Academic journal article Gender Forum

Bollywood Baffled over Sex, Rape and Prostitution

Academic journal article Gender Forum

Bollywood Baffled over Sex, Rape and Prostitution

Article excerpt

1 A man and a woman meet. Sparks fly. They date, then marry and raise a family. This story is as mundane as the rising and setting of the sun. But in India it is such a cataclysmic event that it's been the pivotal theme for one of India's largest industries, the Bollywood film industry, for the entire 100 years of its existence.

The Timeless Plot

2 Two lovers cruelly parted by the old barriers of caste, clan, religion and /or economics, battle the odds of family and society, for a three-hours run time, just for the chance of a union at the end. The audience sings, laughs and weeps along with the lovers, and chews its nails to a climactic finale.

3 Usually the audience gets a reprieve in the reunion of the besieged lovers in a 'happily ever after' ending. But sometimes the ending is tragic, and the film lives on in the audience's memory as a reminder of the futility of such relationships. Pakeezah, Anarkali, Mughal-E-Azam, Heer Ranja, DevDas, and Ishaqzaade are some of the popular films that serve as tragic examples of the battle for love. In Ishaqzaade (Rebel Lovers) released in 2012, the young lovers, Parma Chauhan, a Hindu man, and Zoya Quereshi, a Muslim woman, battle out a more contemporary version of this plot. After a long flight, the couple is cornered on a roof top by the men who've been hired to kill them, and who then proceed to attack them with semi-automatic weapons. Parma and Zoya valiantly try to defend themselves with a limited stockpile of arms. When they run short of bullets, they shoot each other dead, in a lovers embrace, as the last defiant act of their inseparability. In the final scene, their attackers are shown looking down with indifference at the young couple lying dead in a crumpled heap, and then walk offas if to say those deaths are inconsequential to society which continues on. A final message from the film maker on the screen informs the audience that countless young couples are killed by their families for falling in love outside established social parameters of caste, clan and religion.

4 If films are a creative medium via which a society engages with a baffling issue, and makes progress on it, then this shifthasn't yet happened in a major way in Bollywood films. For e.g. if a Hollywood film today were to examine the issues that crop up in an inter-racial relationship, it would be bizarrely out-dated if it were to address it as portrayed in the 1967 film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?. The father of a white woman is hardly likely to put her black lover in an interrogation box in his office with a question like, "Have you given any thought to the problems your children will have?" In the film, Dr. John Prentice, the black suitor, played by Sidney Poitier, of Joey Drayton, the upper-class, white woman he planned to marry, responded with, "She [Joey] feeIs that all of our children will be president of the United States and they'll all have colorfuI administrations [...] Frankly, I think your daughter is a bit optimistic. l'd settle for secretary of state." Though delivered with humor this response was not a statement of plan, but one of hope in the face of the immense social rejection faced by inter-racial couples and their children at that time, which included unconcealed prejudice as well as threats of violence. Until 1967, the year this film was released, inter-racial marriages were still illegal in 17 states in the U.S. Today, with Barack Obama, the offspring of a biracial marriage, in the White House, both the question and the response would not have the same impact or significance to the storyline. By and large, inter-racial couples don't face the same legal and social hurdles in the U.S. today as they did then, and the racism they may have to still confront plays out differently, perhaps in a more nuanced and subtle manner, and would have to be treated accordingly on-screen. However the storyline of Bollywood's embattled lovers is almost timeless. The scenes, settings and clothing styles may have changed over the decades, but the dialogues are static. …

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