Has Indian Cinema Left No Regard for Female Consent?
Surrounded by seven weeping dwarves, Snow White lay in the coffin, dead. Then comes her charming prince, who slowly bows down to kiss her, and behold, the dead Snow White is alive again.
What a romantic story. But wait, did the prince ask for Snow White’s consent before kissing her? No, because it doesn’t matter, and it never mattered!
We grew up listening to such stories and watching such films where the idea of consent never really mattered. Every essence of consent was to be surrendered to the hyper-masculine objectives.
Rampant Sexism and Objectification
The hero follows the object of his desires. She screams at him to leave her alone. He grabs her hand but she pushes him off. He forces her into his arms and she struggles to get out of it. In some films, his male gang joins in on the harassment and annoys her further because, for them, that is love.
Yet somehow after this normalized molestation, the film finds a way to make this molested woman who falls in love with the hero, thus imparting the harmful false truth that submission to toxic masculinity is love. Instead, a woman’s lack of interest is simply a challenge that a man needs to overcome. This is how films have stamped away from the idea of consent.
There is a scene in the iconic Bollywood movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ) where Raj pranks Simran saying that they slept together while she was drunk. A cute, funny scene. But instead of being hilarious, it is only reaffirming the misapprehension that drunk women are open to sex.
We grew up singing to Bollywood numbers ‘Tu haa kar ya naa kar..tu hai meri Kiran’ without even realizing that such lyrics are yet again denying the very existence of consent. We grew up singing that women’s opinion doesn’t matter. Several Bollywood songs have only objectified women in the lyrics and even depicted them as sex toys. Most of the songs are a testament to the existing masculinity that overshadows a woman’s opinion or even her choice.
We cannot blame them because they are just a reflection of our society. But when the young boys see their favorite hero glorifying these age-old patriarchal notions, they are driven and convinced to practice it themselves.
It was only after the success of Anubhav Sinha’s social drama Pink that Indian cinema began questioning the existence of consent. The male lawyer in the film advocates – No means No, there is no need for any further explanation, and when any woman, be it your friend, girlfriend, sex- worker, or even your wife says no, men must stop. Pink sends this message loud and clear.
A lack of consideration for consent only made restrictions on women’s life tighter as it is easier to teach our girls how to prevent themselves from getting raped than it is to teach the boys not to rape them.
What Cinema Can Do
The power of cinema is limitless. It can make and break conventions with a profound impact.
To bring down the cultural structures that preserve regressive societies, our art must put forward a more generous depiction of love and romance. It should be free of the glorified violence against women that has become normalized in our culture.
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