Exploring Sexism in Bollywood Songs

The #MeToo movement was founded in 2006 by American activist Tarana Burke. She started a MySpace page at the time, to spread the word and help women feel supported. It gained momentum in 2017 with Alyssa Milano tweeting in support of the movement after multiple actors and public figures started coming out against big-time producer Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood. This resulted in an outpouring of women sharing their stories and experience with sexual assault/trauma. It travelled all over the world, even in Bollywood. Although, the movement gained traction in India only in late 2018, due to the heavy onslaught women face on a daily basis in India. Actress Tanushree Dutta gave an interview exposing celebrated actor Nana Patekar and this resulted in her receiving a barrage of hate. Another case was of the heartbreaking accusations against the so-called “sanskaari” figure in cinema, Alok Nath. But, such is the power of women, that hundreds of public figures supported her and shared their own experiences. I came out with my own experience during this time, and the result was multiple peers around me thinking that a city girl like me, wouldn’t have gone through such an onslaught. My privilege saves me from a lot of generational trauma, and I am aware of it. Though, we mustn’t lessen anyone's experience and give it any less importance than the survivor would like to give the situation.

When popular figures in any multimedia industry, are culprits in criminal offences against women, the platform they promote and are in gets affected. The end result is the effect it has on the society which views the media products, and gets influenced negatively to a substantial degree.

To analyse things further I decided to delve into the sexism within the big bad world of the ‘Bollywood…Music…Industry’. Cue the dramatic music…definitely not from Bollywood though. Here, I would like to differentiate the Bollywood film industry from the Hindi or the Indian Film Fraternity at large. Listening to the songs, I have categorised them into three levels of…well, manipulation on the listener’s mind.

1. Party Sharty Mein Sab Chalta hai Yaar

Raise your hands if ‘Yeh Jawaani hai Deewani’ was your favourite movie in high school. Having grown up I realised there were a lot of problematic areas in the movie. Hint: “Tum jaise ladkiyaan flirting ke liye nahi, ishq ke liye banni hain, Naina

Listening to the song ‘Dilliwali Girlfriend’ started fine, barring the complete disposal of women or in other words ‘chodh chaadh ke’.

Refuse kiya sau baari, phir bhi karna chahe yaari. Passion tere liye mera increase hogaya.

(“(her)I refused a hundred times, yet you wanted to pursue me. (him) My passion for you increased after this”) These lines are playfully sung, which would naturally embed in the mind of the listener, that this is acceptable behaviour, whereas the reality of these actions can be detrimental.

This category would be incomplete without YoYo Honey Singh’s songs gracing their presence. Honey Singh has been called out multiple times on their terrible lyrics, not just in artistic quality but also for being extremely offensive to women. Despite this, his songs still are huge chartbusters in India. This brings me to the point of India’s obsession with giving men in power undue advantage. This includes figures like Nana Patekar still being celebrated and not being held accountable even by the most powerful in the industry.

When criminals can get away with winning seats in parliament, then singers producing sexist songs doesn’t even cut the cake. This, calls for a blog post in itself, although looking at India’s current democratic position makes me question my choice of words.

2. Item Songs

The boom of item songs began in 2010 with songs like ‘Shiela ki Jawaani’ from ‘Tees Maar Khan’ and ‘Munni Badnaami hui’ from ‘Dabangg’. Bollywood had item songs before this, but these choreographed songs really started a ripple effect in Bollywood movies. This section was the toughest (read: cringiest) for me to view, because of the sheer objectification of women in these videos. The men around are just throwing money and using her performance to satisfy their disgusting fantasies. The song I reviewed, in particular, is from ‘Dabangg 2’, not a shocker, whose item song was a notch up from the first movie. Who knew that would be possible?

Trigger warning: Disgusting objectification of women ahead. (As if the songs before this weren’t enough.)

The most disgusting line of the song was

‘Mei toh tandoori murghi hoon yaar, ghatka le mujhe alcohol se’.

This translates to — ‘I am a piece of chicken, you can swallow me with some alcohol’. There is no polishing or beating around the bush for these lyrics. They are blatantly just as disgusting as you read them, and must be called out for exactly what they are — Pathetic sleaze fests in the name of music if it can be called that at all. It takes a level of creepy, to pen these lyrics down to paper, and Bollywood doesn’t disappoint. The camera literally pans up her body as an object of lust, or in other words, the male gaze is flourishing in all its glory throughout the song.

The Male Gaze is the act of depicting women and the world around, in movies, songs and literature from the perspective of the heterosexual male. It uses women as complete sexual objects for satiating the lust of the male viewer.

This is a report in 2016, written by Rama Lakshmi.

Constantly having this behaviour normalised and in fact celebrated through the movies whose viewers come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, justifies this degrading and sexist behaviour as “locker room talk” or boys just having “fun”.

Read the next Blog post for (Part 2)…

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Cassettes of Radhika

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