Sab Chalta Hai? … Nahin!

by | May 16, 2020

Image courtesy Mehboob Studios – From the movie Mother India (1957)

The whole ‘boislockerroom’ issue which recently caught fire and shook the netizens completely – many of my friends and people I know of are questioning our education system. They are highlighting how important it is to educate our children on sex, consent and ethics. I completely agree with it and advocate adding these in our curriculum. Also train more teachers to have them teach these topics effectively. It is surely difficult but not impossible. Although the road is long. I recently watched videos of online classes going ridiculously wrong with boy students shaming their teacher, smoking on camera, passing vulgar comments. The point here is that even though we have sex education, and courses on consent and ethics in our curriculum, would it be any good? Or it may just worsen things for the tutors and the fellow students. It is essential to identify the root cause(s) and then make a proper action plan to bring about behaviour and mindset change in our children.

The question I asked myself is where do our kids develop such violent thoughts from and have normalised it to an extent that they even defend their wrongdoing? 

The first thought which came was easy and free accessibility to porn. India netizens are on the top when it comes to consumption of porn. I wasn’t quite satisfied that only porn can be a reason because even though porn creates wrong perceptive of sex at many levels, it does not directly normalises sexual violence and sex without consent, and all those things I talked about earlier. What is more freely available and accessible than porn? Certainly the film and television. I feel in India films and television play big a role in normalising sexual violence, patriarchy, misogyny, body shaming, even rape culture. Even though it is not the root cause – it surely is a reason behind normalising and making children believe they can get away with any kind of crime. 

Note: Not to point fingers at one or a bunch of people in the film and television industry, nor am I saying it is completely the responsibility of cinema but trying to identify problems/faults in the industry as it is one of the most influential media in our country.

Back in 1957 “Mother India” was made, it portrayed women being sensitive and strong enough to stand against her abuser. She fights alone and defends herself without the help of any ‘Man’. I can imagine how that one moment in the movie scene would have given so many women a motivation to stand against misogyny at home and also society. The question I ask here is how many such films are made and why are women portrayed as objects in our films now? In the movie Half Ticket, in the climax, the heroine (played by Madhubala) drives a car and comes to rescue her knight in distress (played by Kishore Kumar). When they go back, she continues driving the car. When was the last time you saw a recent movie where the person behind the wheels was the heroine with the hero as the conavigator? Or this scene here from Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)

It is known that the Hindi Cinema scene is dominated by men and does this poor representation of women in movies now stem from there? But the point is it was dominated by men even back then. Let me focus on examples of misogyny / normalizing abuse and harrassment /body shaming / glorifying and awarding acts promoting violence against women in the film and television.

Normalising Harassment

Do you remember watching Govinda trying to touch Rani Mukherjee on the flight scene in the movie Hadd Kardi Aapne? If not watch this and let me know in comments what you think of it. This scene in the film is the first encounter of two characters. This is just one example, there are several movies which show male characters harassing the female character until she finally accepts him as a partner. Because yes that is how love happens in real life, many still believe so.

Misogyny Is Just Okay

Watch this scene of Aamdani Athani Kharcha Rupaiya where Johnny Lever abuses his wife because she asks him for permission to work. The film is story of three men who don’t earn enough for their family to survive and also don’t allow their respective wives to work. Some would argue that by the end of the film the men realise the importance of women in their lives and start respecting them. But the film shows men getting arrested for drug trafficking and not domestic abuse. The film is just an example of how selling drugs is a crime but beating your wife is okay and not of big concern. You can get away with it because apparently women understand men and their struggle, “woh seh leti hai aur maaf kar deti hai”.

Body Shaming Is Funny

Imagine one getting bullied and teased  because of their body shape. It is just like getting discriminated for your skin color. Everybody loves to watch a film with a female actress with toned up bodies, but why is it necessary to show that a fat or thin body shape is hateful and undesirable? It is very clearly seen how only women with toned up bodies are casted in films because they are more desirable. Unfortunately, this is not restricted only to the film industry as a workplace …    

Glorifying Misogyny

Scene from the movie Dabang (2010)

Certainly the male characters in the film and television are celebrated when they show disgusting acts of beating up their partner and showing them down. Kabir Singh is a recent example but it is true for so many movies and shows. From Chulbul Pandey telling her partner “pyaar se de rahe hai lelo warna thappad markar bhi de sakte hai” to the whole narrative of films which run on the theme of “pati parmeshwar hota hai”.

If you argue by saying films just depict the real societal situations on screen, you should also agree that if films don’t glorify and normalize but slam the acts of harassment and misogyny it can at least spark a moment of self-realization if not bring in change in behaviour and society? That perhaps takes us to the larger question also, of what is the moral responsibility of the visual media? Is there a boundary that one needs to set in terms of the possible reach and impact one potentially has and hence the duty to being the society’s conscience keepers?

Objectify Kar Rahe Hai. To Kya?

N number of films and television shows in Indian visual media show women only being a subject of men’s sexual desires and needs. Remember when in the film Kambakkht Ishq Akshay Kumar says to Kareena Kapoor, “you girls are good only for one thing”. And what it does to men is take all of them and color them all in one hue – creating a uniformity that is nothing less than dehumanising, almost making them incapable of any other way of thinking (at least on screen portrayal).

Let us just choose to accept the narrative that is dominant. If films have to be a portrayal of real society and the society is this way – what stops us from showing repercussions to such acts of oppression. Like the law and order punishing the protagonist for gender based violence? Instead we go to the extent of glorifying, sometimes even rewarding them. My fear is some sections of are society are turning out to be exactly like that. There are a few movies that have started showing things in the light that it should be. But they are far and too few.

Visual from the movie Thappad (2020), a breather in this gloomy era of misogyny that rules the visual media in India

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1 Comment

  1. A. Ashni

    Thank you for this, Raaj. We need more of these conversations.

    I recently watched the first episode of Netflix’s ‘Sex Explained’. Minute 9 onwards it talks about sexual assault portrayed in the media in context to the audience’s fears about the then current political climate. Extremely interesting, definitely should watch.


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