Consent is a topic rarely discussed.
Bollywood movies continue to entertain us, however, many of these movies have problematic tropes that are often overlooked.
There are several problems that are deeply normalised and often romanticised in Bollywood movie culture.
For instance, many older movies feature misogynistic attitudes, issues of consent and blatant sexism.
Generations have therefore grown up learning these problematic attitudes from Bollywood movies.
DESIblitz looks at some of the most problematic movie moments in Bollywood cinema and scenes which could benefit from a modern revival.
Whilst arranged marriages are a common practice in Desi culture, presenting arranged marriages as a part of business relations can be highly problematic.
Many Bollywood movies feature arranged marriages as a common practice in securing good business relations and reputations between families.
Although some movies like Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008) show there is value and eventual love in arranged marriages, movies like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) depict a negative outlook.
In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) is forced by her father to marry Vanraj (Ajay Devgan) even though she is already in love with Sameer (Salman Khan).
This movie perpetuates problematic expectations of marriage, especially for young viewers who may grow up believing marriage is a business arrangement and nothing more.
It also infers that arranged marriages always involve a love triangle when in fact this is only a movie depiction.
Whilst there is a consensus that stalking is problematic, Bollywood movies do not depict it this way.
The Bollywood movie Raanjhanaa (2013), featuring Sonam Kapoor and Dhanush, glorifies and romanticises stalking.
The film revolves around the unsettling persistence of Kundan (Dhanush) as he tries to woo Zoya (Sonam).
There is a weird sense of entitlement shown by Kundan as if Zoya owes him a date for him being persistent, however, this is not endearing
Instead of showing stalking as harassment, it is shown as an act of love which is highly problematic as it is an act that people can be arrested for.
Cross-Dressing & Homosexual Relationships
Bollywood films like Dostana (2008) exploit homosexuality by having two men pretending to be a couple throughout the movie to get closer to women and get themselves an apartment.
Instead of accurately representing the LGTBQ+ community, the film revolves around making a joke about gay people by presenting homosexuality as a long-running joke.
Directors have continued to make a mockery of homosexuality before films like Dostana, with the example of blatant homophobia being shown in Kal Ho Naa Ho.
Movies like Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003) present homophobia in a comedic way with the character of Kantaben constantly being uncomfortable at the thought of two men together.
Bollywood films like these miss the mark of normalising homosexuality and instead exploit it for laughs in the cinema.
Disregard for Consent
A highly problematic trope common across several Bollywood movies is the disregard to ask for consent regarding sexual or intimate moments.
In several Bollywood films, consent is a topic rarely discussed.
For example, in movies like Housefull 4 (2019) and Kambakatt Ishq (2009), women are forcibly kissed.
In the movie Kambakkht Ishq, Viraj (Akshay Kumar), abruptly interrupts Simrita (Kareena Kapoor), midway through a speech by forcibly grabbing her head and kissing her.
Viraj does not ask for consent to kiss Simrita but does so anyway and in an aggressive manner.
Scenes like this are problematic and can make viewers uncomfortable but also give them the wrong ideas about how and when to show affection.
Changing your Appearance
Bollywood movies are known to be problematic when it comes to their depiction of women but they are especially so when it comes to appearances.
In an age where self-acceptance is a priority, movies that send this message can be damaging to people who shouldn’t have to feel that their looks have a bearing on love.
Movies like Main Hoon Na (2004) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) show that the main heroines are only desired by men when they change their appearance to meet Asian beauty standards.
Sanjana’s makeover in Main Hoon Na from curly hair and her unique grunge style to a straight-haired, traditional, ‘sanskaari’ look transforms her into someone she isn’t.
These movies adhere to problematic beauty standards which send the wrong message out to young girls who may be watching these movies and learning from their behaviours.
Misogyny has long since been a major issue in Bollywood culture, from the attitudes towards women portrayed in movies to the portrayal of them by male directors.
The Bollywood blockbuster, Pyaar Ka Punchnama (2011) is a key example of misogynist attitudes being problematic in Bollywood.
All women in this film were portrayed negatively as vamps and the attitudes towards them were clouded in misogyny and sexism.
One of the main characters, Rajat (Kartik Aaryan), embarks on a misogynistic monologue about women claiming:
“Problem? Problem yeh hai ki voh ladki hai (Problem? The problem is that she is a woman).”
What’s worse is how popular this misogynist rant has become with the YouTube clip of this scene having over 12 million views and several comments in agreement with the sexist views.
One comment said: “There’s more truth in these 5 minutes than there is in 5 years of university.”
Another netizen agreed with this saying: “Years will pass, but this dialogue will never be out of trend.”
Many Bollywood films adhere to stereotypical gender roles where the men work whilst the women are expected to stay at home, cook, clean and bear children.
The Bollywood hit movie, Hum Sath Sath Hai (1999) which features Salman Khan, Tabu, Saif Ali Khan and Karisma Kapoor, is a key example of this problematic presentation.
Whilst the women in this film are well-read, once they get married, they become nothing more than housewives and are only shown to be serving the men of the house.
There is a dialogue in this movie that presents women as nothing more than servile to men with Vinod (Saif Ali Khan) saying:
“Ab aadat daliye prem bhaiya, ab to lifelong inhe he aapko khilana pilana hai.”
This implies that Preeti (Sonali Bendre) has no other purpose in life but to serve Prem (Salman Khan).
NRI’s Vilified as Not Indian Enough
Bollywood films often vilify or depict non-resident Indians (NRI’s) as not Indian enough or too westernised.
However, this label is highly problematic and does not apply to many non-resident Indians who are just as Indian.
The movie, Namastey London (2007) features Katrina Kaif playing the free-willed non-resident Indian character of Jazz who is forced by her father to get married in a country she has never known.
The movie portrays Jazz as overly westernised and non-Indian because she doesn’t live there and vilifies her for wanting to make her own choices.
This is problematic as it sets out a standard that individuals must be born in India to be considered Indian, not considering that many NRIs remain intact with their culture even in the west.
Possessive and controlling behaviour should be considered problematic across society however certain Bollywood films have chosen to glorify this behaviour.
Kabir Singh (2019) is one movie which has sparked extreme controversy across Bollywood.
This movie romanticises and glorifies controlling and abusive behaviour in relationships making it appear as acts of love when this behaviour is volatile.
Throughout the film, Kabir Singh, played by Shahid Kapoor not only belittles his girlfriend but objectifies her and threatens her and any man who gets close to her goes to the extent of beating them up.
There are several other problematic aspects of this movie like lack of consent, the objectification of women and physical abuse that make it a difficult and demeaning movie to watch.
Colourism has been a problematic aspect of Desi culture already with individuals in the Desi community favouring lighter-skinned individuals over those with darker complexions.
The film, Vivah (2006) is a prime example of Bollywood’s colourist attitudes where the fair-skinned Poonam is favoured whereas her darker-complexioned cousin Rajni is mistreated throughout the movie.
Throughout the movie, Rajni is subjected to her mother and uncles’ constant criticism and comparison to her fair-skinned cousin Poonam.
There is even a scene which shows Rajni being plastered in talcum powder by her mother at a young age so she can appear fairer.
The attitudes and mistreatment of Rajni throughout this film send the wrong message to young Desi individuals who may grow to believe that having a darker complexion is a bad thing.
There is still a long way to go before progression is truly learnt from Bollywood.
Many of the problematic movies mentioned have been ones that people have grown up with meaning a process of unlearning certain values from them has to take place before one can progress.
The impact these movies have on individuals is vast as they can impact our everyday lives and the way we develop in the world.
This is why it is paramount that individuals begin to unlearn many of the problematic values and attitudes that certain Bollywood films have taught to adapt to the progressive world we live in.