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!
Bollywood has probably been a part of nearly every Indian millennial’s childhood, with our TVs and bedroom posters filled with iconic characters who we idolized and cherished. However, as one grows older, a lot of the sexist and misogynistic underpinnings that anchor Bollywood and its storytelling begin to show on rewatchings of childhood and teenage favourites. Here are X Bollywood characters whose misogyny you might not have noticed when you were younger:
Shah Rukh Khan’s Aman, the dying romantic hero has a very problematic and hetero-patriarchal idea towards women. His “formula” of “6 Din, Ladki In ( getting the girl in 6 days)” is cringe-worthy now, to say the least. It becomes harder to root for this protagonist once you realize how he objectifies and manipulates his “love interest” using a formula. Who cares if Naina was a smart, successful woman in her own right when men like Aman can view them as sexual conquests.
How can we make this list without this trash pile of rehashed old patriarchal and misogynistic garbage? Shahid Kapoor’s Kabir Singh character is the model example of how you should not treat your partner. From possessive behavior to abuse, this movie has it all, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I envy you.
Cocktail used to be a favorite of mine when it came out, and while the misogyny isn’t apparent here, further rewatchings made me realize something. Gautam spent the entire movie involved with Veronica, the more outward and “un-sanskaari”, but when it came to marriage, he chose Meera. He caused emotional anguish to both women, and the movie holds up this idea of which woman is sanskaari and fit for marriage. Think of the entire “Girl to bring home to my parents” trope.
This classic of Bollywood, which is still revered by many, has many sexist undertones around the control of women’s bodies and the normalization of stalking. One of the first scenes of the movie shows Veeru (played by Dharmendra) and Jaidev (Amitabh Bacchan), casually stalking a woman carrying an earthen pot, with both the men arguing over her. The movie’s climax where Veeru orders Basanti not to dance in front of the dacoits. What makes this bizarre is that he who took offence to this later consents to it too. The idea of a woman’s agency is absolutely missing in this movie, with the heroine taking constant harassment until the hero can save her.
The only true love story in Bollywood seems to be the industry and its obsession with stalking. Salman Khan’s Radhe is a college dropout obsessed over a girl who is not interested in him, and is similar to Kabir Singh in many ways except Radhe doesn’t get the girl. The film ends with Radhe in a mental asylum. The worst part is that Salman Khan and Satish Kaushik knew the movie could send the wrong message, but they went ahead with it because they knew it would be a hit. (Don’t we all love capitalism!)
Varun Dhawan in Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Akshay Kumar in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, and Ranbir Kapoor in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil all have one similarity. They don’t give any importance to a woman’s ‘no’, with these movies showing all these characters continuously stalking, “serenading”, and proposing their love to the heroine even after they have declined several times. One of the most disturbing sequences comes from a song in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, which shows Akshay Kumar following a distressed Bhumi Padnekar on a bike and clicking her pictures.
Someone please sit Bollywood scriptwriters and directors down and give them a Dummy’s Guide To Consent.
Please make him stop, please just make him stop.