Today’s top headline all over the media is that MP Jaya Bachchan advocates that “the Hyderabad rapists should be brought out in the public and ruthlessly lynched.” While I do empathize with the emotion and the angst behind her suggestion, I wish she would also reflect a bit more deeply on this problem, and come up with some much-needed suggestions for Bollywood, Tollywood, and the other Indian movie industries (to which she belongs), and contemplate on how they continuously perpetuate misogyny, and shamelessly objectify women.
Certainly, the movies are not solely responsible for the atrocities in our country, but they do play a very important role in determining popular culture, and they represent and influence our underlying beliefs and attitudes. The right kind of movies has the potential to be an immensely powerful driver of societal and attitudinal change.
Most movie songs nowadays are so vulgar and cheap, that at times, it’s downright embarrassing and uncomfortable to watch them in public. Yet, women have to put up with them all the time in public spaces (videos playing in gyms, buses, cabs, autos, etc.), and no one has any consideration for their sensibilities. Almost everything in Bollywood is projected from a male-centric view and things that might cause acute distress to a woman in the audience or embarrass her are happily overlooked and normalized. To describe this phenomenon, Gloria Steinem once remarked that “A woman reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual.”
For example, whenever I go to the gym nowadays – the first five minutes are always stressful and unpleasant. I forcefully insist that they switch from the Hindi music channels that play some really vulgar songs (including item songs), to travel, sports, News, or English pop channels. Sadly, have to admit that though English pop music has nudity and sexual content, it’s not as irksome or vulgar as some Bollywood music.
Thanks to my aggressiveness – I usually get my way and the channels are changed, or the trainer ends up playing some recorded music on the audio, but on certain days I don’t succeed 🙁 🙁 There are some really thick-skinned fellows who insist that they will only train while listening to stuff like “Sheela ki Jawani” or “Chikni Chameli”, and other similar songs playing on B4U etc. (yuck). These guys need to be given some education on how to co-exist with women in public spaces and realize the fact that women might have their own point of view regarding this kind of music.
I’m all for freedom of expression, and okay with item songs as long as they are seen in homes, theatres or parties – but not okay with them in gyms, public transport and such like. And especially, if a woman says she feels uncomfortable.
It’s not just Hindi movies, the same problems exist in Telugu. Apart from some really trashy and demeaning music, even the scripts and stories are very male-oriented.
I don’t get a chance to watch too many Telugu films, but there’s one that I can never forget when it comes to vulgarity and violence. Ironically, this movie “Arundhati” had a female lead and was glorifying this mythical queen.
There was one scene that was terribly disturbing in this movie, and it shocked me and scared me whenever I thought about it for the next few days. I saw it about ten years ago, so the details are not very fresh but it was something like this: Arundhati’s dance teacher is murdered for some reason by the villain, and he does so by stabbing her in the stomach with a huge sword. And while she is bleeding, writhing in pain and dying, the rogue rapes her and ends the scene with the dialogue “you gave me immense pleasure even in your death” (or something similar). I found this whole scene and dialogue absolutely revolting – how could anyone write this and film it? What kind of entertainment is this? How could the censor board allow it? Unfortunately, this is our mainstream cinema 🙁 🙁
It’s really important to address the misogyny and lack of sensitivity in our movies. I’m not advocating that we become prudish, but we need to certainly raise our standards. Sexual content can be more tasteful and artistic, without being so vulgar, demeaning and violent. Why do top heroines need to wear scanty clothes and gyrate and twerk in the most vulgar manner? Can’t we think of better ways to tell stories?
Otherwise, the less educated and the youth might end up thinking that treating women in this manner is absolutely fine. Hopefully, next time, Jaya Bacchan will speak up about these issues as well.