Raanjhanaa Completes 7 Years: A Problematic Film That Gift-Wraps Stalking As Love
There are many ways of securing love for yourself in this world. You can leave a secret letter in your crush’s mailbox. If you’re braver, you can ask them out for a coffee date upfront. Or if you’re like me, you can daydream about them and be content with it. But Bollywood being Bollywood, has whole other advice for yearning lovers: stalk. She rejected you? Just stalk her na. She’ll come around sooner or later. Upon this logic, Raanjhanaa pivots. As the film celebrates seven years, let’s look at how it gift-wrapped stalking and presented it to us as love.
The story is set in the pious city of Benaras and revolves around Kundan (Dhanush) who has been madly in love with Zoya (Sonam Kapoor) ever since they were children. Zoya is from a fairly well-to-do Muslim family, and Kundan is from a not-so-well-to-do Tamil Hindu Brahmin family. They are from different religions and classes, but that is immaterial to Kundan, who is a liberal when it comes to these choices. That is surprising, because he is quite intolerant as far as Zoya’s own choices are concerned. Despite her million refusals, he continues to court her for the entirety of the film in multiple ways – from blackmail to use of force – until his childish behaviour ends up bearing grievous consequences. Still, in the end, Kundan dies with a promise of courting Zoya once again in his next life.
Why Kundan is Problematic
Kundan is a wolf disguised in sheepskin. His “funny” and “playful” advances, of first staring adoringly at Zoya or embarrassing himself in front of her, soon turn fanatic as he graduates to violent stuff like slitting his wrists until she says yes to him. What he fails to understand, is that she never does say yes to him. She talked to him, laughed with him, but only ever saw him as a friend. He takes all these as “signs”, and builds on them, pursuing her with even more intent. (Ladies, we have all known a Kundan at some point in our lives.)
Even his friend’s golden advice of wooing girls includes, “Subha se shaam peechha karo, ghar ke baahar, school ke baahar, bazaar mein, sadko pe, cycle pe, ricksha mein, tempo mein, ro do, khana khaana chhod do, wazan ghatalo, aur ladki ko itna thaka do ke woh thak ke haan bol de.” Unbelievable.
Raanjhanaa Glorifies Stalking
After the release of Raanjhanaa in 2013, Swara Bhaskar (who played Bindiya, the girl crushing on Kundan) in an opinion titled ‘Crazy Love in Benaras’ for The Hindu, wrote that Kundan is a “deeply flawed character,” adding that his wrist-slitting act is “neither intelligent, nor advisable,” however she did add that he is not a “dangerous stalker” because Zoya isn’t scared of him.
This is simply not a convincing argument. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is incriminating. The average Indian male moviegoer who is able to identify his own jilted love in Raanjhanaa‘s story will have more incentive to follow Kundan’s lead if they see that the girl is not scared of him. It will tell them that it is okay to tail a girl everywhere she goes because, clearly, such actions don’t bother her. If you are okay with being slapped by her once in a while, you may stalk to your stalker heart’s content. That’s the message Kundan gives out to men.
Stalking is an intrusion of privacy
Zoya may not be scared of Kundan, but that’s Zoya for you. Not every woman is Zoya. Hell, very few women can afford to actually be Zoya in a country like India. If a man so much as messages us on Instagram repeatedly, despite our polite requests asking him to stop, we are compelled to block him. This, in the virtual world. Real life is a whole other ballgame.
Cases of stalking are reported quite frequently by women in India. Unfortunately, some don’t even live to report the case. In March this year, a 24-year-old post-graduate student was stabbed to death in Rajasthan by her stalker. In 2017, another woman was killed in Uttar Pradesh after rejecting the advances from a stalker. In 2018, “India reported a stalking case every 55 minutes,” says an article in the Scroll. And that is just the tip of the iceberg it said. In a society where stalking poses a real danger to women, films like Raanjhanaa are irresponsible.
Filmmakers and actors should be mindful that films, in one way or another, influence the way people behave. They have real-life repercussions. The news cases mentioned above may or may not have been directly influenced by the stalking culture films promote. We don’t know for sure. But they do justify such predatory behaviour in the name of love. No person should feel that it is acceptable to stalk a woman, to keep pursuing her despite being told otherwise because a film’s hero makes it look charming. Cinema’s approach towards how men treat women has to change.
The time for change was yesterday. It must not be delayed anymore.
Views expressed are the author’s own.