The sexist portrayal of women in Bollywood films has left a deep scar on Indian society. When we talk about an ideal girl, she will always be ‘sanskari’, while an ideal man is nothing less than a toxic alpha figure who seeks ownership of women around him. We can mock this stereotypical portrayal as much as we want but the truth is that people do mimic the behaviour they see on screen in real life. Women’s “no” is taken as a “yes” and a breakup calls for a violent outburst because that’s what our boys grow up seeing in films.
The idea of romance in Bollywood spins around unhealthy obsession among men, as women’s consent is deemed immaterial. In fact, harassment, stalking and annoying women are considered to be a normal part of courtship and a display of affection on behalf of men. Why because we have seen films normalise this abusive and intrusive behaviour of men. What’s more, films don’t just stop at normalisation, they attach a sense of heroism to such toxic behaviour.
The worst part about these scenes is that they show women enjoying the unhealthy male attention and reciprocating to their advances, in a way, validating their machismo. One can only imagine what courtship lessons young boys in this country learn when they see their favourite heroes get away with harassing women.
Toxic Male Behaviour In Films
Films seem to have missed the memo that women’s consent is as essential as the desire of men and that women need not necessarily fit neatly in the binaries of a vamp or a virgin. And mind you, these are not stereotypes from the 80s films that we are talking about here. Many recent films have legitimised toxic male behaviour. Be it Pushpa: The Rise, where the male lead not only stalks his love interest, but also offers to pay the woman a certain amount if she agrees to kiss him.
In the month of August this year, Vijay Deverakonda’s Bollywood launch vehicle received much flak for a song with the lyrics, “Jawaani teri aafat. Bhagwaan ke liye chhod do mujhe.” Then there’s the upcoming film Chup! which trivialises a gruesome crime like rape by equating it a critic giving a bad review to a film. Read more here.
These might seem like minor transgressions on screen but can have a hug impact on the psych of viewers. In a country which saw almost 20 percent rise in rape cases, in the year 2021, do we really need films to teach men that women are mere objects of desire? That their consent has little value in front of male ego? That crimes like rape are so trivial that they can be equated to something as trivial as a bad film review?
Indian cinemas should take an active role in purging the society of this social menace known as patriarchy, rather than endorse it for the sake of ticket sales. Our love for cinema calls for a more responsible behaviour on behalf of the industry. The question is, can filmmakers look beyond profit and loss statements?
The views expressed are the author’s own.
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