For decades, the Hindi film industry has dished out romantic films replete with over-the-top gestures, fervent desire, passionate longing and undying yearning. Bollywood has a way of romanticizing cheesiness, sappiness and corniness. While this may be innocuous, there have been times when there has been a glamorization of creepiness. A quintessential romantic Bollywood trope is a boy-meets-girl story – the girl, initially uninterested, and/or full of disdain for the boy, is eventually won over through a relentless pursuit which involves serenading her, making incessant advances, following her around despite her visible discomfort and the like.
While on paper, these acts seem regressive and misogynistic, Bollywood normalizes them and even has viewers sighing and swooning over them. Makes one wonder why women are ceaselessly portrayed as unwitting lasses who get impressed by stalkers.
When replicated in real life however, it can be a harrowing and traumatizing experience for the girl. The machismo attached to pursuing a woman who refuses to reciprocate has ended up glorifying cat-calling and harassment. It has been perpetuating the endemic mistreatment of women and galvanizing misguided youths into opting for dangerous means like stalking to woo a girl. In fact, in 2015, a 32-year-old Indian male was acquitted by an Australian court, despite having stalked two women, when he said that male leads in Bollywood movies always got the women to say yes by doggedly chasing them. His lawyer reasserted that such an offence was ”normal behaviour” for most Indian men, heavily influenced by Bollywood heroes.
Although almost omnipresent, here are some of the most popular acts of pursuit in some of our films that may have sent out an objectionable message.
While it is true that Dhanush’s character turns over a new leaf eventually, it cannot be contested that he goes after Zoya (Sonam Kapoor), unabashedly, disregarding her unwillingness to reciprocate. If threatening to slit the girl’s wrist when rejected is not creepy, we don’t know what is.
Radhe (Salman Khan) is the archetypal arrogant stud of the college who gets any girl he decides he wants. Nirjara played by Bhoomika Chawla catches his fancy and he follows her around, stalks her and relentlessly harasses her throughout the film, till his character is driven to madness.
Ranbir Kapoor played the unrequited lover who refused to take no for an answer. The film tried to project his character as a ‘fallen angel with a devilish streak’, but look deeper and you realize that his non-stop pestering and following of Sakina (Sonam Kapoor), is not short of stalking.
Phata Poster Nikla Hero
The very popular Tu Mere Agal Bagal Hai from Phata Poster Nikla Hero legitimizes stalking by making a hummable, earworm of a song about a man’s right to stalk the woman of his choice, dubbing her rebuttals unnecessary and uptight.
The makers of R… Rajkumar decided that a man following a woman around, making kissing sounds around her, breaking-in into her room while she is changing and refusing to leave, was somehow endearing. In the real world it would not only be horrifying, it would also be infuriating and a criminal offence, we hope.
Passing off stalking and harassment as harmless fun or disarming charm had led to cultural commodification of women. It has misled many impressionable youngsters into committing crimes against women with impunity. Perhaps it is time Bollywood introspected and made some changes.