Films sanctify pestering and stalking of women

The ghastly assault and rape of a female paramedic in Delhi has produced an avalanche of protest and comment on why we treat women so badly. But a major cause, the film industry, has hardly been mentioned. It has fostered thoroughly retrograde male attitudes that are at least partly responsible.

Some feminists focus on the commodification of women in Bollywood’s “item numbers”, sex-laden dances by Isha Koppikar, Mallika Sherawat and others. Others highlight the popularity of rape scenes to titillate audiences. Old-time villain Ranjeet did close to 100 rape scenes, with the audience almost cheering him on.

Yet item numbers and rape scenes are not the main problem. After all, cabaret dancers and villains are not role models. What’s truly terrible is the manner in which film heroes have for decades pestered, stalked and forced their unwanted attentions on heroines in a thousand films, yet ended up getting the girl. That sends the most outrageous of all messages to the public: pestering girls is what heroes do, and a girl’s “no” actually means “yes.”

Hit film songs that glorify harassment and stalking have compounded the problem. These are perpetuated in memory and social attitudes through repeated humming of the songs and viewing of video clips.

Dev Anand was the great romantic lover of my youth. We watched him serenade Nalini Jaywant in the film Munimji (“jeevan ke safar mein rahi“), while pawing and pestering her. He was equally obstreperous with Nutan in the film Paying Guest, with the hit song “Mana janab ne pukara nahin.” The song’s words frankly admit that although he is not welcome at all, he must insist on gaily forcing his attentions on her. For decades after audiences sang these songs, barely conscious of the sordid values they implied.

Raj Kapoor couldn’t be far behind. In his opus Sangam he sang a megahit while pestering a bathing Vyjianthimala: “Mere man ki Ganga, aur teri man ki Yamuna, bol Radha bol sangam hoga ke nahin.” As justification for this boorishness, he stuck a feather in his hair in imitation of Lord Krishna, who also harassed bathing gopis. Whereas Krishna played on the flute, Raj Kapoor played on Scottish bagpipes, a variation difficult to explain except as a side-effect of the actor’s fondness for Scotch whisky.

Amitabh Bachchan strode the Bollywood scene like a colossus. His biggest contribution to female degradation was in the film Hum. In this, he and a gang of maybe 300 leering males demand a kiss from actress Kimi Katkar—the hit song “Jumma chumma de de.”

Katkar sings back that she will not give a kiss. The male leerers insist on a kiss and douse her with a hosepipe. Ultimately, after several refusals, the song ends with Bachchan finally getting his kiss. He emerges grinning from the melee with lipstick smeared across his face. There could hardly be a more graphic message: if only you harass a woman enough, no matter how often she says no, she will ultimately say yes.

The greatest Hindi film of all time was probably Sholay. This had Dharmendra giving his version of how to win a girl. He jumps on the tonga (horse carriage) of tongawali Hema Malini, serenading her and grabbing her from behind. She fights him off, knocking him off the tonga. But he once again climbs aboard and continues with his musical harassment. The song goes, “Koi hasina jab rooth jati hai to, aur bhi hasin ho jati hai.” (translation: when a beautiful girl gets pissed off with you, she becomes even more beautiful). Does he go to jail for this behaviour? Alas no, she falls into his arms! Great are the rewards of harassment.

I don’t see films in other Indian languages. Some say they are even cruder, so let’s not blame Bollywood alone. I’m told such crudity doesn’t happen in big Bollywood films any more. Really? I saw Rockstar, in which Ranbir Kapoor forces his attentions on a girl, who initially resists but then asks him to take her to a raunchy film!

Let the last word come from somebody in the film business.“There are films in which romantic wooing has been replaced by a kind of harassment of the heroine. The heroes of these films could be considered stalkers in some civil societies. Now imagine that this actor is a role model to millions… wouldn’t his fans think this behaviour is okay? Now imagine that this actress is a role model to millions… what message does it send to women across the country?”

These are the words of actor-director Farhan Akhtar. When he says things are getting worse, please pay attention.

7 thoughts on “Films sanctify pestering and stalking of women

  • 2013.Feb.21 at 00:27
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    I don’t endorse your idea of blaming the movies for playing a role in the kind of society we have today. Movies do instill emotions but people are wise enough to separate their emotions from their doings. There are also movies with some good messages like Rang de Basanti, Udaan etc. Its us who are responsible for ourselves and blaming others is just a means to escape. We need to find a change in ourselves not in the society as People makes the society and is not the vice versa.

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  • 2013.Feb.16 at 01:54
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    You don’t know how worse feminism can be.
    How can you choose what the main problem is in the mess that we call our film industry, and try to solve it in such narrow-liberal way.
    You assume that the kind of stalking and pestering shown in the movies is what lead to/contributed towards the rape that we speak of. But you may be wrong.
    Films are getting more and more rotten day after day, but the solution is not as simple as the one you speak of. Removing item numbers, and now stalking and pestering wont stop anything. And if this is the best solution you can offer then be prepared for other more graver problems that your kind of solution will create.

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  • 2013.Feb.11 at 23:05
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    Bollywood is not the mirror of society at all. Maybe it was during the 60s or 70s. Instead it is defiling the society now ( by films such as cocktail and with rampant use of double entandres). The real problem is that today’s youth is a blind follower. He/she has no thinking capability or thoughts of his own. the college going youth is trying his best to become a shahrukh/saif/akshay. They have set wrong role models for themselves. The bollywood actors and actresses have no values and no principles. Onscreen their role is that of a messiah but in real life they are all the true demons, burden on this earth. You can confirm this by looking in their personal life. e.g. marriage is like a routine affair for them. They feel insulted unless they have married 4-5 times. What a degenerate human being. What is more painful is that the youth talks of ‘proper use of money’ if asked to donate Rs.10 to a charity organization but very happily spends 150 on a movie ticket and pays another 150 for POPCORN. Goodness, they are so foolish. They are not sources of immense energy. Instead they are monkeys, merely imitating the unscrupulous demons. Having such youth is a matter of shame for India.

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  • 2013.Feb.08 at 17:49
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    There are hundreds of films in which hero will stalk and harass the heroine and it is usually followed be heroine falling in to the hands of hero after a serious of dual between them. There is a saying in tamil which says”Modhallil thaan kadhal aarambamaagiradhu” (means -love starts with a dual) . From my perspective it is designed by nature and that is how it is meant to happen. When it becomes success it becomes love and when the guy fails he gets beaten up. It is up to the individual to find out the threshold level up to which he can go ,to pursue the girl of his dreams.

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  • 2013.Jan.04 at 20:47
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    I disagree. Films are reflections of whats happening in the society. It is not the cause but effect of mindset of the society. Just to make a point, songs with vulgar becomes super hit but songs with patriotic themes are never played in social events. Even inspite of so much of anti-dowry movies, we still find numberous of dowry cases, bride burning etc. If movies were responsible, these social-ills would have been completely eradicated. Movies, songs, Bollywood are easy targets to shift the blame from ourselves. The thinking becomes “we are good people with good mindset, only if movies were good…:”. No Mr. Aiyar…the solution is not banning these movies. Movies and literature are just reflection of our society. Change the mindset and Bollywood will follow. Of course, changing mindset is not easy. The Indian society needs

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  • 2013.Jan.04 at 19:30
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    Start watching Tamil films mama!! that will be better change.
    I know you know tamil.

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  • 2013.Jan.04 at 13:23
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    good point covered…
    what sense does it make to have any female model in male undergarment advertisements…?
    media, bollywood, businessman and we all (including women) who like to see this commodification of woman, just for profit should rethink…

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