Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
Hypermasculinity is a gender-based ideology of what it is to be a ‘man’. These stereotypical understanding of masculinity demand that men be physically strong, “head of the household”, emotionally as empty as one’s wallet during an unpaid internship, the sole breadwinner of the family, who “looks after his wife and children”, be tall, grow a beard and more of that noise.
But who decides what it is to be ‘manly’? Media in the form of scriptures, holy books to plays, film and porn do their absolute best to set ridiculously weird standards of what it is to be a man. And Bollywood swears by the traditions of its ancestors. Apart from propagating noticeably skewed perceptions around the gender discourse, it continues to cling to character tropes that appeal to the values of the caste- privileged Indian middle-class majority.
Although this classic toxic male has mutated over the years, it has never been replaced by fresh narratives of real people and real experiences. It’s not just oppressive to those who do not identify with this idea of being a ‘man’, but also harms those who’ve been conditioned into thinking that there is no other way to be!
Here are five Bollywood dialogues that are divided by time, united by their love for toxic males, along with their feminist rewritings aka what the dialogue is and what it really means.
1.“Mard ko dard nahi hota” ( A real man never experiences pain)
“Waise dard toh bohot hota hai lekin Pitaji ne kaha ki bottle it up like a man beta, toh main wohi kar raha hoon, aur apne bacchon ko bhi yehi sikhaunga!” ( I do experience a lot of pain, but my father advised me to bottle it up like a man. So that’s what i’m going to do and I’ll teach my kids to do the same!)
2.“Yeh kaisi shirt peheni hai, aur ladkiyon wali perfume laga rakhi hai. Tumhara naam Jay Mehra nahi, Gay Mehra hona chiye tha” ( What kind of shirt are you wearing, and you have put on women’s perfume too! Your name should’ve been Gay Mehra, not Jay Mehra)
(Movie: Prem Aggan)
“Aise kaise fashion ko de-gender kar doge? I have a baseless pre-conceived notion that a ‘manly man’ only wears blacks and greys, and tumne colourful suit pehen rakhi hai, so, therefore, you must be gay? Aur main lowkey jealous hun ki yeh shirt tum par better dikhti hai.” ( How dare you de-gender fashion this way? I have a baseless preconceived notion that a ‘manly man’ only wears blacks and greys, you are wearing a colorful suit, so therefore you must be gay? And I’m lowkey jealous that this shirt looks better on you than it looks on me.)
3.“Lucknow da kurta, Pathani salwar … tab lage mard, varna lage bekaar” ( A man only looks like a real man when he wears the Lucknawi Kurta and Pathani Salwar, else he looks bad)
(Movie: Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham)
“Who cares if you hate it and sets off dysphoria in you? You better throw out all the other clothes that you own that you actually find comfortable and make you feel like yourself! A real Mard’s masculinity must be so fragile it can be shattered by a V neck tee shirt.”
4.“Meri mardangi ke bare mein aap gaon ki kisi bhi ladki se pooch sakte ho … report achchi milegi” ( You can ask any woman in the village about my masculinity… you will definitely receive a good report)
(Movie: Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ramleela)
“What do you mean when you say that the presence and size of a penis does not determine how manly a man I am? How else will I prove that I am a man? Were all the girls in the village lying? I am truly devastated.”
5.”Tere liye kuch bh kar sakta hoon…Preeti….Agar tujh mein mere liye….vaisa Pagalpan hai….then you call me..otherwise, you know me” ( I can do anything for you Preeti… If you are as obsessively in love with me too, then you call me… otherwise you know me)
(Movie: Kabir Singh)
“Main tujhe unsafe feel karane ke liye koi bhi extent tak jaata sakta hun Preeti, because I am in love with you, and what is love without a little harassment, toxicity and abuse?” ( I can go to any extent to make you feel unsafe, Preeti, because I am in love with you, and what is love without a little harassment, toxicity and abuse?)
Is it though?
Realize that these dialogues are not “harmless” or “just a joke”- it is a toxic stereotype served to you in a platter, under the garb of a romantic hero or playful teasing in the apparently simple pursuit of comic relief.
But if you believe that a male character cannot live up to romantic and comic standards unless they stalk a woman, crack transphobic jokes and conform to norms of gendered fashion, you need to strongly evaluate your consumption choices as an audience that sells these movies out.
Every time you laugh at an “Ae Ladki Ki Tarah Kyun Rota Hai/Hasta/ Kapde Pehenta Hai Be” (Why are you crying/laughing/wearing clothes like a woman) joke, you directly contribute to making spaces exclusive and unsafe for people in your circles and outside.
Enjoying this toxic male trope says that a ‘manly man’ is superior because he is anything but a woman- he fends for his family, bears pain without flinching, in control of his emotions, cultured and authoritative, because apparently, these are things that a woman could never be. We need to stop glorifying this cool macho man that makes the streets unsafe for women, home unsafe for their sisters and creeps out his peers at college. Sexism and misogyny are not proud heirlooms that we must pass on from a generation to other as Bollywood legacy.
So, hey Bollywood, can we stop with this toxic and oppressive approach to what it is to be a man? After all, shouldn’t it be each man deciding for themselves how masculine they feel, instead of Rohit Shetty?