The role of women in literature is often quite wide in spectrum. Women are portrayed as secondary characters as per the literary history is concerned. Man is believed to be omnipotent, whereas a woman is simply offered a supporting and balancing role in all spheres of society. The notion of woman is being bequeathed since ages. Even the great myths of Indian literature portray women as pathetic creatures. Beginning with our own Indian mythologies, Manu, in his Manusmriti speaks about women and their multiple roles in the society. But he projects them as slaves from the beginning till the end of their lives. The two great epics of India, Ramayana and Mahabharata give no scope for women. It pushed them into menacles and depicted them as machines of reproduction and objects of sexual pleasure. This trend continued and still exists in our society.
Indian society is patriarchal without any doubt. Woman is undervalued because of assumed superiority of patriarchy. Patriarchy lives on, in literature and elsewere. Literature reflects our mindsets and hence follows a list of the most misogynistic and patriarchal poetry in the name of unconditional love and romance. Hindi cinema is considered to be a mirror of Indian literature, art and culture. It has presented a lot of immortal love stories at the centre of which are melodious and evergreen but cringeworthy songs of Bollywood.
Let us check out a few such instances. "Kabhi kabhi mere dil mei khayaal aata hai, ke jaise tujh ko banaya gaya hai mere liye" goes the very first line of the ever so beautiful song from the movie Kabhi Kabhi (1976). But if we sing it further, the entitlement is repeatedly emphasised with the many 'mere liye' lines. The man, the hero, the lover further reiterates (in the name of love) that his lady love, her eyes, her lips and her arms too are 'his sole property' (in the further hinting that a woman is actually a man's 'property'.
"Arey tu boli thi pichhle jumme ko, chumma dungi agle jumme ko, aaj jumma hai toh aaja...", screams the protagonist amidst five hundred odd men for a girl and asking her to kiss him (the protagonist). This is exactly what poor Jumma had to undergo in this song from the blockbuster hit Hum (1991). They splash water on her, make her drench and surround her, repeatedly asking her to kiss the man because she had promised last Friday to kiss him the next Friday! Poor Jumma repeatedly refuses. But according to Bollywood, a girl's "No" deep down her heart means "Yes, harass me to convince me!" Is it really so?
"Tu kisi aur ki ho na jana, kuch bhi kar jaunga main deewana, tu haan kar, ya naa kar, tu hai meri Kiran." This popular 90s song is from the film Darr (1993) which is about a stalker played by Shah Rukh Khan who is obsessed for Kiran (Juhi Chawla) and has her pictures hung all over his house. And to express his undying love for Kiran, he sings a song for her saying whether she agrees it or not, she belongs to him and only him. On her part, Kiran is actually visibly excited at having a secret admirer, unaware of who he is. This further interpretes that a woman's opinion is not and should not be taken into consideration.
"Tu cheez bari hai mast mast" the very famous song featured in the 1994 film Mohra was widely acclaimed for its music. The result of this song played a huge role in the lives of roadside eve-teasers and hooligans, teasing every other girl as a 'mast cheez' (meaning: the awesome thing). Yes, woman is actually the most awesome thing created by God, the most beautiful object of sexual pleasure.
The objectifying lyrics of "Fevicol Se" that Kareena Kapoor was lip syncing to in the movie Dabangg 2 (2012) hinted us that women are actually 'tandoori murgi' here for consumption. "I am a barbecue chicken, swallow me with alcohol, oh my beloved, stick my photo to your chest with fevicol" goes the English meaning of the song. The song however later went on to win accolades and awards. But how far is it justified to degrade a woman to the status of a 'chicken' or 'hen' in the name of music, romance and poetry?
Joining the list is Shahid Kapoor's song "Hai tujhpe right mera, tu hai delight mera, tera rasta jo roku, chaukne ka nahin" from the movie Phata Poster Nikla Hero (2013). He tells the subject of his affection that he's going to stalk her, block her way because he has some absurd idea of entitlement, which he says is the true mark of a lover. And while he does all this, he asks her to please not be shocked or object to it while we notice the girl to be subtly blushing. Well, Bollywood always seems to be redefining dream proposals no matter even if it seems prejudiced against women.
There is a heedful line to be drawn in classic Bollywood cinema between love for a man and all-out worship. Some Hindi songs represent that unfortunate relic that transformed the excitement and bliss of romantic love into something wierdly bigoted. But the songs are so good on a purely artistic level that we cannot help but keep playing them over and over again on our playlist. Most of them were smash hits at the time of their release and continue to keep a significant slice of Indian audiences captivated, despite shifting social norms. It is easy to oversimplify the phenomena by saying that it is cultural or it was the way of thinking back then. Yes, in India, girls are actually raised to believe that their ultimate role is in service to their husbands, their ultimate goal in life should be marriage followed by reproduction, no matter whether they are able to perceive the fruits of education or not. The deep rooted patriarchal notions do not allow women to realise and express their individual roles and potentials. A woman is unaware of her own capabilities and therefore unable to raise her voice against her undeserving suffering. She is made to be self flagellistic. This reflects in one of the greatest form of Indian art - Hindi music and Indian cinema.
"Aap ki nazaron ne samjha pyaar ke qaabil mujhe…Keh rahi hai har nazar, banda parwar shukriya" (meaning: your glances deemed me worthy of your love…every glance of mine says 'Thank you Lord') goes the soulful number from the movie Anpadh (1962). Should a woman really be grateful to her husband for marrying her and for deeming her worthy of his love?
Nutan literally worships the ground beneath her husband's feet in Khandan (1965) singing the melodious number "Tumhi mere mandir, tumhi mere puja, tumhi devta ho" (meaning: you alone are my temple, you alone are my prayer, you alone are my God) which made us realise that husbands are and should be gods for women.
Another melodious number is from the movie Anupama (1966),"Mujhko karne de, karne de, solah sringar! Koi aataa hai..." (meaning: oh let me, let me adorn myself and put on full-make up! He is coming). Undoubtedly, a woman tries to look beautiful for her man, but should someone be so frenziedly desperate to look good for her man? Does a man get that crazy to straighten his tie and brush his hair and twirl his moustache when he hears her anklets pattering on the ground in approach?
"Tu kabhi mere khuda, mujhse bezaar na ho" (meaning: may you never be angry with me, my revered God!) This film Saudagar (1973) gained huge accolades during its time and would in fact make you fall in love with Nutan. But in the song, she frolics around doing the household chores with a pep in her step, just singing and wishing that her husband - her God is never angry at her.
Not only this, but at times, our patriarchal mindsets have been reflected many a times in our music and literature. But when literature satirises the patriarchal nature of our society, it calls for an end to the oppression of women. India has a rich history of music and literature. "Aaj phir jine ki tamanna hai" from the film Guide (1965) was possibly one of the earliest feminist iconic song to make waves in Bollywood, so if we think that this song is possibly the first feminist song ever in the industry, we aren't wrong. There would be no better summary for women than the opening line of this song from the film Dangal (2016), "Knicker aur T-shirt pehenkar aaya cyclone" (meaning: a cyclone has turned up wearing shorts and a t-shirt). We're loving this new feminist wave sweeping over Bollywood, aren't we? It isn't possible to assemble a feminist Bollywood playlist without including the song "Baadal pe pao hai" from everyone's favourite hockey film Chak De India (2007). There's no greater task ahead of us than reminding India's young women that we're committed to supporting their dreams. India is a country famous for electing its first female Prime Minister as well as President and for revering the strength and wisdom of its many awe-inspiring female gods, and where women become IT specialists and make salaries equivalent to their male counterparts. But there's an uglier side too along with the serial debacles of women harassment which we ought to overcome. A woman is always and forever undervalued and considered good for nothing, but it is high time we have to challenge this patriarchal canon of socio-cultural, economic, political and exploitation and spread the air of equality.