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Sex on display! – Is too much vulgarity on screen inciting violence against women in India?

© Eros International

© Eros International

The Indian Cinema, or Bollywood as most commonly referred to, is gaining popularity worldwide. Bollywood films are watched in almost every country and its silver screen actors have become brand ambassadors the world over; several of them are making their way to Hollywood now. Bollywood music and dances have entertained audiences and catchy songs called ‘item numbers’ have been a part of their movies.

But the last decade or so has seen these item numbers become bolder and gyrate into soft pornography; scantily clad women dancing in highly provocative poses. Many question the intent; while others argue it’s not vulgarity but it is artistic license. The question to ask is, in a country marred by attacks on women, is too much exposure and the ‘baring all’ on screen counter-productive for female emancipation and has it become a pretext for violence against women?

That Horrific December

First anniversary of the Delhi gang rape, in New Delhi December 16, 2013 (Copyright: Reuters)

First anniversary of the Delhi gang rape, in New Delhi December 16, 2013 (Copyright: Reuters)

The number of cases of violence against women in India has soared in recent years. India’s capital New Delhi witnessed its worst case of this violence in 2012 when a twenty-three-year-old medical student was brutally gang raped on a city bus. She died a few weeks later as a result of the injuries suffered during the attack.

The outrage that followed made headlines in the country for months and was much documented. Analysts and commentators argued that male dominated gender bias, the patriarchal mindset, the socioeconomic gap between classes, long held obsolete belief systems and violence as a means for social control were responsible in one way or another for this and similar barbarism.

It’s all out there on television for conspicuous consumption.”

India’s most outspoken writer, Arundhati Roy has been a proponent of women’s rights for years. She implies that violence against women – and in particular rape – is used in India as a means for asserting power. She believes that sexual innuendos on screen have had crippling effects on an already bogged down society. Cultural norms need to be questioned and society needs to change but strutting sex in item numbers from actors who have become role models for millions such as Kareena Kapoor in Fevicol Se to Deepika Padukone in Lovely does not help the situation. Rather it complicates it even more.

Deepika Padukone (© STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Deepika Padukone (© STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Leslee Udwin’s film India’s daughter met with resounding controversy on its release in 2015. The British filmmaker interviewed the rape convict of the 2012 Delhi bus rape where he blatantly blamed the victim for what happened to her. Her film was banned by the Indian government. Udwin echoes Roy’s sentiments and draws a comparison between Bollywood and pornography. She questions the motive for the vulgarity on screen and candidly condemns the Bollywood culture that continues to shamelessly objectify women. Conclusively, she holds the society responsible for creating the violent mindset of such rapists and attackers.

The Censoring Solution

The majority in Bollywood are opposed to censorship of item numbers while some do advocate it. Item numbers are profit generators for a film due to their repeat viewings. The commercial success of item numbers has prevented the censors from adding any sort of parameters. The raunchier the song, the wider the viewings it gets. However the question remains: Are highly provocative dances on screen enough to provoke a man to commit an attack on a woman? And are item numbers perpetrating a derogatory view of women?

Leslee Udwin (Copyright: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

Leslee Udwin (Copyright: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

The distinction between a subtle suggestion and an explicit innuendo is very subjective. And so is this debate. When popular actors adorn the absolute minimal and entice an audience with songs full of sexual undertones do they solicit creative freedom or do they affirm stereotypes that this is what women are and meant to do? The responsibility of people in power especially the ones that can influence millions through their actions is a debate that Bollywood needs to engage in.

Easy to Blame the Product – Blame the Mindset!

The real issue is to educate the mind that is conditioned to believe violating a woman is acceptable. Blaming and censoring the product that provides cheap stimulation is a step in the right direction but it cannot be the only one. Providing education and enlightenment to the masses and their generations that violence against women is a crime is the mindset that needs to be created. The choice of including item numbers that cross the line from subtlety to the explicit is generating a culture that is lewd. Bollywood must decide how much is too much.

End Note: Should Bollywood uphold the standards of responsible entertainment or should it have sex on display no matter what the consequence?

Author: Ayesha Khan

Editor: Marjory Linardy


The Changing Face of Bollywood Heroines

Bollywood heroines are worshipped in India but have also sparked the ire of activists who believe that the actresses allow themselves to be objectified. Over the last two years, there has been a drastic shift in the way popular actresses have presented themselves. Some like Kangana Ranaut have vowed never to do item numbers while others like Vidya Balan have launched powerful social media campaigns. (From May 22, 2015)

Bollywood: a false sense of hope?

The sparkling world of Bollywood in India embodies a world full of glamour and joy. Love, dance and music are important elements of every movie. In this colorful world there are no boundaries. Despite dramatic twists and turns, there is usually a happy ending. (From September 16, 2014) 

Bollywood in Germany

As an Indian living in Germany, I try to hold on to as much “Indian-ness” I can possibly get. During one of my efforts to try and stay in tune with India, I went to a Bollywood dance workshop in Cologne. My curiosity grew when I found out that a German woman was conducting the workshop. (From August 7, 2013)


07.11.2015 | 14:09