Love, as we know it, is beautiful. Falling in love or even going weak in the knees on seeing somebody can be defined as subtly sweet. However, such situations often give rise to untoward advances that are merely passed off as acts of love. Here, the popular saying: ‘all is fair in love and war’ fails to find a legitimate place. Certain acts, such as stalking, eavesdropping, and not accepting a stern ‘no’ as a response to advances, are thoroughly condemnable because they intrude into the personal spaces of people, making them feel uncomfortable and violated.
However, as much as such acts are untoward, popular culture seems to thrive on them and make people believe that they are harmless and adorable. Stalking is one of the most common forms of harassment that has been extensively showcased by Bollywood in a positive light. Several movies in the early 1990s and 2000s were based on stories of assiduous stalking, which were portrayed as buoyant acts to win over the romantic interest.
A popular sociologist, cultural theorist, and political activist, Stuart Hall, described the ways of representation in popular media in many of his notable academic works. One of his most popular theories of representation states that it is a process through which certain meanings are produced, exchanged, and further reproduced between the members of society, by the use of signs and language.
In fact, the representation of events within popular culture is the reproduction of the preconceived meanings of those concepts, through language and physical gestures. Moreover, it is a two-way process. Popular culture, through mainstream media, shows the members of the larger society what they have already culturally constructed; the viewers, in turn, reinstate and reinforce their notions due to the open portrayal and glorification of their beliefs.
Numerous people who belong to the millennial age group, grew up watching Bollywood movies and listening to songs that perpetually glorified the act of stalking, harassing, and invading one’s personal territory.
Since time immemorial, Bollywood has shared a bitter-sweet relationship with the masses; most people are enthused and influenced by it, while some others beg to differ and put forth their idea of it being a platform for misogyny, racism, and many other forms of inequality. In many cases, it has been observed that popular Bollywood films have influenced the youth in terms of their behaviour in public places, their sense of clothing and style, their attitudes, the development of their personalities, as well as how they viewed themselves as being romantic and loving.
Numerous people who belong to the millennial age group, grew up watching Bollywood movies and listening to songs that perpetually glorified the act of stalking, harassing, and invading one’s personal territory. This is a major reason behind the high rates of street sexual harassment (formerly known as eve-teasing). During the early 1990s and 2000s, the times were changing and rapid globalisation was taking place within the country. This led to many changes in perspectives.
While some people readily moved forward with the help of global academic exposure, many others chose to adhere to the pre-existing notions of masculinity, the female body, sexuality and possession. However, since the people who adhered to the old ideas of masculinity were more prominent in number, Bollywood found it easier to harp on their emotions and enthusiasm, in order to garner huge profits. Several films that glorified stalking and making indecent gestures were released during this period. Most of them were widely watched and appreciated by the masses. Some of the most prominent films that glorified stalking, which were released during the early 1990s and 2000s, are:
- Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge
- Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein
- Coolie No. 1
- Biwi No. 1
- Tere Naam
- Tumsa Nahi Dekha
- Joru Ka Gulam
- Dulhe Raja
- Haseena Maan Jayegi
- Deewana Mastana
- Hum Kisise Kum Nahi
- Chalte Chalte
All these movies have a common feature that unites them – stalking. Although there were a handful of films that put the stalker under a negative light, most of them glorified this practice.
As per Stuart Hall’s definition of representation through popular media, such a portrayal more than often leads to a vicious cycle of misogynistic and dangerously obsessive behaviour. For example, there are numerous scenes in various films, in which a man follows a woman and taunts her, encroaches upon her personal space, stalks her throughout the journey, and even sneaks into her own house, hoping that she someday she will agree to go out with him. The major issue with this kind of portrayal in most Bollywood films is that such practices are shown as romantic and passionate. As the millennials were growing up, such films were being produced, which had an extensive impact on the way in which they perceived their masculinity.
People who adhered to the old ideas of masculinity were more prominent in number – and Bollywood found it easier to harp on their emotions and enthusiasm, in order to garner huge profits.
Even in real life, such acts are common and are hailed as signs of true love. Stalking and street sexual harassment has become so normal that whenever the person who is being stalked, especially if it is a woman, stands up against these conniving acts, the larger society supports the stalker and calls the survivor an emotional and mental harasser. Such incidents leave the survivors in a moral dilemma.
The fact that popular culture has an enormous impact on our lives is very evident in the regular incidents of stalking and the defending of these acts. Even today, there are heated debates surrounding this issue, and there are millions of people who come out in support of the culture of stalking and demand ‘yes’ as the obvious response to their proposals.
This dangerous hegemonic masculinity must be broken. This can only be done through an alternative portrayal of masculinity, in which there is a respectful acceptance of rejection. Even the recent debates surrounding the film Kabir Singh showed us how mainstream media and popular culture can influence young minds to such an extent that they cease to think of alternative forms of masculinity. Contradictions to these popular Bollywood films leave people thinking that their masculinity is under attack, which makes them support the patriarchal institutions even more.
This dangerous hegemonic masculinity must be broken.
As long as popular culture keeps on acclaiming the acts of stalking and harassing women, society will not change for the better. Representation via popular culture can be dangerous and influential. However, there can be positive influences through the portrayal of acts that are not harmful. The idea of mutual respect and the acceptance of dismissal must be canonised. Since Bollywood is a source of entertainment for the masses, there is great scope for influencing society through visuals that impart vital knowledge.
Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: BookMyShow