Known for its bone-chilling thrillers, heartwarming yet heartbreaking romances and action sagas that have you at the edge of your seat, it's no misconception that Bollywood is in a league of its own in terms of opulent glamour and enthralling entertainment. The impact of Bollywood has a salient effect on all of our lives, changing ideas, questioning controversial perspectives, and breaking the status quo. The whole dynamic that runs behind the success of Bollywood is its variety in genre, plot, costumes, sets, and songs, and the highly exaggerated yet still beloved extravagance of it all. One thing, however, that mostly stays the same in such movies, is the portrayal of women, or in better terms, the portrayal of the dumbed-down damsel in distress, insignificant to the plot, but extremely significant to satisfy the male gaze.
Bollywood cinema has a long history of misogyny, where women are reduced to showpieces that enhance the hero's appeal. Males are often introduced through action-dominated scenes or prestigious careers, while females are introduced based on their feminine and physical traits. Women's roles are frequently overly sexualized, and their bodies are subjected to immense objectification to satisfy the male gaze. Usually, as a prize, the hero wins over as a relief to the action-packed plot of the film. In Bollywood, women are primarily moms, spouses, girlfriends, or sex objects, while males typically control their behaviour and discussions. Even when young women are presented as independent and ambitious, they present complex love challenges for the men to court and win them.
However, simply degrading the lead actress's role by making her dance and sing in revealing clothes while men ogled and stared was not enough. Filmmakers needed to show more physically intimate scenes between the lead heroes, but due to the taboo nature of sex in India, more implicit cues alluding to sex were used, such as item songs indirectly relating to sex or heavy pictorial metaphors. And while this strategy worked for a while, during the rise of the internet, which provided direct resources for its consumers, filmmakers had to get innovative with their portrayal of sex, giving rise to the formulated trope of showing sex the ethically wrong way- through rape or sexual assault.
By including "sensual" sequences with the villain, filmmakers infused sex into the persona of the bad guy. Bollywood sold sex even when it wasn't necessary by making sex appear terrible, so the censor board could make an exemption.
So, naturally, there was a sudden rise in rape scenes in Bollywood cinema. Many of them were revenge rape scenes. Notable examples would include:
1. zakhmi aurat(1988), in which there was a 7-minute-long rape scene, aiming to satisfy men's pleasure in the domination of women, as the rapist had to use more and more power to counter her resistance, so greater was his reward
2. Mera Faisla (1981), in which Jaya Prada played Tony, who was seen abusing Nisha Dhawan while stealing money from her father. His character Jolly follows Aarti (Smita Patil) through the home in the 1986 film Angaarey before raping and viciously beating her.
3. Gunda (1998), in which Shanti plays the character Chuttiya who rapes someone else’s newly-wed bride to death.
4. Bhagawan(1993), where a woman is married off to the man who raped her to protect family honour. The film completely brands her experience or suffering as not relevant.
And while this tactic was successful in acquiring a majority of viewers and fans all over India, the problem with the sinful depiction of sex through harassment was focusing more and more on providing a sex outlet rather than addressing the severity of rape. A study conducted of movies including sexual violence scenes during the 90s showed 70% of those scenes held comedic value and nothing else, even if painted as a bad practice, just so they could be added for entertainment value.
Yes, sexual assault was shown by filmmakers as morally wrong, but the context of the problem was more about substituting explicit sex scenes with ones that were shown in retrospect, generally to highlight the hero's machismo and establish his rightful ownership of the victim. Extreme violence was also depicted to make rape scenes more exciting, whereas other rape scenes substituted for women teasing their lovers, portrayed in a comedic light.
Women are still glorified props in big-budget "mass entertainment," indicating testosterone still dominates the box office, despite the recent trend toward popular female-centric films like Queen, English Vinglish, and Kahaani. Because just 30% of Indians live in urban areas, the average moviegoer will find these movies mainly unrelatable. In India, Bollywood has a significant influence on influencing the attitudes and actions of our population. As a result, when they witness big-name actors acting in a way that seems stalkerish or borderline harassing, especially when the heroines respond favourably, it appears justifiable and a successful technique to woo women. The audience is given the notion that these strategies are practical and dependable ways to court women. By making this behaviour acceptable, rape and sexual assault are being accepted as more and more commonplace. Sexual objectification, slut shaming, victim blaming, and the general denial that sexism exists are all examples of rape culture. Bollywood frequently portrays all of the aforementioned elements as comedy or romance.
Samir Parikh, the director of mental health and behavioural sciences at fortis claims that” it is scientifically proven that watching aggression increases the tendency for aggression”.According to a survey by the Public Health Foundation of India, the rate of rape-related crimes in India increased 70.7 per cent over the past 20 years, from 11.6 per 100,000 women and girls in 2001 to 19.8 in 2018. The tactics employed to depict and subtly normalize acts of sexual harassment as loving have a significant influence on our generation, even though Bollywood is not directly to blame for normalizing Rape culture. This shows that the industry still has a long way to go.