Bollywood, Intolerance, Misogyny and the Indian Society

Another molestation news has created headlines. This time it was a minor girl who stepped out of a bar who was stripped and molested for around half an hour in full public view by a mob of around 30 men in Guwahati. A news crew recorded the entire incident which spun off a branch of outrage which debates if the reporter should have tried and helped the girl instead of generating news fodder and so on. Then we have the liberals and anti-liberals going at each other's throats on how "free" women and girls should be, the Talibani latter insisting that women should be at home trying to invent the perfect roti rather than going to bars and consuming alcohol. Only men are supposed to do this in "Incredible India", in line to the recommendations of the council of the Great Indian Culture, who blame everything from dressing to chow-mein and always the victim in case of molestation or rape!

In all this hullabaloo, one thing has been seriously overlooked. The misogyny that is so widely prevalent in India. Meaning, why are Indian men like this? And by "this", I mean why do they believe that it is their birthright to pounce upon any woman who even marginally deviates from their 'set constraints' of woman behavior of dressing, consumption, and behavior and rip their dignity and honor to pieces? Why do men think that women who do not toe their lines of set patriarchal platitudes "deserve" to be "punished" by the means of medieval mob justice? What causes rape, molestation and other crimes on women in India? Why are they so widespread? Why do men see women as only objects of lust and flesh? How do men come to be 'cultivated' in such manners with respect to their feelings towards women? Where do they learn how women are expected to behave since there is no interaction between men and women since childhood thanks to gender segregation which is the centerpiece of the so-called hypocrisy called "Indian Culture"? And Indian parents or households teach men how to behave towards women, and certainly not schools and society. In fact, the entire area of inter-sex interaction including sexual matters is totally gray. Still, there must be some source where men learn what the female mentality is like and how women think about men no? Yes, there is. The keeper of the Codex of the so-called "Indian Culture" and propagator of everything "Indian" in the eyes of the masses and the laughing stock of the World, said source is also known as "Bollywood"! It does not matter whether you are in Guwahati or Gokarna. Yes, popular culture has got a big role in shaping public mindset.

Bollywood movies and associated sub-industries are not just the only source of entertainment for the average (Hindi-speaking) Indian today, but it is the only other channel of anything available for mass public consumption other than Politics and Cricket. Simply put, Indians have no other way of opening their eyes to the World other than through Bollywood movies. TV and all sure, but who watches anything other than soaps? And it is not surprising that the Homosapien specimens who make up the on-screen presence of films are taken as Gods and what they do and say is taken as Gospel truth and their bowel movements are considered "Breaking News"? In fact, through constant bombardment since childhood, it is ingrained in young people that films are the real World and not the other way around. Parents and all are least bothered to correct this anomaly, as we never teach children how to respect other human beings, but rather teach them casteism, segregation, how to put the other guy down, how we are greatest. And hate.

The Jhatkas, Phatkas, Latkas and Matkas of Bollywood

Bollywood celebrates, glorifies and epitomizes Misogyny. But how? How do movies in general and Bollywood in particular teach people "molesting habits"? Easy. Close your eyes and pick any random movie out of the 10,000 or so produced in the last 40 years. Chances are that you will hit on one which will be part of one the most popular and widespread genres in the industry: The Universal boy-meets-girl-and-love-story or some variations thereof. In fact, even after all these years of making movies, the industry has been largely unable to move or even think beyond the cheesy topic of love and relationships. Why? Because Indian society has everything in the open except love and relationships. Anyway, all these movies show the boy wooing the girl, the girl falls for the boy, and then whatever follows that. The route from wooing to falling can be any one out of infinite. And the precise part that educates Indian men about the exact science of woman behavior? Yeah, you guessed it, the "wooing" part. The hero is single and has his eyes sent on the heroine. And all our heroes on the roads are single too, and have eyes set on random heroines. And connecting with the filmi-hero, they try the same techniques he uses to woo the heroine(s). Because what works in Bollywood should work in real life also no?

Let us take a typical example. The lady, clad in jeans, shorts, salwar-kameez, sari, bikini or whatever, walks down the appropriate setting. Dhomm-dhamaka beats resound in the background, to which she chatkayas, latkayas and matkayas her patlee-kamar with all her might! The hero, enamored by all her phatkaying, comes after her with around 20 of his dancing buddies dressed in atrocious colored costumes and whistles at her, touches her not-so-appropriately and hurls even more atrocious and sometimes offending song lyrics at her, expressing his everlasting desire to bed her. So what does the heroine do? Does she make a hue and cry? Does she slap the hero? Does she ask him about his mother and sister? Does she call her bodyguard friends? Does she update this on Facebook and Twitter? Does she call the cops? The media? The National Guard? Arnab Goswami? Nope. Demurely smiling at the ground, and even playfully pushing him away, she chatkayas, latkayas and matkayas her patlee-kamar a little more in reply, answering his questioning lyrics with positively tinged return-lyrics and sending the hero into convulsions. Mission accomplished! It is not only this. Take any movie where a girl is walking by and a group of hooligans let loose with comments containing adjectives such as "Oye teri!", "Soni kudi", "Arre yaar", "Cheez", "Mast" and so on. 9 out of 10 times, the female in question will, forget protesting, throw her head up high, smile, look back and wink, reciprocate and play along or all of these. And let us not even talk about item numbers where raucous wamps let loose all their inhibitions to fulfill every fantasy and need of scores of hungry men around them. And all those "indi-pop" subculture music videos just take this entire thing to wholly another level.

This is just a part of the unfortunate stereotyping of women (with respect to men) in Bollywood. Maas are always mandir-going and praying-for-her-son creatures draped in white with streams of tears rolling down her cheeks. I need not say much about the sister, sister-in-law, submissive wife and other non-independent characters. Any overly-adventurous woman is automatically subdued by a well-placed slap on her cheek by her man. Even the all-conquering, rampaging female superwoman becomes a meowing kitten after she meets the overbearing hero. If none of this works, the hero takes out the ultimate weapon in his arsenal. He becomes a thundering volcano of testosterone and wins over the maiden with unearthly displays of masculinity which in real life is taken as "God-given" authority to rape and humiliate. And since the average guy has received little experience on what a woman is and how he is supposed to behave with her, he believes that this, in fact, is the real woman and this is the way "wooing" has to be done. The on-screen woman feels only happiness and pleasure at being groped and touched and pinched and slapped. Imagine the surprise when the guy on the street finds that real-life women do not feel the same! And all hell breaks loose.

Most urban, educated people of liberal thought, who grew up interacting with both genders know that what is shown in cinema (about women) is not real life, and that women are not to be treated like that and all that. But the majority of the barely educated "unwashed masses" bought up fed to their ears in mysogny and patriachy, do not. They take what is shown the movies to be real life and try to emulate that.

Our Movies and our Intolerant Society Complement each Other

Most of Indian society is overbearingly patriarchal to an extent that women are reduced to nothing but the roles of food and baby creators. Male children are ingrained from very childhood with the belief that the World and everything in it is their oyster, including women, and anything can be won over using the fist. This is beautifully supplemented by media of entertainment as mentioned before. But when he discovers that the real World and the women in it do not work in the way he was told, he gets confused first and angry later, the rejection and refusal invokes a kind of disbelief in him that his God-given authority can be challenged by a woman, creatures who he has seen to be demure and totally submissive to their men in real and reel life. This insubordination should not go unpunished! The woman should be brought to line. And more independent and more "modern" a woman gets, more insecure he feels of his "authority". And this is where all the violence against women we see in India comes from. Especially when more and more women today are breaking out of the household and traditions that had shackled them for centuries. Misogyny and hatred for women start from here, the methods are shown by popular culture.

Until recently, all film industries in India were copies of each other with the recurring boy-meets-girl theme, and mostly still are. But today, there are some occasional flashes of brilliance, like a Malayalam movie going over to the other extent with the story of a brave girl who dismembers the guy who cheats on her. But still, most Bollywood and south films still stubbornly refuses to let go of sermonizing and plastic picture-perfect advertisement movies and sickeing masala-hero flicks filled with testosterone with little substance in them. Even the latest release, Cocktail, pontificates that it is the praying-salwar-wearing-non-drinking-homesick good girl who gets the guy and not the feisty independent hardworking chick. I mean, how much have we seen this stereotyping? And we blame our society of mistreating women! These movies tell us that women who are to be independent get it handed to them. And men still continue to believe it is their "right" to "punish" women, any women, who dare step outside imposed boundaries, which result in molestation, rape, murder and other violent crimes towards women. And it has nothing to do with dressing!

Popular culture like movies play a big role in shaping emerging societies, as it directly connects with the masses, especially in countries like India, where there are almost no others forms of affordable public entertainment available. The problem here is that 80% of movies are pure fantasy, and show all that Indian males are deprived of for long - inter-sex relationships, love, female anatomy and skin. And how to win over said things in fantastic and unrealistic ways. In more progressive societies, these films are labeled what they are: 'Fantasy'. But here, we package fantasy as reality and then feel surprised when people try to make those fantasies work in real life. In fact, I have always felt that boy-meets-girl is the only genre of films in India, serving staple doses of scantily clad women on the side. Is that all we need? Flicks like Vicky Donor are occasional flashes of brilliance. Rape, molestation and general intolerance towards women are all byproducts of Misogyny.

To grow up as a nation that will be really great, the first step is to grow up and respect human beings of all types and gender.  A tall order to ask for, when the first thing we ask when we hear news like this is "What was she wearing?" We justify the criminal if the other side is a woman. I am sure that a large majority of men firmly believe that the place for women is in the kitchen and should not interfere or raise their voice in any matter that will infringe on the ego of the man. It is not easy, and merely changing movie scripts won't do this. What we need is a total overhaul of everything. Along with education and ruthless enforcement of the law. Hard to happen. Shame on us! Glitzy malls, Volvo buses and something someone did 5000 years ago do not make us as a people and country "great" today. We should all rather hang our heads in shame given all the "punishment" we mete out at girls and woman from the womb to the grave. Will at least that happen? Not probable.

P.S.: This post was written in a specific context about one incident. Please feel free to replace "Bollywood" with the name of your regional film industry. All are the same only.

  • Kovai Sathish

    OUr society is F***ed up so badly by this cinema industry. Why did u forget to mention the consumerism bollywood promotes like anything? i mean look at our youths, they bother only abt bollywood, fashion and leisure… they are wannabe heroes and heroines in real life. And our media….. Oh no, bollywood seems better…

    • Thanks for the comment Satish. I was thinking of it, but if I had to include that, this would become too long! I am actually working on a separate post for that… Yeah, it is sad that all people want to become is like movie stars, and those people themselves give bad examples. Great people among them like Rajni are very rare.

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