Can Bollywood Songs & Lyrics Be Dismissed As Mere Tokens Of Entertainment?

Posted on December 1, 2010 in Media

By Ipshita Mitra:

I have often found myself humming tunes of songs which if scrutinised vis-a-vis their lyrics often turn out to be disturbing in terms of the disparaging remarks against women. The songs that I am referring to here do not lack in their mellifluous quality, rhythm, tune or the tonal texture of the singers concerned, but their lyrics definitely leave me somewhat disconcerted.

In the present scenario, the concerns of grand star-cast, prominent and well-established singers and music directors, a paced -up tune to enthrall the audience–especially youth– determine the overall impact and the consequent popularity of a particular song. An arranged set of lyrics on the other hand becomes a marginal feature in the entire set-up. People are hardly aware of the names of lyricists responsible for creating some of the beautiful songs in the industry.

Now coming back to my original point, my problem with the lyrics in case of some of the major hit Bollywood songs is that they perpetuate a rather distorted picture of women and sexuality. I have felt that whenever a song has a woman as its subject, the major concerns of the song revolve around sexuality, domesticity and marriage. The patriarchal ideologies that situate women within the confines of the private space of love and sexuality get reinstated in the songs which as a result fail to perceive a woman beyond physical “feminine beauty” and sexual behaviour.

The famous title song from the film “Kabhi Kabhi” almost fragments the anatomy of the woman protagonist in question, for an apparently overall “glorification” of feminine beauty. This is problematic and should be placed in a different light altogether. The lines that I wish to discuss are as follows:

ke ye badan ye nigahein meri amaanat hai…

kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai…

ki jaise tujhko banaya gaya hai mere liye….”

Without challenging the aesthetics of the composition, the above lines however do suggest the woman to be a legitimate “property” of her lover beneath the pretence of eulogising feminine beauty. Sexual love is construed in a manner that it is always the man who is invested with a power to “own”  a woman like any other “material property” leading to a licensed objectification of women… An extremely dehumanising practice! Why should women be defined only by “male gaze” and denied an individuality of their own?

One of the recent numbers that has almost set my consciousness to fire is the title track of “Kambaqht Ishq” and the most contentious lines of the song are: “…main deewana hoon kacchi kaliyon ka…” That ludicrously turns women into sexual bodies available to men for consumption and sexual gratification.

Why it is that sexual excessiveness is natural in men but becomes a sign of outrageous and aberrant behaviour when a woman is sexually explicit. Indian society has always attached discomfort with sexually active “bold” women, for apparently women should not be exposed to “indecent” behaviour but should be conditioned into tenets of submissiveness and docility. Such ridiculous and foundation-less arguments only cater towards relegating women into a realm of passivity. The parameters differ while analysing the sexual behaviour of men and women that give an undue privilege to men and often sanctions abusive forms of sexual behaviour inflicted on women by them.

The woman however is made to realise that her only vocation is to procure a husband, reproduce children to strengthen patriarchal lineage, cultivate the prescribed notions of self-sacrifice, nurture and motherhood and thereby find meaning in life. This is the only social function that she is allowed to perform within the strictures and codes governing femininity.

Songs like “doli sajaa ke rakhna” from “dilwaale dulhaniya le jayenge” and “doli mein bithake” from the Ranbir Kapoor starrer “Saawariya” contribute toward establishing the over-arching importance of marriage in a woman’s life.  The realm of marital bliss is not the only governing factor that shapes a woman’s life and gives her social distinction.  The Indian patriarchal mentality and the Bollywood industry should sooner or later come to realise that women are not what men perceive them to be. Women are capable to build identities of their own without patriarchal support and are able to govern their lives on their own terms and condition.

It is about time that women be recuperated from the dominant and parochial patriarchal perception as just sexual beings, intellectually inferior and vulnerable at the hands of male domination; and be treated on an equal footing with men on all fronts in terms of politics, workplace, social circuit and sexuality. As a humble request, I would urge the talented lyricists of the contemporary period to render a fair projection of women in songs with a move beyond the norms and conformities of gender hierarchy.

Films and songs are not restricted to being symbols of entertainment alone but are tools of social conditioning which should not fall prey to distorted forms of reality.

The writer is a Journalism student at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication.