The recent video released by Indiatimes titled ‘This Girl Perfectly Explains Why Rape Has Become A Joke In India. She Literally Celebrated Rape-Public Day With Her Sketch’ has gained momentum with the viewers. It addresses the hypocrisy of our patriarchal dictatorial society towards how women are expected to behave and the dichotomy between what we preach and what we actually practice. For example, we harass women for wearing jeans but at the same time worship the skimpily clad actresses dancing to raunchy item numbers. The focus of my article is exactly this, the portrayal of women characters in Bollywood.
Bollywood caters essentially to the male audience and movies are made according to the tastes they savour.
In the daily Bollywood cinema we tend to come upon mostly 3 Categories Of Women:
a) The ‘virtuous’, docile girl whose only task in the movie is to provide moral support to the hero, who is determined to take on some or the other social evil and launch a fight against the corrupt and horrible people involved. The two might be seen romancing to slow songs in typical Yash Chopra’s locations. The said girl might even get kidnapped by the goons to avenge our hero.
b) The perfect toy for the playboy. She’s just the right arm candy for the hero, who he might shake a leg or two with in a few party numbers. She’ll be seen in fashionable clothes and loud makeup. They are used only to up the glam quotient of the movie. She’ll mostly be seen in slapstick comedies as in Grand Masti, that promotes women as things to be leered at, its dialogues dripping with sexual innuendos and double entendre.
c) The item girl. The word ‘item’ itself is derogatory. Her presence however, is the USP of the movie. The portrayal is highly sexist. They are portrayed as wanton, dumb, mindless creatures with only their sexual gratification to offer. Skimpily clad, they dance to raunchy songs full of anti-feminist lyrics, the camera time and again from different angles zooming on their heaving cleavage, bouncing bottom or their frenzy hips while a hoard of sex-starved men are seen causally touching her with lust-ridden eyes. She can be seen in movies of any genre.
The third category is what’s caught up with the filmmakers real solid since the last decade or so and is definitely here to stay.
Commodification vs Aestheticism:
Shabana Azmi, at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2013 made the distinction between com-modification and aesthetic representation of the female body very clear when she said that in Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, when Katrina comes out of the water in a bikini, her body parts are not zoomed at like in the other films where zooming in-zooming out from every angle possible is practiced to get the viewers’ eyeballs ogling out of their sockets. The scene, she said wasn’t placed in the movie for enticing the audience, but because it was necessary since Katrina played a diver in the film.
As endorsed by Obama, a modern society is known by “how it treats its women”. Some believe in the argument that item songs celebrate the sexuality of a woman. But wouldn’t celebrating her sexuality rather be her portrayal as a non-virgin or a sexually active individual whom society accepts and not look down upon as a vamp?
What Bollywood Teaches Us:
What viewers see on screens guides much of their perception of women, portraying women as sex objects which has ridiculously far-reaching ramifications from normalizing eve teasing and stalking to glorifying rape and murder.
- Even if a movie’s a flop, the item song will be not. The perfect example is ‘Sheila ki jawaani’ from Tees Maar Khaan. Who will ever forget Sheila’s signature step or her frenzy belly? The item songs are gross imitations of mob-molestation. How the crowd of men are trying to pounce on Katrina in Chikni Chameli, as she dangles from a chain from the ceiling, with cups in their hand is inescapable.
- When in a movie like ‘Wanted’ a Salman Khan leers at a group of girls moving their hips in a yoga class and says ‘in jaisi ladkiyan hum jaise ladkoin ke liye hi ye sab karti hain’, the viewers see it as a licence to eve-tease, pass lewd comments or touch girls because by wearing tight clothes they are provoking men to do exactly so. If people can wear the vests or drink the beverages endorsed by Salman Khan, why can’t they behave around women the way he endorses it?
- When a Shah Rukh Khan slaps a Kareena’s butts in ‘Chammak Challo’ or an Akshay Kumar pinches a Sonakshi Sinha’s waist in Rowdy Rathore and the women merely shy away with a blush or playfully make a face of fake annoyance, it gives a message of how acceptable and natural these acts are understood to be.
- Honey Singh’s songs are laden with anti-feminist expressions and emphasize on the commodification of women as in Yaariyaan’s song ‘ABCD’, ‘Kudiyon ka laga hai buffet, Chaahe jo kar lo choose’ or in ‘chote kapdoin me tu bomb lagdi mainu’ of Blue Eyes. Many of his songs have hence come under scanner for their controversial lyrics. .
- Stalking of the heroine by the hero, solely depends on love at first sight for the hero. The stalking songs are always laced with romantic lyrics. Dev Anand in Paying Guest’s ‘mana janaab ne pukara nahi’ is shown obstinately chasing Nutan. In the song ‘khel khel me’ in the film Jugnu, when Dharmendra sings ‘tera peecha na chodunga soniye bhejde chaahe jail me…jahan bhi tu jaegi mai peeche chale aaunga’ while Hema Malani is blushingly trying to ward him off at the same time enjoying the attention shows how absurd our Bollywood’s representation of love is and how horribly it is mistaken about the whole concept of the terror faced by girls when chased by a crazed lover. The girl doesn’t even get a say here.
- Ranjhanaa that was greatly appreciated as the story of selfless, pure love actually prevails on the lines of stalking and blackmailing. They have in a very talented way managed to masquerade their idiocy as love. This is from where men pick up the various ways of coercing and manhandling the girl into giving in to their demands.
- In Amitabh Bachchan’s hit song ‘jumma chumma de de’ Amitabh with a hoard of men try to desperately force a kiss from the heroine, so much so that they try to subdue her by pulling her dress and dousing her with water till in the end they all finally circle her into submission and Amitabh emerges out victorious with several lipstick marks on his face. There couldn’t be a stronger message that great are the rewards of harassment. What is this if not a mock-imitation of a mob molestation?
- Most female-centric movies like Fashion, Heroine, Corporate show that women can’t handle success and are prone to failure, who fall victim to alcohol and drugs, which obviously they are not skilled in handling and should hence stay away from them. The message is loud and clear: independence ruins women.
What’s truly terrible is the manner in which heroes have for decades pestered, stalked and forced their unwanted attentions on the heroines in a thousand films, yet always ended up getting their girls. This sends an outrageous message that pestering girls is what heroes do so if you want to be cool tease a girl and yes a girl’s ‘no’ actually means a ‘yes’ hence nullifying the question of consent.
The film makers who propagate these kinds of ‘love’ need to understand that sexual harassment and stalking actually are heinous acts and thousands of innocent girls fall victim to it each year. Many are shot in broad daylight or their faces disfigured in acid-attacks or worse, raped by the stalker, thus ruining their lives and leaving them maimed for eternity. Women lose their self-esteem and it teaches them to submit to the stalkers’ demands or else get their life turned a living hell. The stabbing of the JNU girl by her jilted lover and the open shooting of the DU girl in Dhaula Kuan are just some of the cases that jolted us.
(a victim of acid attack)
Stalking is an issue that is widely prevalent and needs to be seen through a prism of psychopathy and handled sensitively, rather than be seen as a necessary romantic act of winning the girl. In the reel world the girl falls for the hero, but in the real world she has to pay with her life. According to the latest facts of the National Crime Records Bureau, in India, the nation of 1.2 billion people, a woman gets raped every 22 minutes.
Agreed that in a country like India, where people are greatly influenced by Bollywood, it holds a major responsibility towards a rational, sensitive and accurate portrayal of issues of various kinds and degrees, so as people who often mirror their own lives in the characters on screen can soak up the right values from it. However, it is also important for the audience to question and scrutinize what Bollywood is teaching us rather than blindly following its trends. It is required of the audience to have a reasoned opinion on these matters of the prevalent social issues, involving a judgement of its value, truth and righteousness.
We need to act responsible and understand that life is not to be treated as filmy as that shown on the screen and hence grasp the fact that girls don’t get impressed if they lurk in their lanes, wear playboy t-shirts and colored shades looking them up from top to bottom as if they own them, or walk with an amusing attitude, a la Salman Khan or Akshay Kumar whistling to the tunes of one of Honey Singh’s number. That a girl’s ‘no’ is really a ‘no’, is the simplest truth to exist.
In a society where women have restrictions from so many things and are daily dealing with sexual trauma showing them as accepting the stalker and living with him happily ever after is absolutely ridiculous. What we need to do is bridge the chasm between how Bollywood portrays women and how the ordinary Indian woman is in actuality in a slowly modernizing but largely conservative society. What we need is more movies like Queen, Kahani, Mardaani, English Vinglish which celebrate women and show that women can be self-reliant and responsible and equal to their counterparts. The audience too themselves need to play the critic and analyze and evaluate the contents cautiously and play by their conscience.
By- Aakanksha Kumari