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It’s Time to Call Out Misogyny in Bollywood Songs

The misogyny in Bollywood is hidden in plain sight and is openly celebrated in movies and songs, by men and women. it’s disgusting and we need to call it out.

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The misogyny in Bollywood is hidden in plain sight and is openly celebrated in movies and songs, by men and women. it’s disgusting and we need to call it out.

When you think Bollywood, you think great star cast, vast colours, exotic locations and happy endings.

It’s all a facade to hide the deep-rooted and hidden in plain sight misogyny. It’s apparent, yet never noticed. It’s celebrated and endorsed by men and women alike.

I remember one Muslim scholar saying if you ever read the lyrics to any song without the melody, you’ll find it never makes sense. With Bollywood it’s the same except the melody is used to hide the obvious misogyny. I’ve picked out 7 songs (although I could have chosen many more) that I translated into English that I feel paint an accurate picture of misogynistic Bollywood.

1. Tu Jeez Badi Hai Mast Mast (You Are a Very Intoxicating ‘Thing’)

Women objectification doesn’t get much worse than this. The male lead is literally calling the female lead an intoxicating ‘thing’. I don’t mean ‘thing’ in a good way. In the west, we have phrases like “Oh you poor thing” as a way of showing sympathy. In Hindi, the use of ‘thing’ is the female not even being acknowledged as a person and instead as an inanimate object – so the literal use of the word thing is applied here. She happily dances to these lyrics. Here are select lyrics from the song in English.

you are a silk thread,
and your lovers are crazy about the way you walk.
your thick hair is a heart-stealer,
Like some crazy dark cloud

Until you read the lyrics without the music, you can’t really ‘appreciate’ how horrible it is.

2. Sorry Jaane Do (Sorry, Let It Go)

Context: A man has just slapped a woman out of frustration and proceeds to ‘sing’ an apology. Generally, a good apology has the following elements: guilt, acknowledgement of mistake, a verbal apology and a commitment to never doing it again. Let’s examine the lyrics of this song to see how many boxes it ticks:

I am sorry, my beloved
just let it go
these things happen
forget about it
just let it go
I made a mistake
forget about it
just let it go

As far as apologies go that was a -5 out of 10. It’s a complete whitewash of an apology. The happy tune the apology is being sung to indicates no guilt, there is barely an acknowledgement or verbal apology, and as far as not repeating the mistake, let’s just say no promises have been made.

The male lead is entirely belittling what has happened, almost indicating the woman is overreacting by getting upset and is telling her to let it go. The worst part is they end up together by the end of the film.

3. Apun Bola, Tu Meri Laila (I Said, You’re My Girl)

Context: The male lead has been chasing the female lead for some time. In other scenes throughout the movie, he is stalking her, harassing her and her boyfriend (with the harassment shown as playful). Eventually, the male lead decides to sing a song because that might just do the trick?! Here is a part of the chorus:

This must be her style
she tells you ‘no’ on her lips (via her speech)
but in her heart, the answer is yes

What makes this worse is the chorus translated above is sung by the male lead’s sister! So, we have a woman telling a man that even if a woman says no, she really means yes. This sets a dangerous precedence that even when a woman rejects a proposal or the advances of a man, she’s actually playing hard to get and, with a little more effort, he will get her. Lo and behold that is what happens in the movie.

4. Jaadu Teri Nazar (Your Gaze is Magical)

Context: Once again, the male lead is chasing the female head (despite her being married). Very similar to #3 whereby he is not accepting a rejection at any cost. Here, he is singing about her to himself:

Your gaze is magical
your body is like a fragrance
whether you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’
you’re mine, Kiran

In #3 at least he was trying to get her permission. Here, he’s already decided that the woman is his property. Fortunately, he is brutally killed by the husband at the end of the film.

5. Munni Badnaam Hui (Munni Got Defamed)

Context: In many Bollywood movies you’ll find what is called an ‘item song’. The song usually has nothing to do with the plot and features a skimpily dressed woman dancing in front of many men. The lyrics of the song are focused on a brazen objectification of the woman. I’ve chosen this particular item song because the woman is actually objectifying herself in the lyrics by constantly repeating:

Munni defamed herself
for you my darling

The lyrics indicate the woman being of a promiscuous nature and degrading herself for the sake of a man. Without going into graphic details, the rest of the song is more of her pointing out her physical features.

6. Jaane Bhi Do (Let It Go)

Context: A man has lured a woman into a physical relationship with the promise of a long-term relationship and marriage. After he gets what he wants, he leaves her. Later on in the movie, he tries to apologise. She is having none of it, so he naturally decides to sing a poor excuse of an apology. This is harrowing:

Let go of whatever happened
come on! Smile now
you’re pretending to be angry,
you’re pretending to be upset
my beloved, I know that

At another point in the song, he says:

You won’t be able to spend your life alone
please know that
just agree to it
you won’t be able to spend your life alone
you’ll also need me
please know that

I think she’ll be fine without you, buddy. Similar to #2, there is not much of an apology. How can there be? The male lead thinks she is pretending to be angry and upset about being used for sex and then has the gall to say she’ll end up alone without him.

7. Kuch Toh Bata (Tell Me Something)

Context: It’s the reoccurring theme of the male lead refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer. Leading up to this song, he is stalking her everywhere trying to get her to go out on a date with him. She keeps rejecting his advances until the song starts:

Tell me something, to me something
(woman: no, no, no)
give me your phone number or your house address
(woman: no, no, no)
I’m in this state because of you
look at me
don’t tease me
tell me something

Somehow, it’s the woman’s fault for the ‘state’ the man is in. So, instead of the man respecting her space and leaving her alone, the natural solution is that she should give in and give him whatever he wants. Make it make sense.

We can’t ignore these representations of women and the male-female relationship as being ‘only’ a movie or a song. Rape is a real epidemic in India, the home of Bollywood. It would be naive to say that the millions of people who watch Bollywood movies in India, particularly those who are not educated, not be influenced by these representations on a subconscious level.

It might not be all Bollywood films. Other movies do well in highlighting such issues and representing them in cinema. We have to be careful and conscious about what we’re watching and letting our kids watch, particularly young boys and men.