From the 60’s till the early 2000’s Bollywood has depicted women as the inferior sex in various ways. Through India’s infamous Bollywood films, women were often portrayed to be docile, lowering their eyes, never talking to a man directly by looking him in the eye; covering their face if they were talking to an unknown or older man, women learning to bow down to a man and touching his feet. Women would be portrayed as carrying this unveiled amount of shame just because they were a woman and at any moment if “she” took a wrong step or acted a certain way or was even perceived to by another a certain way; that she was now acting shamefully or has brought shame not only to herself but to her family as well. These films have sent very overt messages on how women are to behave and the role a woman should be complying by.
By: Nimi Chauhan
There are many thoughts that cross most people’s minds when they think of Bollywood and the films that it produces. When most people think of Bollywood people’s thoughts will generally first go to the song and dance numbers in the films, the music, they will think of the fashion or the epic and maybe very cliché love stories. However today, I’d like to draw your attention to the Izzat, (respect) and Sharam (embarrassment/shame) that is depicted in the films; moreover how the women in the films are the ones that are required to uphold these beliefs and values and if they are not able to adhere to these values they are cast aside or shunned not only by society but by their families as well.
The messages that have been sent by these films have played a monumental role in how women are treated in Indian society, culturally and within our individual families. Moreover, when a woman is sexually abused, assaulted or raped. Women have been made to feel that it was their fault, that somehow, they could’ve prevented this from happening, or that they were asking for it. Within our Indian families and households’ women are taught to bow down to men, to be submissive, docile, to listen to the men- but this happened not only within the family units but as we know, through the films Bollywood produced.
Have we as a society thought of how some scenes in the films where rape is inferred or the scenes after the rape/molestation occurs and the woman is told that she has brought shame onto their family, onto their name, how this may play out in a young girl’s mind in reality even today?
The messages that families send by turning away from their daughters or wives, fathers not being able to look their daughter in the eye and the mother treating her as if she was now undeserving of love. Women are made to feel that they are suddenly impure and that their “izzat” has been destroyed. That a woman is now unworthy of being with anyone else and that she should resort to suicide, or that her family can’t bare to look at her, because she has disgraced their family and they have lost any ‘izzat’ they had.
I remember watching films and the woman would get raped and her family, be it her spouse or her family, they would reject her and treat her as if it was her fault or that she somehow could have prevented it. In one film the woman was raped and the people in her village made her marry her abuser and she then fell in love with him. These films have impacted our sense of what was right and wrong and they impact the shame that women carry and the blame they often silently swallow.
I can say as a survivor and someone who has worked with many women over the years, these films and the overt or even subtle images and scenes that played out in Indian cinema, have had a grave impact on women’s views and perceptions. Some women have experienced similar behaviour as in the films by their families and then there are some who were silenced and stayed that way, because they feared that they would be treated the same way as women have in these films.
I know some will argue that Bollywood has changed and they portray strong female roles- and I will not argue that. However, I will ask what you think Bollywood is portraying when they have one scantily clad woman dancing and 40 men drinking and dancing around her? Does it cross our mind that what we have watched as entertainment may unfold in our perceptions and in our society in various ways?
Nimi Chauhan (Author)
Nimi Chauhan is a mediator and a community activist. She has been working in the field of domestic violence, sexual assault and suicide for the last 18 years. Nimi has served various positions with community agencies and has served on numerous boards varying from community policing, national parole board, addictions and recovery, youth gang violence as well as political bodies. She is also the founder of Sahara Services.