Sexual Violence in Bollywood: Stalking the Tight-trope

Bollywood, a global industry with far-reaching influence, produces a culmination of films that cover a variety of genres. From the famous rom-coms to the action-packed thrillers as well as the iconic songs that are the staples of these films, this industry holds an enormous amount of power in displaying the culture of India. Iconic films Diwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Badrinath Ki Dulhania are known for their passionate love stories and memorable scenes; however, these films perpetuate a dangerous notion within Indian culture’s conception of romance. 

The romanticization and subsequent normalization of stalking is heavily embedded in many of the narratives that are commercialized throughout India. The narratives of films such as Kabir Singh, Pyaar Impossible, Raanjhana, Toilet Ek Prem Katha, Darr, Tere Naam, Badrinath Ki Dulhania, and the famous Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge center stalking and, in doing so, feed into the pervasive rape culture in India. As an industry, Bollywood has been romanticizing stalking in their screenplays over the past 40 years and continues to do so. This has a direct link to the way men act towards women in Indian society.

Both DDLJ and Badrinath Ki Dulhania normalize stalking, granting this trope permission to run its course. In DDLJ, the main character, Raj’s following Simran is played off as romantic and sweet to the audience. The same can be said for the film Badrinath Ki Dulhania, in which the male protagonist Badrinath Bansal has his friend follow the main love interest around and take pictures of her without her permission. The behavior is played off as romantic in the film, whereas in reality, it is alarming and correlates directly with the culture of sexual violence in India. 

“In a weird way, I romanticized stalking,” said Kshma Dharampal, an avid Bollywood fan and fourth year student at UC Davis. “I remember when I was a sophomore in high school, I had the fattest crush on this guy and…in my head I was like ‘Oh, what if he’s watching me right now?’ [while] I was…literally just at my house…and it’s just so crazy that those were the beliefs that were instilled in me.”

“The consumption of such films can affect one on a subconscious level, with many buying into the romanticization of these tropes and aspiring for their own romantic experiences to be similar. The stalking is translated as an intimate moment, making the viewer normalize the abuse they are seeing on the screen.”

The consumption of such films can affect one on a subconscious level, with many buying into the romanticization of these tropes and aspiring for their own romantic experiences to be similar. The stalking is translated as an intimate moment, making the viewer normalize the abuse they are seeing on the screen. “I remember I was watching Kabir Singh with my roommates, and they watched the movie for the first time and were like ‘Oh my god, this is such a toxic relationship; why are you showing us this movie?’” said Diya Shenoy, an international student at UC Davis who grew up in India. “And until they said it, I didn’t even realize how bad the whole situation with that movie was…when they said it, I was like ‘Oh, wait, this is so problematic.’”

The film Kabir Singh has a narrative that cements this misogynistic portrayal of women losing their sense of agency to the man. The story follows the main character Kabir Singh, who asserts his dominance over the main female love interest Preeti, who tolerates the abuse that she is experiencing. The narrative continues with the two characters falling in love and eventually ending up together. The film glorifies stalking and justifies Kabir’s abusive actions toward Preeti, feeding into the harmful narrative of stalking being a romantic display of affection.  Furthermore, Preeti’s one-dimensional character contributes to Bollywood’s degrading portrayal of women, who are always displayed as an object to be won rather than a human being. 

The prevalence and encouragement of such stalkerish behaviors in Bollywood films make an impression on the impressionable youth, and this romanticization creates a discrepancy with the way men approach women in India. Women are shown to enjoy the stalking, and thus the narrative is seen as safe and alluring:  “They picturize it to make it seem like she liked it. I think that’s why a lot of people think that it’s okay when in reality it’s just creepy and weird,” said Vaibhav, a fourth-year student at UC Davis. “They shouldn’t romanticize it so much; they shouldn’t deem it to be okay because then if you see your heroes doing it…you think that it’s okay.” 

With these tropes being so prominent, there is a lack of awareness and understanding that there may be a connection between the romanticization of stalking and the discrimination women in India face on a daily basis. This constant exposure to the normalization of sexual assault and harassment is translated to and embedded in Indian society. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2018, 9438 cases of stalking were reported in India–one occurring every 55 minutes, on average. The infamous Priya Mattoo Case of 1996 is a tragic example, in which a young law student was a victim of rape and murder in her own home in Delhi after being stalked by Santosh Singh, the son of an IPS officer. The court reduced the culprit’s death sentence by giving him life imprisonment instead. Such cases in India have only risen: in 2016, a 15-year-old was allegedly raped and burned on the terrace of her house by her 20-year-old stalker in Gautam Buddh Nagar, Uttar Pradesh. 

  The way Bollywood has capitalized on these tropes and made these films staples in the multi-million dollar industry is increasingly harmful and detrimental to Indian society. The underlying abuse shown on the screen is normalized, and, within a culture that is so heavily embedded with sexual violence, it further contributes as a catalyst to the constant tragedies that plague the Indian news. These films are seen as iconic love stories that many try to shape their own romantic lives around, and that ideology needs to be dismantled. Bollywood as an industry should become more conscious of the media they are producing as these stories that glorify stalking only encourages the normalization of sexual violence in India.