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For the last couple of weeks there have been numerous stories of Bollywood stars, have-been stars and wannabe stars talking about increased incidence of rape in India. Bollywood stars lead protests against rapeSome have written poetry. Some have blogged. Some tweeted. Some have given press statements. All of them have condemned the increased incidence of rape. I fully appreciate the sentiments of these stars. They are using their celebrity status to reach out to people on an important issue. Jolly good I say.

However, a thought comes to mind : What does Bollywood subtly promote in most films? What is the image women have in films? The top three I can think of are

  1. Helpless damsel in distress’ – for a long time I used to think that the only raison d’etre for the hero’s sister (and beloved too) was to get into trouble so that he could show his machismo.
  2. Objects’ – think ‘item numbers’ which most stars are now performing.
  3. Eve teasing‘ as means of ‘wooing’:  Think of songs like “Khambe Jaisi Khadi Hai” (from Dil)  or the nauseating “Padosan apni murgi ko rakhna sambhal” (from Jadugaar) performed by two of the biggest stars Amir Khan and Amitabh Bacchan. What was depicted was purely sexual harassment of the worst kind but in the end the heroine falls for the hero. There are hundred other such songs. In fact for every one tastefully done teasing (think “Ude jab jab zulfe teri”) there are a million of these.

I could go on but I don’t think it is needed. What is the message being passed here?

We all know that Bollywood (and the other regional film industry) is enormously influential. It has tremendous reach across societal classes. It influences advertising industry, television, politics, news and in fact almost everything related to infotainment in India. It is often referred to as India’s soft power in the area of international diplomacy.

May be it is time that Bollywood starts getting ahead of the curve on social issues and not appeal to the purely baser instincts? In the recent past there have been very good films with strong women protagonists, a welcome change but they are far and few in between. I am aware that this is not a solution to what ails India on women’s issues but it will contribute.

What do you think? Am I being too naive?

Makarand

PS: I wrote this first on December 20th on Quora.

PS2 : this is not intended to move the blame away from the rapists;  just saying that there are other influencing factors.

Related articles

  1. Rituparna Chaterjee : Misogyny in popular culture: Indian cinema is equally culpable
  2. Swaminomics : Films sanctify pestering and stalking of women
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