people watch these movies and justify rape by calling it a 'Medical Treatment'.
The portrayal of women in Indian cinema is showing some encouraging signs of improvement but top Indian director Mira Nair isn’t happy with mainstream Bollywood depictions which she sees as often demeaning. “A lot of our films go down the same old stereotype,” she says. “When there’s a sexy babe she has to gyrate and gyrate and she has to be an object of great allure and sex appeal and almost I would say vulgarity.”
Of particular concern are so-called ‘item numbers.’ These are extremely popular, tightly choreographed, and often sexually provocative musical performances that routinely appear in Bollywood films. To many moviegoers item numbers are engaging entertainment but Mira Nair views them differently. “In the mass cinema one is seeing outrageous item numbers with the latest Bollywood queen in a largely male environment where she swings her way to all kinds of allure,” she says. “I really question this. I don’t think it leads to any kind of respectful interaction between men and women.”
Given cinema’s extent of influence in our society, there should be some moral responsibility of moviemakers towards the society (beyond the frequently flashing ‘smoking is injurious’ every time a character on the screen is puffing his stress out). And I don’t just mean the message they deliver to the audience (if there is one), but what they, as an industry, represent. And of course, ‘cinema represents society’ and ‘society appeases cinema’ is the philosophical dilemma that has arguments in favor of both its constituent opinions in India (quite the ‘egg came first or the chicken’ dilemma ain’t it?). But all said and done, Bollywood represents everything that has been blamed to be fundamentally wrong with the Indian society – starting with the name itself! The younger generation watches Bollywood movies and it has an immense influence on them. If Bollywood starts creating meaningful movies that respect women, positive changes will transpire.
Writer - Hrishita Dev
Editor - Priyam Kusundal
Illustrator - Shaina Rahman
Graphics - Jhem Picache