Bollywood films and songs are often laced with sexism, which does injustice to both women and men by turning the former into a victim and the latter into an aggressor.
“Filmi dhun pe dekh ke tujhko
Seeti roz bajaun”
“Socha hai key tumhe rasta bhulaye
Sunee jagah pe kahin chhede daraye”
The aforementioned lyrics have been taken from the songs “ and “Socha Hai”. These songs have steadily been climbing the charts and continue to be extremely popular. The concept of remixing old Bollywood songs and repackaging them to a younger audience has now become the Bollywood norm. Though these songs may evoke nostalgia, it is not the only emotion these remixes incite. With their lyrics and visuals, these songs normalise everyday sexism, stalking, and harassment.
The difficulty with highlighting sexism is that people don’t ever find it legitimate or problematic “enough”. When people, especially women, call out the casual sexism in films, they are labelled as “overtly sensitive buzz kills” or, “feminazis”. When women complain against being inappropriately touched in the metro, people around them respond with “ mein chala karo na (madam,then travel in the ladies’ coach).
The wage gap has been labelled a myth, and marital rape is legal in our country because as Ms. Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister for Women & Child Development, resonates, “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors like level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament.” Even when brutal crimes against women take place, for instance the Nirbhaya rape case, people have the audacity to blame it on the actions of the victim – her clothing, her company, her social habits, and more.
In short, there is always justification for harassment and rape. We, as a country, do not regard crime against women or even everyday sexism as a problem, we do not acknowledge our problematic mindset. And, believe it or not, our films do play a significant role in that. Our films, on a regular basis, show male characters actively pursuing their love interest by following her around, annoying her, troubling her, and refusing to take no for an answer. In a recent example, in the song “Hans Mat Pagli” from the film “Toilet – Ek Prem Katha”, Akshay Kumar pursues Bhumi Pednekar by stalking her. He sits outside her house, follows her around, climbs trees to secretly photograph her, attacks other men who so much as look at her, and more. This kind of behaviour is not new to Bollywood; this has been going around for so long that it has now been ingrained in our society and we don’t even find it odd anymore. In a country where only 30% of people live in urban areas, in a country where interaction between the sexes is discouraged, this is even more problematic.
When impressionable young men, who may not necessarily be in touch with non-familial people of the opposite gender, watch these films, their idea of romance and love gets distorted. The hero ends up dating the heroine as a result of his shameful antics. Consequentially, young men come to the conclusion that stalking a woman is perfectly normal and acceptable. The idea that this behaviour is unusual or strange never comes to their mind because nobody talks about relationships openly and only films create the idea of what love should be.
Films don’t just affect how young men choose to conduct themselves, but also affect how young women think of themselves. When films portray women as reluctant and naïve, as someone always shying from both active romantic and sexual relationships, it sets the norm of how women should act in real life. It takes away the autonomy of women and establishes that “good” women should never ever want “it”, “it” being both love and sexual contact. When we make women asexual beings, who can only be pursued but can never pursue, we make sexuality in women unacceptable and thus legitimise moral policing.
The “good” women in these films are tragically ignorant and reluctant. Despite liberalisation, greater education for women, and better employment opportunities, the narrative of the reluctant woman has remained the same. From 1972, when Jaya Bhaduri sang “Nahin Nahin, Abhi Nahin” to Randhir Kapoor, to 2017, when Kriti Sanon sang “Na Na Na Na” to Sushant Singh Rajput, the idea of a woman being passive and shy hasn’t changed. If you paid attention to the number of times women said “nahin” or “na” (no) in a Bollywood song, you would be appalled.
Even though sexuality is expressed in Bollywood through ”item songs”, the sexualisation is acceptable only as long as it caters to the male gaze. Overtly sexual Bollywood songs are only deemed acceptable when they cater to men. These songs mostly include a bunch of men (ideally consuming alcohol) leering at a skimpily clad woman. So while the “strictly chaste love” portrayal has considerably reduced, any kind of sexuality in films is limited to women being treated like objects.
“Main toh tandoori murgi hun yar, gatak le mujhe alchohol se” which translates to “I am barbecued chicken, swallow me with alcohol” were the lyrics in the song “Fevicol” from the film Dabangg 2. These crass and crude lyrics are not one of a kind. In fact, the censor board continues to pass films with outright bizarre and perverse innuendos and dialogues, such as Grand Masti, as long as they objectify women. But when women try to seek autonomy and express their sexuality without catering to the male gaze, for instance in “Lipstick Under My Burkha”, the film is denied release because it is “lady-oriented”.
Some people say art imitates life, but I am of the belief that life imitates art as well. It is a symbiotic relationship, where one is dependent and influenced by the other. When people say Honey Singh’s sexist lyrics or films that objectify women do not affect and influence people, they are willingly choosing to live in an alternative reality.
Bollywood continues to be crucial in affecting our lives, and actors continue to be revered like gods. One cannot deny the influence that Bollywood has on us. These songs normalise harassment, they make women look like puppets who have little autonomy and control over their lives, they sexualise women, and only cater to the male gaze. It is high time that they are called out for the same.
The next time someone releases a song called “Tu cheez badi hai mast mast”, which clearly objectifies a woman, I hope their song does not become a chartbuster. I hope people become aware enough to recognise this kind of behaviour as deplorable and actively seek better forms of entertainment.
Feature Image Credits: Lyricsmint