The article examines how Bollywood has romanticised stalking and portrayed it as an acceptable means of courtship. Its inspiration lies in the case study of Sandesh Baliga, who defended his action in a Tasmanian court for stalking two women by maintaining that Bollywood projects stalking to be a convenient means to woo the desired lady love. The article also accurately defines the meaning of stalking as it tends to coincide with cultural conformity. Lastly, it showcases the aftermath of stalking in terms of growing crimes against women committed by "jilted lovers." It also discusses the social responsibility of filmmakers and actors in uplifting the status of women in a patriarchal society.
Though India has many cinemas, it is Bollywood that has acquired massive fan-following from around the globe. It is a commercial Hindi cinema based in Mumbai, which emerged when India underwent many changes ranging from independence, partition and economic liberalisation. Thus, Bollywood helped capture the dispersed anxieties and aspirations of the mass via its blockbusters (Joshi, 2015, p. 1). In other words, during the chaotic period, Bollywood, through its melodramatic features, narrated conversations that massively impacted the Indian public and culture. Thus, becoming the emblem of Indian society. According to Hassam and Maranjaape, Bollywood movies circulated worldwide are viewed as a shared cultural idiom among the Indian and the South Asian diaspora (2010, p.3). However, lately, there has been a raging public discussion about how Bollywood songs and movies perpetuate courtship models based on stalking and harassment of women.
What is Stalking?
Stalking is a complex concept to define as it has connotations of love and romance, thus, complicating its status as a ''mix'' of crime and conformity. In other words, the overlaps between the cultural construction of courtship and the restriction of threatening activities serve as dubious convergence. However, Schultz, Moore & Spitzberg define stalking as a pattern of intentional behaviours toward a person(s) which is unwanted and results in fear or threat'' (2014, p.613). To paraphrase: stalking is the willful, malicious, and repeated shadowing and harassing another person, which can induce them with physical and emotional trauma and reduce the quality of their lives,
In 2015, Sandesh Baliga, a 32-year-old security guard of Indian descent, defended his stalking of two women over two years by saying that Bollywood movies influenced him. He maintained that Bollywood movies often projected men as relentlessly pursuing women to woo them. Thus, implying his behaviour as "quite normal" and prevalent among the Indian men. As a result, the Hobart court considered his cultural background and adjourned him for five years on the condition of good behaviour rather than convicting him (Lobo, 2018, p.1).
Although the article is inspired by the case mentioned above, the media is rife with shocking narratives of stalkers raping their victims, burning them alive or hurting them physically for rejecting their advances. For instance, in May 2021, a 22-year-old woman was kidnapped by her stalker in Ludhiana for turning down his marriage proposal. Similarly, in January 2020, a young 17-year-old girl was abducted and later murdered in Tamil Nadu by her stalker for rejecting his advances. In 2018, a girl in Bhopal was taken hostage by her stalker for twelve hours on the pretext that he loved her and wanted to marry her, but her initial denial forced him to take drastic action.
Likewise, in 2018, a 23-year-old woman was threatened with an acid attack by her jilted lover. He stalked her for three years due to her continuous refusal to speak to him. Lastly, the incident which shook the nation was when a 25-year-old woman was set ablaze, in public, in broad daylight in Telangana in 2017. The accused maintained that he could not tolerate the insult inflicted on him via her denial of marrying him. All these cases are sufficient to induce fear among the country's young women and condemn them to a life of trauma and suffering.
Has Bollywood got it all Wrong?
The tremulous meeting of eyes, accidental brushing of hands leading to unspoken, romantic highs has been portrayed by Bollywood movies for decades. So, it comes as no surprise that many view Bollywood as the emblem of love. However, it is time that we look back at these films and notice deeply the way it has systematically normalised stalking as a primary way to attain ''lady love'' across decades and generations. For instance, the film An Evening in Paris has Shammi Kapoor blatantly chasing Sharmila Tagore with ''Akele akele kahan jaa rahe ho? Humein sath le lo jahan jaa rahe ho.'' Similarly, Main Kahin Kavi Na Ban Jaoon has Dharmendra getting physical and semi-leery with Vyjayanthimala in a closed lift space. At the same time, Rajendra Kumar accosts and hustles Babita in Anjaana and Vyjayanthimala in Ganwaar to musical Rafi numbers. Indeed, almost every hero worth his salt in the sixties did the same.
What is worrisome is that these chhed-chhad songs are no rarity but rather have stayed on. Dozens of such songs are produced each year. The heroine is brazenly stalked on foot, cycle, car, bus, and even helicopter by the hero who would not take no for an answer and who basks triumphantly in the woman's ultimate relenting. For example, the movie Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (released in 2017) has a good stalking song called, ''Hans Mat Pagli'' where Akshay Kumar's character is relentlessly stalking Bhumi Pednekar on a motorcycle and hideously clicking her pictures.
Leveraging the Star Appeal
Given that stalking is depicted in Bollywood movies, researchers have suggested a direct relationship between violence in entertainment and violent behaviour in real life. In other words, there is an association between the violent behaviour portrayed in the media and their reciprocity in the audience. However, some other variables come into the factor when considering the impact of the violence showcased to the audience; these include the context and the viewer's age (Brown, 1996, p.2). To paraphrase, when the crime (stalking) depicted goes unpunished or does not consider the legal, emotional, and physical consequences, then the imitation of the behaviour is much more likely and acceptable. Furthermore, it tends to desensitise the audience towards the violence or the fear of committing the crime.
In the Indian context, the performances showcased on the silver screen are adopted much faster because it is made to look "cool and flamboyant" by the stars portraying it. Moreover, over the years, there has been an upsurge in the ''Celebrity Worship Syndrome'' among the audiences, which has resulted in even more reciprocity of the behaviours depicted on screen. The term celebrity worship'' (CW) was coined by Dr Lynn McCutcheon in the early 2000s and referred to as "an obsessive-addictive disorder where an individual becomes overly involved and interested in the details of the personal life of a celebrity" (Griffiths, 2013). To exemplify, Shah Rukh Khan (SRK), commonly known as ''King Khan" and ''King of Romance'' is one of the most popular Indian actors globally and enjoys the love and dedication of many. Therefore, his behaviour on the screen will have a much higher chance of being reciprocated in reality. He often plays characters that are obsessive or murderous stalkers. Therefore, it can be conferred that "male stalker" has become a genre of Bollywood that is widely accepted by its audiences.
Many documentaries in the media showcase the disconcerting evidence that movies catering to the romantic genre in Bollywood, which are heavily associated with the female demographic, are almost all from a man's perspective. In other words, the films are often structured and written around the hero, which includes his romantic struggles and his responsibility to protect the heroine. Such phenomena are the limited number of female directors in the Indian industry to direct plots from a woman's perspective. However, even when some women directors choose to make a film that addresses women's issues, they often tend to be not huge successes and are termed "artistic movies" (Sarkar, 2012, p.27). India is a patriarchal society, and any deviation from the historical and cultural view of a woman invites significant opposition from political parties. Thus, restricting the reach of the film to the masses.
Moreover, with the audience also being ''male-dominant'', the films reinforce patriarchal values that showcase women secondary to the hero (Sarkar, 2012, p.3). Thus, setting the premise of a youthful, charming woman who is to be plucked away by a charismatic man and cared for. In other words, Bollywood movies are an amalgamation of romance, action, violence, and family drama, which portrays women merely as caregivers and the love interest of the hero.
Lastly, the analysis has led the writer to believe that stalking can often be pardoned or accepted by the audience if the physical and personal attributes of the stalker are considered socially desirable. For instance, if the stalker is depicted as charismatic, attractive, wealthy or persistent, then the endorsement of the behaviour is much higher. To paraphrase, Lippman demonstrated that by exposing the public to films that romanticise the stalker's persistent pursuit, the endorsement for stalking-supportive beliefs is higher (2018, p. 394).
Bollywood's distortion of reality concerning stalking has a severe impact on the women demographic of the country. To exemplify, when the false notion "of being relentlessly pursued leads to a relationship" is broken in reality, it sets into motion the chase of power play between the man and the woman. The men in the country are brought up with patriarchal values. The man is entitled to the power, and the woman needs to be a doting wife and a mother. Therefore, in terms of denial, any deviation from these leads to severe agitation, which often results in "jilted lovers."
Moreover, the growing incidents of stalking and harassment of women have brought into light the social responsibility of the filmmakers and actors to help uplift the status of women in the country. They need to utilise the power of the media to spread knowledge about the evils affecting Indian society and allow good screen time to the real issues affecting women's lives.
To quote the famous words of Uncle Ben from Spiderman, "with great power comes great responsibility" is something that Bollywood needs to undertake as it has been gaining an upsurge movement to influence globally.
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