Summer saw the release of many movies, and one such film was Raanjhanaa which was released on 21st June 2013, and was declared a box office hit soon enough. We see Dhanush, who is an established actor in Tamil cinema, but only had his Bollywood debut with this film, and was appreciated for his performance. His performance was believable, albeit overrated, and considering that he is actually Tamil, he did a wonderful job playing a character that was far from his roots. In fact, it almost undid the abysmal job that Sonam Kapoor did as the lead female character.
Dhanush plays the role of the son of a Tamil priest who has an obsessive attraction towards Zoya (Sonam Kapoor) who is the daughter of a professor, both of who reside in Varanasi (Benares). He apparently falls in love with her as a child, and stays loyal till they both grow old enough. He obsessively tries to talk to her, continuously and clamantly, and even get slapped in the process. Later on in the film, when Zoya reacts unfavourably to Kundan’s love, he threatens to slit his wrists, and claims that the fact that she will cry if she really loves him. And not astonishingly, she does cry, and because of this particular reason, she does realize she loves him. Another unhealthy mindset that this film has very obviously showcased is the fact that Kundan needs to be lauded for his faith in Zoya’s love, and his stubborn demand. There was a reason why the film was a hit, and even more of a reason since Kundan was loved by so many. The whole concept of “roadside romeo”, someone who flirts by being overtly obvious about his love and publicly declaring so, even to the female’s discomfort, has been too popular since a long time now.
Let me stop here to talk about the reality that is “eve-teasing” in India. Eve-teasing is defined as a euphemism for the act of harassing a woman publicly, and the actions range from catcalling to outright groping. Apparently, Indians (and Bangladeshis and Nepalis), do not use the word sexual harassment for groping, but mere “teasing”. The semantics here are as important as any, since it tells us how underrated of a problem people think it is. A girl being harassed in public is something that every girl realises and accepts that they might have to deal with. Not just this, India has been popularised as being a country with sexually inappropriate public in western media, and women are often advised on travel blogs to never travel in India without male company. Whether this declaration of unsafe India is reality or just a racist bias against a non-first-world, non-white nation, we cannot know for sure, but it is definitely a cause for concern. So undermining the issue that is sexual harassment in India is a mistake that we have made again and again, and it begins with calling it eve-”teasing” . Eventually, in the film, Kundan is praised for being loyal to Zoya even when he realised that she wanted his failure, and was the cause of his eventual death. Therefore, there is no doubt that Kundan is the ‘hero’ who is glorified and idealised. His death presses his heroic tragedy even more.
Such characterization and storyline has been ingrained deep into any Indian’s mindset and one does not even notice when one faces it. Jealousy and possessiveness have become emotions that are appreciated and even held against someone if one admits to not feeling them. It is almost as if exclusivity, and by that I mean absolute exclusivity, is the only criteria to get a relationship stable and healthy, which is actually the opposite of what might make a relationship work. Thus, the fact that such movies will have no effect on the audiences is nothing but misinformation. An idea that it also propagates is the idea of a woman having to refuse even during times that they want to agree. It is a very common social belief that a woman is not supposed to be the one to ask a man out, or in the latter stages of a relationship, propose for marriage. Such gender roles are being played into by such movies, and it doesn’t leave for change in society.
This phenomenon of praising love which is obsessive and stalker-like is not just limited to this particular film. It is a fairly common storyline where the male counterpart of a potential romantic venture is insistent and annoys the female counterpart. It will be to the displeasure of many that even “Dilwale dulhaniya le jayenge” played into this drama; we see a young woman trying to show a man that she found his advances, present even though just for comedic importance, too insistent. Other movies that had the similar characterisation of the female not satisfied with how she was being treated and wanted to be left alone was Mohabbatein and Kal Ho Na Ho. One might argue that there wasn’t any serious harm in any of these films, unlike Raanjhanaa, but it cannot be ignored that it plays into the mentality of thinking that a woman will eventually come around. Or that it is the man’s step to try to woo a woman, and even though a woman refuses such advances, that is just what a woman is supposed to do. The audiences of the movie must be encouraged to understand to communicate well; that a no means a no. Of course, it is difficult to trace a cause and effect in such an argument. It can be made clear that movies only reflect what the audiences truly want, not the other way around. Nonetheless, it can also be admitted that regardless of which of the two processes are happening, it is a serious issue that needs to be addressed by the audiences and the filmmakers alike.
Sexual harassment is a tricky concept to evaluate, since to verify how genuine it is can take up lots of resources. Because of this, there isn’t much evidence as to how the sexual harassment incidents have progressed or declined over the years. A study by Thomson Reuters tells us that India is the fourth most dangerous nation in the world for women. This study was done keeping in mind the violence against women, but has no space to consider “light” sexual harassment. But even so, the declining conditions for women in our country is testimony enough that the media is not helping when it is stripping women even of the right to be able to say no and be understood directly. It is time that media, especially cinema, which affects Indian populations much more than it should, gets over the obsession of having female characters who give in to advances that are clearly not well-meant, and the male characters who know no better than to stop.