In this article, Archana Warrier discusses Sexual harassment in Bollywood movies.
Sexual harassment as a topic has recently been garnering a lot of attention especially as movies come out in Bollywood that draw attention to it. But sexual harassment isn’t as clear cut or as obvious as the movies, TV series or even community gossip would have us believe and are so ingrained in the silver screens that most of us wouldn’t even call it sexual harassment, just an ‘elongated courtship’ or even the girl playing ‘hard-to-get’.
With the idea of sexual harassment so ingrained in our society, perhaps it’s time to revisit Bollywood and see exactly how much of the amusing or even ‘cute’ courting scenes actually fall between the murky lines of sexual harassment and actual courtship. Here are five movies or scenes that you might not consider sexual harassment, but actually…it sort of is.
Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge
This scene is an iconic scene from an equally iconic movie. But it also shows the casualness with which sexual harassment can be considered in many movies. Raj- and many audience members consider it to be a funny joke when he keeps approaching Simran despite her obvious lack of interest, and later on how uncomfortable she is. This is actually a form of harassment. If someone is clearly showing signs of not being open to approach or interested in it, then the continued approach- be it of a romantic or a sexual nature- is a form of harassment no matter what Bollywood says. In fact, invasion of personal space is actively considered as a form of sexual harassment that women can face. And to those of you saying that this is a thing of the past…fear not its presence can still be felt. Movies even today show situations wherein a boy invades a girl’s personal space be it to give her unwanted hugs or advice or even to kiss her to shut her up when she is upset, these all constitute of moments of harassment especially if the girl has not consented to such acts beforehand or given permission to the guy to touch her in any way shape or form. While in DDLJ, Raj does none of the above, lying on her lap and leaning on her shoulders are both forms of invasion of personal space that should be noted.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
Another classic that makes the list this movie is here for a different reason. The opening scene with Tina walking down the corridor of her college both before and after she meets up with Anjali as well as the scene in which the Rahul and the boys crowd around her asking to prove her ‘Indianness’ does constitute as a form of harassment. Why? Because the environment created around Tina is hostile towards her and is explicitly so because of her ‘sexual’ presence. The girls are teasing her for her seeming physical sexuality that comes with the way she walks and how she dresses which is clearly making her uncomfortable. By asking Anjali why they are behaving the way they are, Tina shows an open discomfort with the way her fellow students treat her as a sexual being rather than another peer. When Raj and his boys confront her in the open space with the demand that she sing to show that she belongs, the act in itself is not sexual but it is creating a hostile environment for her should she choose not to comply and that is a form of harassment. That Tina surprises everyone by being a sanskari desi girl despite her upbringing (and her style of dressing) shows that a girl can only be awarded respect if she is able to prove exactly how she fits with the model of a typical good desi girl. And despite what movies say even to this date- that is not how society works.
Main Tera Hero
That this movie is on the list should honestly be no surprise. The main character’s ‘tagline’ so to speak is literally “main diktha hoon sweet innocent swami type but mein hoon harami type” (lit: I look like the sweet and innocent type but I am a bastard). The meeting of the main lead and the heroine has her following despite her multiple rejections and when I say following I mean that exactly. This boy shows up where ever she goes with his propositions…even her house. She shows all the signs of not being interested and not wanting to actually engage with him. When he shows up at her night- unannounced might I add- he shows all the behaviour that would technically account for stalking. And the reason this particular bit falls under sexual harassment would be the fact that the entire ‘wooing’ song Palat is focused on getting her attention through making sexually coloured remarks. This is, of course, ignoring the problem that is Angad and his (unwelcome) advances with both implicit and explicit threats that follow them. While Shinu is much more covert, his actions still constitute as a form of sexual harassment because he is taking away her choice of whether or not she actually wishes to be with him especially since she makes it clear when she doesn’t show up for the coffee date that he asked her to come to when he came into her room at night.
The movie is no question about it using women in the most objectified way possible. They are there to add flair, or a little bit of masala and not much more for all three movies in this franchise. But in this particular movie and in this particular scene, what you see is sexual harassment. Aaliya is under the impression that she is working for the charming and magnetic leader of the circus played by Samir but she is completely unaware of Samar’s existence. The entire song sequence Tu Hi Junoon shows Samar following Aaliya to her place of residence and work without her being aware and this constitutes stalking. This becomes sexual harassment because of the fact that she has shown no interest- at this point in the movie- in Samir and by extension Samar. In following her to all these places and stalking her, again for a seemingly romantic reason, it does constitute as sexual harassment.
Mai Hoon Na
Another loved movie (I’m starting to notice a pattern here…) Yes Sushmita Sen is being sexually harassed in this scene. While there is nothing openly sexual in this scene, it is again a form of harassment when someone who is a non-consenting party is faced- repeatedly with a situation where they are uncomfortable. Acts such as flirting and even embarrassing someone due to their physical appearance is considered to be a form of sexual harassment. This is not to say that a friend teasing someone else because of their appearance is sexual harassment. The keyword here is consent. Here, Ms. Chandini (Sushmita Sen) had not given consent for the song and clearly denies consent when asking for Ram (SRK) to stop singing the song. The continues singing of the song is actually sexual harassment and therefore….not the bet idea for someone in the army.
So after looking at five scenes and movies which show sexual harassment without even considering it to be anything out of the norm, it goes to show that sexual harassment isn’t always what we think it is. To be much clearer, sexual harassment is defined (broadly) as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” This constitutes for anything, from creating a hostile environment for an employee of a certain gender to actively causing verbal, emotional or physical discomfort for a person based on their gender.
Indian YouTube group AIB (All India Bakchod) did a video on this in December last year, pointing out how many Bollywood movies and songs actually indicate sexual harassment and isn’t really ‘cute’ or ‘sweet’ frankly, its creepy and usually, unwanted. Thanks Bollywood….we definitely needed that.
Bollywood, being one of the biggest film producing fraternity in the world is more often than not ignorant of addressing sexual harassment. Call it irony, but just like their films even as a workplace, it has not been able to cater to sexual harassment laws well. Casting couch on multiple levels is more common than we think. However, some recent revelations by popular actresses have brought production houses under the radar of legal scrutiny. While most of the in-house legal counsels are busy with contract management, the productions often fail to even get an expert member or sexual harassment member on board.
Prevention is often better than cure, you can prevent yourself or your production by learning more about such laws through a course developed by the National University of Juridical Sciences. You can also learn about how to implement such laws in your company through this course.
To, hopefully, a bollywood a bit more sensitive in the future.