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The Objectification of Women in Hindustani Cinema

The Indian Film industry is no stranger to sexual item numbers with questionable lyrics that objectify women. Under the garb of “commercial entertainment”, music producers and directors alike have not only been polluting the film culture but are also normalizing the deeply problematic “male gaze” that seems to reduce women to just their bodies.

Today, when I woke up in the morning, I found one of my neighbours humming:

"Bum tera gotay khaye,
Kamar pe teri butterfly.
Body teri makkhan jaise,
Khaane mein bas tu butter khaaye."

All I could think of was how Bollywood is carrying on the legacy of objectifying women over time. Bollywood songs have lost the soothing effect found in the lyrics and have started objectifying women instead. The industry has started making sexist songs. It’s not like sexism was absent in Bollywood trends before; it was present in earlier times as well. But nowadays, people have started normalising the filthy lyrics. The audience focuses more on beats and trends than on decency.

The list is long when it comes to sexist or objectionable lyrics, be it from the black and white era or the colourful times.

So what is objectification?

When analyzed from the lens of a feminist perspective, objectification is the central theme of many feminist theories. It is when a person, a woman in most cases, is treated or viewed as an object. Martha Nussbaum has identified seven features that are involved in the idea of treating a person as an object: instrumentality, denial of autonomy, inertness, fungibility, violability, ownership, and denial of subjectivity.

The Indian film industry, knee-deep in trends that objectify and sexualize women, has popularized the belief that women are nothing more than just their bodies, that they are nothing unless they present themselves in the way that aligns with the industry’s image of a woman. Because of such objectification, the perception of women has been adulterated and reduced to being mere bodies – bodies that are ameliorated through a series of surgeries and procedures. “So once you are a body – what’s the harm in raping you or groping you?” asks Kamla Bhasin, a poet, and a feminist activist.

Credits: IndiaTimes

Kamla further talks about “Capital Patriarchy“; she says: Patriarchy is equally damaging for men because it dehumanises and brutalises them. And everything we witness in this society is influenced by the patriarchy we still hold.

It is an apparent fact that Indian cinema, along with its trendy and questionable item numbers, is infatuated with the idea of displaying women in a sensuous manner; almost as if to showcase them like objects on display with the objective to entice the audience. The snippets mentioned below are lyrics to some of the handpicked songs that reflect how Bollywood is ousting the social status of women. The lyrics of many such songs are objectionable and sexist in nature. I’ve mentioned some of them –

1. Laila from the movie “Shootout at Wadala
"Aisi sexy chaal hai tauba,
Husn se maalamal hai tauba,
Uff ye kamar lachkeeli,
Qayamat hi kar degi,
O Laila teri le legi, tu likh ke le le."

I wonder what are they talking about when they say “laila teri le legi“, and it doesn’t seem something appropriate. All I could see is a double-meaning obscene joke, nothing else. The song represents how far we’ve come in terms of depicting romance on a stage – a journey of ‘Laila‘ from being the pious lover to the center of attraction for the lustful eyes.

2. Aa Re Pritam Pyare from the movie “Rowdy Rathore
"Bandook mein naa toh goli mere,
Sab aag toh mere kurti mein re,
Zara hukka utha zarrra chillam jala,
Pallu ke neeche chupa ke rakha hai
Utha doon toh hungama ho."

I often ponder upon what kind of obsession Bollywood has with a woman and her “pallu“; and not just the pallu, they are glorifying vulgarity as well. If I translate a line from these lyrics in English, it would go like – “All the fire is there in my blouse“. Now, you can think about what exactly is hidden under the veil or blouse of a woman. Or you can ask the lyricist.

3. Honth Raseele from the movie “Welcome
"Honth Rasile Tere Honth Rasile,
Dil Kehta Hai Mera Yeh Ras Pe Le,
Wah Wah Wah Kya Sawaad Loot Gaye Re Dil Ke Nawaab, Lajawab!"

Have you ever wondered what kind of lust is involved in this song? A man talking about the luscious lips of a woman and also wanting to drink that. Wow! Listen to this song with video, and you’ll get the answer.

4. Ring Ring Ringa from the movie “Slumdog Millionaire
"Ek khatmal tha saiyana,
Mujhpe tha uska nishana,
Chunrai mein gus gaya dheere dheere,
Kuch nahi samjha o buddhu,
Kuch nahi socha,
Reng ke jaane kaha pahucha."

Why couldn’t that “khatmal” find a better place to crawl in? Bollywood keeps on objectifying women with their Choli, Chunri, Ghagra, Pallu, etc, it’s always modesty at stake. Be it about “khatmal” or a “man” invading women’s modesty.

5. Hip Hip Hurrah from the movie “Mere Dad ki Maruti”
"Ho meri kurti hai tight,
Tenu karaan invite,
Main tah kardangi tenu turn on ve,
Karega buraah buraah,
Jado hilegi meri hip karega,
Hip Hip Hurrah!"

The only word you’ll hear in this whole song is “hip“. Bollywood songs just focus on the body parts of a woman. They clearly say that my tight Kurti (clothes) is to invite you and to turn you on. What kind of sexist lyrics are they? Dear Bollywood, a girl doesn’t “ask for it” or “invite anyone” when she wears whatever she wants. Stop this absurdity.

6. Character Dheela from the movie “Ready
"Isey pee loon se hai matlab,
Jo yovan santreela hai,
Fark padta hai kya baahon mein,
Munni hai ya Sheela hai,
Kamar patli ho jitni bhi,
Mazaa utna nasheela hai."

This song justifies its title “Character Dheela“. It says that it doesn’t matter what kind of girl you have with yourself, she just needs to be slim. Is it body shaming or objectifying her? Munni and Sheela both don’t need anyone’s arms, they just need people who can stop judging them for their bodies.

7. Mud Mud Ke by “Tony Kakkar
"Teri Chunri Sataye,
Rani Udd Udd Ke,
Hassti Bhi Ho Chori Chori,
Pyar Ka Tumko Aaye Tarika,
Photo Bhejo Saari Ki Saari,
Wifi Lelo Lelo Free Ka,
Teri 16 16 16 16 16 Ki Jawani Hai,
Main Tera Raja Aur Tu Meri Rani Hai."

On one hand, women are struggling to have the minimum age of marriage raised from 18 to 21 to get more time to educate themselves, become financially independent, gain access to employment opportunities, and achieve appropriate psychological maturity before marriage. On the other hand, Tony Kakkar is claiming that being 16 is enough to become someone’s “Rani”. Wow! Tony Kakkar should be awarded for his lyrics.

There are many more such songs, in the South and Punjabi industries as well. The list is endless.

I just hope Bollywood could comprehend that there’s a difference between complimenting a girl and objectifying a girl. Moreover, the audience should understand that it’s their responsibility to not appreciate such songs just for the sake of dancing shoes.

Laaiba is a student pursuing Masters in English from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Anzal Khan

What do you think?

Written by Laaiba

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