Why Don’t Indian Films Understand The Concept Of A Woman’s Consent?

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Surrounded by the weeping seven dwarves, Snow White lay in the coffin dead. Then came her Prince Charming, who slowly bent down to kiss her, and behold – the dead Snow White is all life again. What a romantic story.

But wait, did the charming prince ask for her consent before kissing? No, because it doesn’t matter. It never matters!

Glorifying Objectification, Disregarding Consent

We grew up hearing such stories and seeing such films that the concept of consent never mattered. Everything was to be surrendered to the hypermasculine agendas.

The hero follows the heroine, the object of his desires. She shouts at him to leave her alone. He grabs her arm. She pushes him off. He forces her into his arms. She struggles out of it. In some films, his group of friends join in on the harassment and entrap her further. Yet somehow after this de facto molestation, the film has found a way to make this abused woman fall in love with their hero, thus imparting the harmful false truth that “no” doesn’t really mean “no.” Instead, a woman’s lack of interest is simply a challenge for a man to overcome. This is how deep down films have buried the idea of consent.

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There is a scene in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge where Raj pranks Simran about having slept together while she was drunk. A cute, funny scene it would seem. But more than being funny, it is only reaffirming the misconception that drunk women are open for sex. We grew up singing ‘Tu haan kar ya naa kar, tu hai meri Kiran’ from Darr. That is, we grew up singing that that essentially, “a woman’s opinion doesn’t matter.”

“No Means No”: But Does Our Cinema Understand?

Bollywood songs have only objectified women and depicted them as sex toys. Most songs are a testament to the existing masculinity that overpowers a woman’s opinion. A lack of consideration for consent has only made restrictions on women tighter, as it is easier to teach our girls how to prevent themselves from getting raped than it is to teach our boys not to rape them.

It is only after the release and success of Pink that people began questioning the existence of consent. The male lawyer, played by Amitabh Bachchan, advocates – No means no. It does not require any explanation or rationalisation when any woman, be it a friend, girlfriend, sex worker, or even a wife, says no. It simply implies that men must stop. Pink sends a message, loud and clear on how we must consider the choices and opinions of women. A similar Malayalam movie, Queen, staged the same courtroom drama to question the societal prejudice of accusing and slut-shaming women who have male friends and are carefree.

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Kettiyolaanende Malakha is another film that teaches consent but in a different way. The whole idea of sex education in our country is taboo, which is how this Malayalam movie raises its voice for consent. In the movie, Sleeva, a sexually illiterate man forces himself on his wife despite her several attempts at dodging the attack. In the end, when things turn out well, he asks his wife, “Can I hug you?” We are satisfied to know that Sleeva at this moment understands consent.

Are We Progressing Towards Change?

Slowly, our cinema is walking the road to change. Not just by using consent as a central theme, but by ensuring it in every dialogue, every scene. The age-old idea of consent will hopefully be re-written in Indian cinema. Directors and writers owe it to the audience for becoming the agents of change in cinema. It is in their writing and execution that the first step towards the road of change begins. Isn’t it interesting how a single camera can break age-old conventions and signal a better, more understanding world?

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In order to break down the cultural structures that preserve regressive societies, our art must emulate a more obliging depiction of love and romance, free of violence against women that has, up until now, been normalised and glorified in our culture.

Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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