Often written to invoke applause and laughter, regressive dialogues aren’t uncommon in Hindi films. While the sexist and cheesy films of the 80s normalised women-bashing dialogues, one wonders why they continue to find their way to films even today. Wasn’t there a yet to release film in news just weeks ago, for a tasteless dialogue on marital rape? While the said dialogue has been removed from the film after social media outrage, one wonders why filmmakers wait for reproach to be sensitive? Or have we set the threshold for sensitivity so high that filmmakers assume that the audience will not just be okay with dialogues that demean women, it will lap them up eagerly?
- Regressive dialogues are still a USP of many films in Bollywood.
- Do we really need dialogues that portray women as objects or trivialise their sexual agency?
- But the onus of regressive dialogues in films doesn’t just lie on filmmakers.
- It lies on us the audience as well, who indulge them in the name of harmless fun.
Romanticising violence against women, stereotyping girls as “fast”, “loose” and money-minded, labeling wives as dull and boring, these are all dialogues from films that went on to become super hits.
But instead of criticising filmmakers, let us accept that we are an audience that celebrated lines such as “Tu ladki ke peeche bhagega, ladki paise ke peeche bhagegi. Tu paise ke peeche bhagega, ladki tere peeche bhagegi,” (Wanted) or “Pyar se de rahe hai, rakh lo, varna thappad maarke bhi de sakte hai” (Dabangg), and “Yeh biwiyan mangalsutra pehente hi Kamasutra kyun bhool jati hain,” (Grand Masti) in recent times. Oh and remember that entire comic sequence in 3 Idiots around the word “balatkar”? Yes, a lot of us found it funny then, didn’t we? Alarmingly, we still do.
Romanticising violence against women, stereotyping girls as “fast”, “loose” and money-minded, labelling wives as dull and boring, rape jokes, these dialogues will come across as alarming and repulsive when clustered together, but the truth is, they all are from films that went on to become super hits. The indulgent ignorance we have shown to Bollywood’s dialoguebaazi has now resulted in a plague of the deeply disturbing films, which have nothing but women bashing as their USP (Pyaar Ka Punchnama series, I am looking at you.)
It is easy to corner film directors of social media and shame them into retracting demeaning lines from their films, but what do we do about the audience’s mindset? The only language that the Hindi film industry understands is that of money. Activism, women-centric issues, nationalism, women-bashing, these are all nothing but subjects that guarantee gain audience’s attention for the industry. It has homes to run, films to make, production houses to sustain. It’ll balance an “Uski ovaries nikal do. Na mamma banegi, na mia milega. Mamma Mia!” (Houseful 3) with a “Mhari Chhoriyan Chhoron se kam hai ke,” (Dangal), because it is a big and diverse industry which knows that there is a market for every subject in our country.
The problem isn’t the regressive dialogues, but the market that we have created for them. Unless it crosses a certain line, we turn a blind eye.
Which is why, when I see an A-lister mouthing sexist dialogues what irks me more is the applause that it earns. We clap when a hero threatens to hit a heroine if she doesn’t accept his gift. We chuckle when he calls his female boss a prostitute wearing red lipstick. We even draw swords on social media, defending demeaning song lyrics that objectify women, because this is entertainment, so why take it so seriously? There a lot of people out there who still believe that films don’t affect our behaviour, both social and individual, and vice versa. But is that entirely true?
Unless onscreen abuse and vulgarity crosses a certain line, we turn a blind eye. And it is a problem with the masses. Those who boast of better taste in films are plagued with hypocrisy. People who scoff at films like Grand Masti, Kya Kool Hain Hum, etc (which at least proclaim to be sex comedies) are totally okay with the rape joke in 3 Idiots. The normalisation of regressive dialogues runs deeper than we realise.
In a nation battling a crisis of women’s mistreatment, the bar of intolerance needs to be lowered for a change. Rape jokes and romanisation of violence against women is nothing we should be proud of defending. Crass jokes objectification of women’s bodies cannot be treated trivially anymore. So, we need to ask ourselves, just why do we find these jokes funny? Why does the audience get so pumped up when a hero berates women on screen? Do we take these misogynist dialogues home with us, or do they simply reflect our reality?
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.