Even before Bollywood as we know came into its existence, the role of women in mainstream cinema was divided into three major categories. A sister who will eventually be killed or raped, triggering her brother aka the hero to take revenge. A mother, preferably blind who will either lose her children or husband and get kidnapped by the villain triggering the hero to take the ‘law in his own hands’ and last but definitely not the least – the worst – the heroine who appears only in songs, preferably is the daughter of the villain, tied between a lecherous guy (daddy ki pasand) and the hero (daddy ka dushman), also has a high chance of getting kidnapped, and guess what?! Yes, you got it right – the kidnapping triggers our hero to fight.
One can hope that there are more layered female characters but there aren’t any. God forbid there are films which talk more or less about a woman’s perspective (that too about how she loves her husband but he is good for nothing or cheating on her), these films barely grab the limelight. Remember the 1993 movie Damini, about a rape survivor? The lead female character goes back to her husband, who was proudly vilifying her until the last 15 minutes of the movie. A major chunk of society still believes that the hero of the film was not Damini, or the woman who survived the heinous crime but the husband who ‘took her back’ and the lawyer who fought her case.
Post-1990s Bollywood had comparatively fewer ‘triggered heroes’ because they were busy being a creep and the guy who had to somehow win ‘his girl’ from her family and the society. The lack of agency of women in our cinema or whatever was left of it was murdered the day we sang along with Aishwarya Rai, consoling her brother Shah Rukh Khan to “hothon pe na, dil mein na hoenga” (a poetic way of saying no means yes).
Ironically, it took her the entire second half of the film to convince her brother about her own boyfriend. Told you, girls cannot make a decision or they will end up kicked out of the script. Good films with strong female characters were released, but just like in reality, these reel depictions were ignored and God forbid, if they show a woman to have a mind of her own, then they’d be categorised as not ‘family-friendly.’
Most of us would outright block people for messaging “Hi… will u fraandship me??” on Facebook or Instagram. Well, half of our Bollywood playlist sends out the same message by creepy heroes just saying it better with Javed Akhtar and Sahir Ludhianvi’s words. Do you really think you would be okay if you were visually impaired, and a random tourist guide (spoiler alert: who is also a terrorist. But it’s alright, you don’t know that.) sings “chand sifarish jo karta humari, deta wo tumko bata, sharam-o-haya ke parde giraake karni hai humko khata” (if the moon were to recommend me, it would tell you how I’d like to drop all decency and cross a line). If only you knew what this “khata” (transgression) means.
The heroine did kill the terrorist in this film and finally, we have strong-headed women who have a mind of their own. I was shocked to see people blaming Safeena (from Gully Boy) and Zoya (from Raanjhanaa) for being headstrong individual women who know the difference between right and wrong and act accordingly. Whereas, Kabir Singh fails to handle even a break-up. Just so you remember, your hero cheated on Safeena and Zoya lived all her life, running from a stalker, who was apparently your hero.
Kabir Singh couldn’t handle a ‘no’ and even five-year-olds today don’t carry that level of entitlement. You don’t own people, and if you want people to think you are an amazing person who loved ‘his girl’ to the point of self-destruction; you also kind of ruined your friend’s life who had to babysit you, hampered your family and their reputation. It is high time for Hindi cinema heroes to realise that the world doesn’t revolve around them and the background music, even with meaningful lyrics, doesn’t get you empathy.
I am glad that after a century of Hindi cinema, the audience is at least able to tell what is wrong with such films and in cases like that of Kabir Singh, call out the wrongdoers. Maybe, it is important for such films to release to provoke the audience to question the narrative. I know there are people who might support these characters and of course, the box office collections and biased reviews are a proof to it, but there is also hope with that sect which called out the film and graciously defended why we need to bring a change.
I have not talked about any discourse or isms, just some facts about popular cinema. This is entirely my own opinion, so you can definitely call me out if you disagree, but I just felt I had to say this. I am a huge Bollywood fan and the songs I have talked about are still the ones I frequently listen to but that’s just me settling down with the knowledge that what’s done is done and tomorrow, there will be something with equally good music but less cringe-worthy words. Peace out.