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I Rewatched My Old Bollywood Favourites, And The Queer Feminist In Me Can’t Even

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By Rohini Banerjee for Cake:

Bollywood—to some it’s entertainment, to some it’s abhorrent, but to some, it’s an integral part of life; and I unabashedly admit that I fall in the last category.

I grew up on Hindi cinema and keenly lapped up all of it—the glorious absurdity of it all, the melodrama, the larger than life situations and the garish song-and-dance sequences. But along with all of this also came some harsh realities. Bollywood was, and continues to be mired in sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic stereotypes and has often played these off in the name of either ‘romance’ or ‘comedy’. When I was younger, I was blind to these stereotypes and even thought that they were normal (because popular culture is that influential) so now, as someone who’s not only a feminist, but also queer, when I go back and watch all of the films I used to love as a kid, I am often horrified at the kind of beliefs they stand for. The past week was a particularly conflicted one, because I took it upon myself to rewatch not just some of my favourite 90s and 00s classics but also some of the more contemporary films that I had enjoyed on the first watch. Needless to say, I had a lot of feelings, and not all of them were good ones.

DDLJ: When I Realised Raj Is A Massive Douche

There was actually a time when I used to find this film romantic, and used to actually think that Raj and Simran’s relationship was romantic. But Lord, was I wrong.

During my rewatch I realised what an actual creep Raj was—he pretty much stalks and coerces Simran to pay attention to him and then actually treats her horribly. But shit truly hits the fan when Raj makes an extended rape joke. Yep, I’m not kidding. Remember that scene where Simran wakes up with no memory of what happened the previous night and Raj (like the fuckboy he is) tricks her into thinking that he’d had sex with her and then laughs it off? He was casually talking about date rape, about breaching her consent while she was unconscious, and then turning it into a joke, leaving Simran to panic and freak out. The film completely glosses this over, and then has the audacity to say “bade bade shehron mein aisi choti choti baatein hoti rehti hain”? What the actual f***, Bollywood.

amrish puri giphy (1)

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai: Bollywood’s Idea Of Femininity Is Frustrating AF

Like many fellow 90s kids, I was thoroughly inspired by Anjali’s hairband-and-basketball aesthetic from this film, and during the rewatch, I realised that I still totally dig how she kicked Rahul’s ass at a largely male-dominated sport and wore sweatshirts and baggy pants with élan. But sadly, the film is frustratingly unfair to this character (who could have been potentially feminist) and all of my childhood hero-worship came to a dramatic end when I saw how she was ultimately co-opted into the traditional idea of ‘femininity’. During the first half, she is constantly told that by being ‘tomboyish’ she wasn’t ‘desirable’ to men, and that turns out to be disturbingly true because Rahul actually realises his so-called undying love for her only once he sees her with long hair, in a saree and actually doing pooja and singing a bhajan.

Thanks but no thanks Bollywood, for telling us that you can only get the guy when you’re not just ‘feminine’ but also sanskaari and susheel.

kajol kuch kuch hota hai giphy (1)

Mujhse Dosti Karoge: Literally Too Much Colourism For Me To Handle

It is truly unfathomable how I actually liked this film once upon a time. Not only did it have the cheesiest dialogues and most ridiculous premise, but during my rewatch, I also realised that it is pretty much drowning in colourism. That scene where Hrithik Roshan returns from London and is immediately attracted to the fair-skinned Kareena Kapoor frustrates me to no end because he doesn’t even bother to learn anything about her personality or try to get to know her as a person. He’s fixated on her appearance, and ignores Rani Mukherjee entirely because she is ‘dark-skinned’—which of course means that she isn’t ‘beautiful’ enough to be his dream girl. Oh, and let us not forget how the film actually has a song which translates to ‘Dark-skinned girl’. Excuse me while I go barf.

mujhse dosti karoge giphy (1)

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi: Get Lost, Mr. Nice Guy

This film was never a plausible one from the logic side of things (but hey, this is Bollywood, who cares about logic?), but one thing I had always remembered liking about it was it’s endearing male protagonist—the bespectacled and bumbling Surinder Suri. But during my rewatch, I realised that he’s the farthest thing from ‘endearing’.

In the first ten minutes itself, Taani (the female protagonist) has been emotionally manipulated by her dying dad into marrying this guy, and it is entirely understandable that she wouldn’t suddenly be lovey dovey with him because hello, she’s just lost her ex-fiancee and her only parent on the very same day and is obviously in mourning. But does Suri care about any of that? Nuh-uh. All he wants is to have her to fall  for him and is constantly lamenting the fact that he’s been “friendzoned” (or more like arranged-marriage-zoned).

After this the plot pretty much revolves around his grand (and bullshit) quest to win her love, and throughout, he continues to pay little to no respect to what she actually wants. Umm, why is this film asking us to sympathize with this character again?

rab ne bana di jodi giphy (1)

Student Of The Year: Can We Stop With The Heteronormativity, Please?

To be honest, this movie has the stupidest premise, but I happened to enjoy it the first time because it still ended up being entertaining. Like many Karan Johar films, it had a whole host of problems, but during the rewatch I realised that the biggest one was its forced heterosexuality.

The story arc of the two male leads is oddly reminiscent of an usual Bollywood courtship—they come from different class backgrounds, start off enemies, then due to certain circumstances become friends, and even take each other to meet their respective families (which, by the way, neither of them do with their supposed female ‘love interest’). Literally every scene in which these two are together is underscored with homoeroticism and they share more hugs between them than they do with the girl they’re supposed to be in love with. But in the end, their relationship is made into nothing but brotherly and platonic. Okay then. Sounds fake, but okay.

K3G: aka The Most Patriarchal Fam Alive

Oh, how I love rewatching this film every Sunday when it comes on Star Gold. And every time I see it, I find new and improved reasons which make me realise how amazingly sexist it was.

While the film claimed that it was all about ‘loving our parents’, it turned out that the parents in question were a regressive douchebag of a father and an emotionally abused and suppressed mother. That scene where Jaya Bachhan is trying to make a case for love marriages and giving children the choice to pick their partner and is immediately silenced by Amitabh with an extremely messed up ‘keh diya, toh bas keh diya’ makes me go WTF every single time. He pretty much treats her like shit throughout the film and continues to shut her down whenever she tries to express an opinion that differs from his. Oh, and he also makes her stand up on a stool to knot his tie instead of bending down to make it easier for her. This is the kind of family we’re supposed to idealise? Slow claps to you, Karan Johar.

k3g giphy (1)


While all of these films now make me actually re-evaluate my life choices and feel like my childhood has been a lie, all is not bleak when it comes to Bollywood. I still love Hindi cinema, and in fact, there are a whole host of recent films with great gender and sexuality representation (from “Queen” to “Kapoor And Sons”) which actually reaffirm my faith in it. But there’s no doubt that the harmful tropes continue to exist in our popular culture and is furthered when films like the above become popular or become cult classics. You need to get your shit together Bollywood, and you better do it sooner rather than later.

This article was originally published here on Cake

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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