For Women 'No' Means 'Yes' In Bollywood

Bollywood veteran Amitabh Bachchan’s latest release “PINK” is being lauded as ‘pathbreaking’ cinema conveying a strong and socially relevant message. It’s a hard-hitting film brimming with stellar performances by the star cast. The movie has garnered rave reviews and is being hailed for indicting parochial mindsets and raising pertinent questions with regards to Indian society’s view of a modern woman.

But I have my doubts that it will have the desired effect on society. I know nothing happens overnight, but will it be able to change the societal mindset and break the sordid gender stereotyping? How would this film undo the damage done by Indian films to the psyche of our society?

Generations have grown up on the staple diet of Indian cinema that has promoted the coy and chaste heroine who plays second fiddle to the hero or the male protagonist of the film. Country’s national motto – ‘Satyamev Jayate’ or ‘Truth Alone Triumphs’ – was readily and merrily adapted by the early filmmakers of India. The earliest Indian films were chiefly based on mythology and history comprising of the male protagonist – a defender, conqueror, and vanquisher – and his romantic interest, his ladylove, his damsel, often in distress.

The damsel continues to be in distress even after decades.

Nothing impacts us more than our cinema. It has inspired us, emboldened us, reassured us, triggered our emotions, and stirred our passions. Our cinema has motivated us to realize our potential and reach our goals in the same way it has sanctified ‘eve-teasing’ or catcalling and conditioned the society to believe that no hue and cry should be raised if a girl is stalked, or even molested, because much of it is done as fun, to cajole her into relationship.

Romance is an important part of Indian cinema despite the fact that there aren’t many opportunities for young men and women to socialize without adult supervision in real life, and most marriages in our country are still arranged by family elders.

I used to be a movie buff as a kid growing up in New Delhi in the 90s. Most Hindi films had the same depiction of romance – the hero proposing to the heroine and the heroine saying “No”. And thus began the chasing, teasing and stalking, forcing the young woman to succumb to the hero’s manly charms, or in other words, give in to harassment. The female protagonist being harassed into romantic submission is still a phenomenon popular with many filmmakers.

So how would PINK change the psyche of a man who has grown up idolizing such behavior of a macho superstar and a woman who has seen the actress tolerating such abuse in the name of love or romance? Behavior that amounts to criminal offense and is punishable under the law gets sanctified under the garb of love. Generations have grown up imbibing such a misogynist culture where a woman’s ‘No’ has no value. It could be turned into a ‘Yes’ by blackmail or coercion. ‘Consent’ is an alien concept to our society after all. ‘Uski Naa mein Bhi Haan Hein’ (Her ‘No’ also means ‘Yes’) – sounds familiar? I bet it does.

How would PINK’s “No means No” change the concept of Uski Naa Mein Bhi Haan Hei’ that has been shoved down our throats through these films? How would Indian society and Indian men accept and respect ‘No’ from a woman who wears short skirts, drinks and reaches out to men, as the movie PINK tells them to do, when most, if not all, Indian movies link all these attributes to the vamp, the female antagonist, who presents such a contrast with the Sanskari (cultured) female protagonist? The vamp holding liquor in one hand and a cigarette in the other often engages in sexual overtures with the male protagonist (and/or others) but never gets to marry him; she is a bad woman after all.

Our movies have set these moral standards for women and we have sadly accepted everything, consciously or sub-consciously.

It will take a very long time to undo the damage.

(This post was previously published on the Women’s Web.)