Glorification of Stalking in Bollywood

The unharmed harassment in Bollywood movies, especially mainstream movies, has had disturbing repercussions in reality. Harassment in Bollywood and Indian cinema, in general, is often romanticized, but it has the potential to translate into brazen and malicious criminal acts.

We have been amused by the scenes where we see the chasing game happening in the movies, stories, but in real life, it isn’t a thing of such savory.

The acid attacks, rape, abduction in society begin from the first step, stalking.

If we bring Bollywood movies into the discussion, we figure out something truly problematic. The glorification of stalking in the name of love, the guy going after the girl, the girl being chased. All that toxic behavior was forgiven in the name of love, also the fact that such behavior was presented by our famous men we idolize washed off the criminality behind the whole act of stalking. When actors play a character they stick to the character and behave likewise, but we in real life forget to draw that distance and think it is the new policy to demonstrate our love, in emulating the instances of stalking. You ask women, and they will tell you almost every one of them was followed by someone back home, on their way to school, office, etc. It is very threatening to feel powerless, being subjected to the male gaze and in the meantime crossing our ways on the road. 

Movies like Sultan, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Badrinath ki Dulhania, Raanjhanaa, Tere Naam, Wanted, Saawariya, FanTanu Weds Manu Returns, Besharam and Fanaa which earned a good amount of money and fame need to be checked for representing stalking as a behavior emerging from love. The significant presence of Stalker-lover presence is disturbing as it has left Indians fantasizing about stalking in love, and being stalked similarly is equally unlikable. 

The Indian cinema often asserts stalking and harassment as love and heroism. The sampled films were the commercial movies that performed the highest number of hits and profits in theatres. Yet, they have the aspect of glorifying problematic tendencies, which in reality causes serious consequences.

Bollywood has often glorified how ‘love should be about madness’ ‘keep trying until you make her fall in love with you. following what you love and who you love got a misleading message and the idea got executed by actually following the lover. 

The aspects of literature, music, art, and cinema have always played a role in shaping society. Indian cinema, over time, has manifested violence and abuse as a symbolism of romantic relations between the characters. The representation of stalking and harassment is dramatized, making reality more feasible.

“Censorship of films including prior restraint is justified under the Constitution. It has been almost universally recognised that the treatment of motion pictures must be different from that of other forms of art and expression.”

The Supreme Court held in K. A. Abbas vs The Union Of India & Anr

However, the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression in Article 19(1)(a) does not offer absolute freedom. The judiciary has often intervened when a film offers obscenity, immorality, or an attack on the sentiments of communities of people. Further, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) can censor motion pictures as per the instructions of the Cinematograph Act, 1952.  In addition to the particular restrictions outlined in section 5(B) of the Act on the grounds of reasonable restriction, the CBFC can ask the applicant to evaluate and change the objected part(s) of the motion picture that violates section 5(B) of the Act.

‘Tera Naam’, ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’, ‘Ranjhana’ are a few examples of glorification of harassment in Bollywood movies. Typically, in all these movies, a woman is chased by a man till she finally agrees and settles for him. Most of these movies and their perspectives are marked by a patriarchal mindset and masculine lens, often romanticising the victim’s trauma as an act of ‘falling in love’.

The CBFC’s often look past such glorification of stalking and stalkers. However, the same needs to be questioned because it violates the Cinematograph Act (1952) provision, tainting the general audience with patriarchal and misogynistic values.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report released in January 2020 reported appalling numbers on stalking. 

According to the report, in 2018, 9,438 cases of stalking, one every 55 minutes on average, were reported in India. These statistics are problematic because they were more than double the 4,699 cases, reported in 2014.

These figures often actualise in real life, and the glorification of harassment in Bollywood movies and regional cinema has been adding to the burgeoning crime against women. A popular example is an Australian court case against Sandesh Bagila, who worked as a security guard. Baliga was accused of stalking two women in Australia. In his defence, he had argued that he was inspired by Bollywood films and had no idea what he was doing was illegal.

According to the Hobart Magistrates Court, he was influenced by vivid-romantic Indian cinema, where if a man pursues a woman for long enough, she falls in love. His lawyer, Greg Barns, told the court it was ‘quite normal behavior’ for Indian men to pursue women similarly, which is why he didn’t realise that his actions could be criminal.

There have been instances where the CBFC has been critical of scenes where films objectified the ‘victim’ and glorified crimes against women. One such example is the movie ‘Bandit Queen’.

In response to a violent portrayal in the film, the tribunal had held:

“The scenes of nudity and rape and the use of expletive were in aid of the theme and intended not to arouse prurient or lascivious thoughts but revulsion against the perpetrators and pity for the victim.”

In Aparna Bhat vs The State Of Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court held:

“Social attitudes typically characterise this latter category of crimes as “minor” offences. Such “minor” crimes are, regrettably not only trivialised or normalised, rather they are even romanticised and therefore, invigorated in popular lore such as cinema.”

In 2018, the Kerala State Human Rights Commission directed the Central Board of Film Certification’s regional office, instructing them to implement a new regulation requiring movies to display a disclaimer anytime sequences depicting violence against women are shown. The CBFC agreed with the Commission.

Although this endeavor is a step forward in altering dynamics, some are critical of its effect. Probably, the same wouldn’t have any immediate impact, but in the long run, it could oblige filmmakers to be more conscious when including such glorification.

Recently, in 2021, the Centre proposed amending the Cinematograph Act 1952 to include sections granting it revisionary powers and allowing it to re-examine films already certified by the CBFC. According to the Ministry, the proposed amendment implies that the Central government can overrule the Board’s judgment if it is warranted

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