Bollywood has, for very long, been against women. Stories of women acting as damsels in distress are common, while the men become their entire lives. These women are often treated insensitively, mocked, body-shamed or simply objectified. Their characters don’t have an arc as such, they lack depth. Whereas the men get away with doing ~WILD ~ crap that is somehow treated as ‘cool’, ‘passionate’, ‘heroic’ even.
Be it stalking a woman and coercing her into giving in to a man’s desires, abuse, or rape, our heroes do it all. And are often applauded for it. A very recent example being the Shahid Kapoor starrer Kabir Singh, which is being called out for its blatant misogyny- but is this new? Considering Bollywood’s long-standing history of camouflaged misogyny and sexism.
1. Raanjhanaa (2013)
What’s the worst thing that could happen to a man? The girl he loves doesn’t love him back, of course. Sonam Kapoor starrer Raanjhanaa basically makes you want to fall in love with a character who knows no boundaries and glorifies stalking. He follows her around, stalking her rickshaw rides, eve-teasing her, threatening to kill himself if she doesn’t give him attention. Somehow all of this is made forgivable because “that’s how you woo a girl in UP”. Raanjhanaa was a classic example of the kind of negative impact such flawed portrayal of ‘love’ can have on people. The film lets you believe that it is okay to scare a girl into ‘loving’ you, which is questionable to say the least.
2. Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 (2011)
Women are only good for one thing - sex. If they stopped having sex with men, men would be happier. Yes, that’s exactly what BOTH parts of this extremely sexist film keep shoving in your face. And when you watch it with a bunch of men and see them hoot while Kartik Aaryan delivers his famous ‘speech’ , in which he calls out entire womankind for ill-treating men, you can’t help but sense the misogynistic hate the film propagates. All women characters in these two films are lying, manipulative, hateful people - and our poor men are suffering every day because they’ve to deal with ALL of that just so they can get laid. I mean, what is the point they’re trying to put across, if any?
3. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998)
Everyone’s favourite Rahul was a little bit of an AWFUL person, no? Shah Rukh Khan’s character in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is a womanizer who conveniently moves from one girl to another, ignoring his best friend because she doesn’t look the ideal part, then casually slips into ‘love’ when her appearance changes to more acceptable standards of beauty - long, cascading hair, draped in a sari, et al.
He also looks down at women by claiming that Anjali (Kajol) isn’t like “the rest of the girls”. To which Anjali replies that, in fact, she isn’t because “all women are stupid”. The principal of the college the students study in constantly walks around slut-shaming girls for wearing skirts, saying he will tell their parents that they’re trying to lure men with their appearances. The film has subtle sexism and misogyny sprinkled all through-out, and yet we managed to want a Rahul - simply because they made us believe he was perfect.
4. Tere Naam (2003)
Oh man, if this film didn’t give you goosebumps I don’t know what will. Salman in this film straight up harasses the girl, bullying and scaring her while the film tries to present it like some kind of passionate courtship. He follows her around campus, scares her on the daily, demands she bring him food while she meekly listens to everything he asks of her.
We know Bhai can get away with anything, but remember when every man in the country would walk around with the middle-part Salman hair? That was probably not the only thing they took from his character - and that is what is scary for the world today.
5. Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety (2018)
Mr. Luv Ranjan really doesn’t like women one bit. An ode to ‘Bros Before Hoes’ or some kind of ideology like that, this film got every broken-hearted boy feeling like a super hero, and every woman in his head was turned into a lying, deceptive villain. A war between the best friend and the bride. Who is the evil one, you ask? Take a WILD guess.
The fiancee is an evil, manipulative lady who pretends to be a sweet, soft-spoken angel in front of the boy, while fighting a very pointless fight with his best friend. Is there an explanation for her behaviour? Not really. At one point she explains how she will get her husband to have sex with her just so he can’t leave her later (as she will make it look like he lured her into it at the promise of marriage which would legally account to rape.) They basically road-roll over all cases of abuse, making women in the world look like heartless beasts who will do anything to prove a point.
6. Padmaavat (2018)
Why wouldn’t a woman walk into a gigantic fire to protect herself and her ‘usool’? While the film is a period drama, based on at least some fragments of known historical facts, what we must question is the blatant glorification of a legally abolished practice like Sati.
Something as barbaric as that, where women were made to sit on the funeral pyre of their husbands, is turned into a theatrical display of power and bravery. Carefully, the filmmakers sideline the realities of the lack of choice women had, and the actual pain and horrors of the practice. The music and grandeur behind the final scene isn’t just beautiful, it is almost...heroic in its portrayal of something SO patriarchal. The least the filmmakers could have done is make the scene sad. However, it simply looks like the final moment of heroic determination by our leading lady. As if it’s something they want to portray as inspirational for the audience.
7. Happy New Year (2014)
Happy New Year is a film that simply makes no sense overall, but what’s really maddening is the shallowness and sexism in the film. SRK keeps calling Deepika a prostitute because she dances. Not once, but over and over again. As if his sexism wasn’t nauseating enough, she keeps falling for him because he speaks in English and is ‘charming’. All of this is portrayed as something that is normal. What’s with Bollywood’s obsession with weak women characters? Why can’t we let our women, our leading ladies have some SELF RESPECT? And how are we letting such blatant sexist characters be the stars the filmmakers want to evolve as heroes during the course of the film?
8. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016)
And finally, the divine justice KJo lives for. If a girl can’t love the boy, she must get diagnosed with cancer and die. Throughout the film, charming Ranbir Kapoor keeps bugging the girl, refusing to take no for an answer, follows her around for years...but does the film end with that? Not till we see a bald Anushka Sharma dying, helpless, while Ranbir stands by. This becomes the closure the filmmakers provide to the audience for the unrequited love in the film - If she can’t love him, she should be dead.
. Read more on Bollywood by The Quint.RSS & BJP’s Nehru-Netaji ‘Cosplay’: Irony Dies a Thousand DeathsKabir Singh: Depiction Is Not Endorsement, But to What Extent? . Read more on Bollywood by The Quint.