Bollywood is known for its great love stories: epitomized in the various romances acted out by Shahrukh Khan (DDLJ, Veer Zara, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Kal Ho Naa Ho, and so on). However, on the other side of the picture, there are the hero-oriented action thrillers that place women in a subordinate position and often spell out misogynistic ideology: presenting women in oppressed situations. This article will explore the portrayal of violence against women in such fiction pieces.
A prominent feature of these narratives is to abundantly employ ‘violence against women’ as a trope to further the hero’s journey to glory: emphasizing his valour, motivations, virtue, and ultimate victory. Some clear examples are Kaabil, starring Hrithik Roshan, and Tiger Shroff’s movie: Baaghi 2. The central episode in the former is the rape of the female protagonist, which becomes the fuel to drive the revenge plot of the hero. The heroine is conveniently killed off after the incident, and the focus solely shifts to the hero’s emotional response, his clever tactics, and his brave victory against the villains. Even the title highlights the hero’s virtue: if he’s worthy or not. The latter movie also kills off the heroine midway — in a similar fashion, through suicide — and the plot becomes a series of the hero’s action moves as he fights corrupt officials and rogue villains to bring justice to his dead beloved. Since the heroine was just a signifier to give purpose to the hero’s actions, she is quickly replaced by her daughter to bring fulfilment to the hero’s journey.
An article in The New Indian Express explains this missing importance of women in these narratives which are supposedly about violence against women: “Bollywood has presented rape as a relationship between men: if a woman is raped, it is the men of the family who are insulted because (they feel) they have been unable to ''protect'' the women of the family”. It is argued that women ultimately serve as the ‘conflict’ between the hero and the antagonist — the reason for their hatred. Furthermore, these acts of violence against women can have entertainment value: projecting a desirable ‘damsel-in-distress’ or, worse, providing titillation to men in the audience.
The long-established chastity myth in Bollywood cinema prompts the necessary killing-off of these violated women. Ananya Gosh explains this: “And suppose our hero is ever late and the heroine falls prey to the villain’s evil intentions, she is promptly killed because a rape survivor isn’t chaste enough to be with our hero”. These stories are not concerned with the woman’s psychological trauma or her pains, and it is necessary to kill them as they cannot be the ideal reward for the hero having lost their value (purity). These women have become socially and morally compromised — misfits in the final, untainted world of the hero.
Another problematic depiction of such violence is when it is glorified. One of the most glaring examples of this is Kabir Singh — the remake of the Telugu film Arjun Reddy. It is the blown-up representation of the eponymous figure, where despite his flaws, he is given a larger-than-life exalted presence. The movie uncritically portrays the hero, Kabir Singh, mentally and physically abusing his love interest. The director, Sandeep Reddy Vanga, justifies this: “When you are deeply in love and connected to a woman (and vice versa), if you don’t have the liberty of slapping each other, then I don’t see anything there”. Violence gets reinterpreted as passion, and toxic masculinity is coded as the ideal lover in the film.
Padmaavat, another large-scale production, concludes with an image of hundreds of women willingly embracing self-immolation, or ‘Jauhar.’ Despite the movie’s tokenistic disclaimer that it does not glorify this act, the film ends up praising this as the assertion of Rajput women’s virtue and bravery. Instead of producing a feeling of horror that women are left with no choice but to either surrender to male violence or commit suicide, the movie portrays this act as an awe-inspiring spectacle. Its main aim is to instil feelings of pride and reverence for the women involved, which somewhat undermines the possibility of criticizing the socio-political condition of women at that time.
Finally, it would be erroneous to suggest that there haven’t been sensitive portrayals of violence against women in Bollywood. Many such depictions have proved to be fertile grounds for female intervention: Pink, English Vinglish, Mom, and so on. One of the most notable instances of this is Thappad. The movie attempts to demystify the instances of violence within a marriage. It validates women’s respect and safety over the notions of familial reputation and wifely forbearance. Other commendable representations are movies like Chhapaak and Article 15, which deal with the more significant social and systemic implications of the violence committed against women.
These nuanced portrayals are necessary as they not only uncover the sad realities of many cases of gendered violence but also refrain from reducing women to helpless victims. They might not always be realistic, but they are motivational in presenting solid female protagonists struggling against socio-political, legal, and discursive structures of patriarchy. They are starkly different from those regressive depictions which either exploit women’s victimhood to boost the male ego or romanticize gendered violence.
Edited by Whitney Edna Ibe
Share This Post On
Leave a comment
You need to login to leave a comment. Log-in