Crimes of rape, gangrape, abuse and assault on women are being hotly debated on national TV, generally veering on three sets of opinions: That it’s made into a political issue, or it’s police inefficiency and, lastly, it’s the growing rowdy-ism problem in society. Rarely have I heard anyone talk about the practical angle of who’s fuelling it.
Clearly, the mechanical, ritualistic, repetitive item numbers from Bollywood films cannot look so innocent. Repetition of such permissiveness, analogous to the affordable, non-distinctive chowmein selling on urban street corners, makes it become permissible to society. Such a social entry of repetitive item numbers has every potential of resulting in dangerous misdemeanor. The impact audio-visual cinema and TV entertainment have on society is tremendous. Even in the silent film era, American FBI’s J Edgar Hoover managed to expel renowned creative filmmaker Charlie Chaplin for making The Great Dictator. Although the film made fun of Hitler, Hoover accused Chaplin of “anti-Americanism”, saying audio-visual communication can be construed as influential to society, whether the information was good, bad, right, wrong. So let’s not undermine the power of audio-visual media in influencing our billion-plus people. Simultaneously, I absolutely cannot support Hoover for banishing a genius like Chaplin whose creativity brought continuous newness in his every film.
I’m not against any form of liberty of creativity of a filmmaker, but we have to differentiate between originality of filmmaking and copycat repetitive versions that exploit women’s self-esteem. Sizzling item numbers are digital industrial reproductions; they have no romance and are accepted by society. Everyone watches them together unlike the hidden factor of pornography or B/C-grade films. Repetitive item numbers look alike in their lewd exposure of the frontal and backside of a woman’s torso. The uneducated, whether employed or unemployed, receive signals that these girls driving the men are beckoning them. Repetitive item numbers have purportedly become mandatory to catch the public’s eye, pull them into theatres, or dingy, sweat-smelling video shops in small towns and villages, or directly stream on to mobile phones of most of our 900 million users. Somehow, Helen’s cabaret numbers in days of yore would fit a storyline; today’s item numbers pop up with barely any provocation. In general, plenty of boys swivel around a single, generously-endowed girl, who shows off her oomph with every possible body-revealing movement she makes. Her steamy allure makes the boys go crazy because she’s the heroine, not a vamp like Helen.
Shouldn’t Bollywood actresses help society by putting a stop to the repetition of the vanilla they are made to perform? The Bollywood concept took birth with India’s economic reforms in 1991 when business doors flung open to foreigners. Liberalisation became an adrenaline rush for Indians living abroad as people started talking about possibilities in their motherland. That’s when Bollywood, the make-believe world of song and dance, co-opted the Indian diaspora. Sitting in the western world, “desi” children born abroad got a different taste from western society. They took Bollywood as folkloric effect with diverse entertainment of fantasy and exhilaration. Repetitive item numbers became a basic natural rhythmic ritual.
Take a look at some suggestive lines of popular Hindi songs: “Jungle mein aaj mangal karungi bhooke shero se khelungi mein (I will have fun today with hungry lions in the jungle)”, obviously insinuating “with desperate men” in the film Agneepath. Dabangg has words like, “Amiya se aam hui darling tere liye (I have grown from being little to big just for you).” Dabangg 2’s “Mein to tandoori murgi hoon yaar, gatkale saiyya alcohol se” talks of downing a tasty dish with a drink but means, “I’m really tempting, try me out”. In the film Tees Maar Khan, there’s a direct tease, “Sheila ki jawani, I am too sexy for you mein tere hath na aani (my fresh sensuality should not get into your desirous hands).” While the film Rowdy Rathore provokes with, “Pallu ke neeche chupa ke rakha hai utha du toh hungama ho (I have kept it hidden in the folds of my dress, people will go crazy if I reveal it).”
Such arousing audio-visual training makes uneducated young boys from tier III, tier II, urban to metros take it all very seriously; they feel they are allowed to join in. Time and frustration hang on their hands even as they watch skimpily-clad beautiful heroines ready for a collective session with the boys surrounding her. Of course, at the deep-rooted nadir of rape-reason is our cultural disrespect for women. It starts from favouring boys over girls at home. Boys in every strata of society grow up believing it’s their birthright to get what they want. They’ve observed that having power over others means nobody can touch them even if they’ve done something illegal. Rapists emerge when sudden opportunity makes them try to fructify power over others and win their birthright. We call it gangrape, but as boys, they just want to exactly become that Bollywood dancer’s pet.
It’s true the media is more prolific nowadays than earlier. They have seriously brought this subject of increasing rape and horrific gangrape to public attention. When you are educated, you take repetitive item numbers as pastime or entertainment, and then forget about it. Such heady stuff is made to attract the masses to jangle box-office collections. For them, melodious, gyrating girls are willingness personified because they are exhibiting their sexuality among a gaggle of men. They appear to be driving men as a group, the way they want to.
In conversation with young, educated, professional women, I discovered they’d never go for such films alone, and consider twice before wearing certain clothes. For an evening or night show, they ensure a male friend accompanies them. Rather than risk being the victim of gangrape, these young girls living away from home go with a gang of friends. If this is the city dweller’s plight, can you imagine the vulnerable situation for women in smaller towns or among uneducated people?
Shombit Sengupta is an international consultant to top management on differentiating business strategy with execution excellence