Sexual violence and aggression have been part and parcel of Indian cinema for decades. Some critics are wondering about the role of such films in condoning or even fomenting such violence.
Anchor Marco Werman talks to Dr. Uma Vangal, a professor at L. V. Prasad Film Academy in Chennai.
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Marco Werman: Violence and sexual aggression have been part in and parcel in Indian cinema for decades. Here’s a tame example, a musical number from the 1991 Bollywood hit, called Hum.
Werman: Here the hero teases the heroine, pressing her for a kiss. She coyly says no at first, but she eventually gives in to his advances.
Dr. Uma Vangal: You would find the heroine accepting the teasing and actually enjoying it.
Werman: That’s Uma Vangal. She’s a professor at L. V. Prasad Film Academy and she’s on the line from Chennai, India. Now, Dr. Vangal, one male critic I read recently wrote in an editorial, that â€œWhat’s truly terrible is the manner in which film heroes have pestered, stalked and forced their unwanted attentions on heroines in 1,000 films, yet ended up getting the girl. In other words, no ultimately means yes if you just keep the pressure on.â€ Is that something that you would agree with?
Vangal: I would completely agree. As a teacher of cinema and popular culture in India, very often I conduct many sessions on this kind of portrayal of the man-woman’s relationship where aggression in the male is seen as an attractive quality by the woman. They have this very ridiculous term in India called e-teasing, especially in northern India where men think it’s fun to tease girls in the path, on the road and wherever they can get away with it. This is portrayed very, very often by the heroes of any cinema any film, any film, any language basically, in the [inaudible 01:31]. You will the heroes which start out teasing the woman in public, sometimes even get a little, like, upset with her, you know, commenting on her clothing, on the way she walks, and how she’s, you know, encouraging male attention, and quite often in the end, ending up with that same woman who can’t help falling in love with this man.
Werman: If it weren’t for this part of the narrative of pushiness, getting the girl in film, would things be different in India?
Vangal: You know, I don’t think one can solely lay the blame at the door of Indian cinema, in the sense that we all know that cinema is only a reflection and a slight exaggeration of what’s happening out there in reality. It’s more of a social mind set and a certain set of values and beliefs, and, you know, the kind of condoning of sexual acts of aggression.
Werman: It sounds very chicken and egg, very cyclical, like you don’t know really what comes first, the social kind of context or the film that then feeds the social context further.
Vangal: That’s something we’ve always been dealing with, but I think one, one thing I could say for sure would be that the past 10 years, let’s say a decade of Indian cinema, is reflecting largely this change in relationships in the sense that with the coming in of the IT boom and more and more women getting into the workforce, there’s a lot of men out there, you know, feeling very, very threatened by this new Indian woman who’s very liberated, very aggressive, goes out to get what she wants and actually manages to overtake them in social spheres.
So I think that is being manifested by films and by the behavior of men off screen.
Werman: What about just the pure objectification of women in a lot of these films? I mean, do, do you see a lot of that coming out of Bollywood or any other parts of the country?
Vangal: We see women, first of all, in writing, the male gaze, by titillating them with their healing bosoms and you know, simulating the sexual act as closely as possible in their song and dance routines.
Werman: Many Bollywood stars interestingly have, have come out to show their solidarity for what happened three weeks ago in Delhi, this terrible incident and now the girl is dead. From your vantage point in India have you seen some self-reflection among Bollywood stars and do you think this is sincere?
Vangal: I really am very, very skeptical about these Bollywood stars or any other film industry person coming out. I, I live in the city where the film industry has films that actually justify rape. There’s an, an entire scene in a film that a hero rapes the heroine and justifies it saying â€œShe questioned my masculinity and how else do I prove it, except to rape her?â€ And you know the audience is listening and saying â€œWow, great. What a man?â€ So, you know, I personally don’t believe anyone from the film industry will really do something about the state of affairs.
Werman: Dr. Uma Vangal, a professor of film at L. V. Prasad Film Academy in Chennai. Thank you very much for your thoughts on this.
Vangal: Thank you so much Marco.
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This song from the movie “Hum” was played at the beginning of this story.
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