Bollywood has been entertaining us for centuries with beautifully composed songs describing every inch of a woman’s body. The similes that account for the heavenly beauty of the woman range from the spotless moon (chaudhavi ka chaand) and rose petals ( khilta gualaab) to a chicken leg (tandoori murgi) and Ajanta sculpture (Ajanta ki moorat).
While some of these are outright smutty and indecent, there are few others which rightfully convey the literary prowess of the songwriter, where the woman is not portrayed as a lifeless showpiece but as someone with unmatchable beauty. The number of such songs where a woman is not objectified is, however, quite less. Beauty, like they say, is not just meant for a woman’s physical features exclusively but can be applied to all gender strata.
Bollywood, unfortunately, has failed to grasp this simple idea and there are a zillion of songs celebrating women beauty only. There is a sheer rarity of songs in Bollywood where a woman is describing the beauty of her beloved, without thinking of any future marital prospect; where she is singing about the attractive attributes of the person without sounding like a hopeless damsel in distress. The songs are only about her indescribable sadness for not being able to meet the one she loves or about how happy/ lucky she is to find such a suitable partner for her.
Women in Bollywood are either seen waiting restlessly for an unidentified human (mere khwaabo mei jo aaye) or wailing helplessly for her long lost love to come back (mohe bhul gaye saawariya). The content of such songs more or less revolves around the woman’s sorrowful situation. Moreover, the few that do talk about a man’s beauty, are only about the personality traits known to all which adds to their masochism (e.g- Ude jab jab zulfe teri, kawaariyon ka dil machle or soldier soldier meethi baate bolkar). Some of these also have the woman reciprocating the praise that she receives from her lover, (e.g- aap se bhi khoobsurat aapke andaaz hain) but then again she is shown as a subordinate to the man who just wants to sacrifice herself to him (e.g- aapki nazron ne samjha, pyaar ke kaabil hume).
While the storyline is the major reason behind this parity, where a woman is just a visual treat to a man (and not the other way around), the patriarchal structure of the society also has a big role to play in creating this inequality. These socially constructed values are reflected in films where only the hero of the story gets to ‘see’ the heroine and she, on the other hand, only keeps fluttering her eyelashes and shying away from him.
This manifests from the whole idea that ‘beauty’ is something which is associated with women (not men) because she stands at the receiving end of the male gaze. In other words, only the man can rightfully see, touch, feel, love and praise the woman (or his beloved) but a woman is only supposed to wail for him and act as a non-existing counterpart.
The male gaze is not just attributed to the male character in the story or the audience who watch the film but also, arguably to the male lyricists who tend to satiate their voyeuristic desires by describing the woman like the way they do. Most of the indecent lyrics are written by male writers who don’t refrain from making an unrealistic comparison to a woman’s different body parts. All the item songs are evident of this voyeurism.
The only way to resolve this injustice is by allowing more women lyricists in the directorial and literary sphere of the film industry so that the woman’s character in the film gets the right voice and words to express her love or ‘desire’ through non-extremist behaviours.
Interestingly, all the popular lyricists and music directors we know, are male (like Amitabh Bhattachrya, Gulzar, Jaaved Akhtar, Nilesh Mishra) and there is not a single popular women music lyricist or even music director in the contemporary times. The wailing women characters in the films can get to sing songs of their choice only when the women songwriters get to show their talent in the mainstream cinema unless they also begin to objectify men in the process.