In August 2022, the makers of Liger (the movie is releasing today), posted a song from the film on various social media accounts. Titled Aafat (nuisance), the song features the film’s lead actors, Vijay Deverakonda and Ananya Pandey.
It’s a routine titillating number from Bollywood where the woman tells the man she is a bud who would bloom into a flower if he touches her —suggesting underage sex — and the man comments on her youth, calling it ‘killer’.
While all of this is made to look consensual, out of the blue appear two brief scenes where the woman is shown as mock-resisting his advances, saying, “Bhagwan ke liye chhod do mujhe [spare me for God’s sake]”, before resuming to tease him sexually.
The line used has been the template dialogue Bollywood filmmakers have made women utter during the countless rape scenes since at least the 1970s. Here, the line seems to have been inserted for laughs, as if paying tribute to the industry’s well-established and unique rape-art genre.
Instagram is already filled with reels where young women are copying the dance, complete with the step where they fold hands and mockingly ask to be spared.
The normalisation of rape in the Bollywood film industry, which probably began in 1980s when the heroine was made to fall for her rapist routinely, seems to be thus furthered with Aafat.
Popularisation Of Rape By Bollywood
For the filmmakers, rape scenes brought audience and money. It was so prevalent that if the audience knew it was an action film and the hero was shown to have a sister, a rape scene was almost mandatory. Revenge for this rape would become the rest of the story.
Ranjeet, the iconic villain of Bollywood films of the 1970s and 1980s, candidly said in an interview that film distributors would demand that the makers insert a rape scene featuring him to garner more viewership.
If a filmmaker denied the possibility of such a scene in their script, distributors would ask for the scene to be shot in a dream sequence. Ranjeet is said to have acted as a rapist in as many as 350 films and was dubbed ‘rape king’ by film magazines.
Ranjeet’s popularity, in fact, kickstarted with his rapist act in Sharmilee (1971). Four decades later, producer Sajid Nadiadwala and director Sajid Khan roped him in for a cameo in Housefull 2 (2012), where his character was named ‘Dr Ranjeet, Vasna Ka Pujari, Th(e)Rapist’ — a parody of his rapist image of the past.
Ranjeet told the media he received a lot of “compliments” for this role.
Another serial rapist in Bollywood films, Prem Chopra, confessed that in his time, “the credentials of a villain were confirmed only after he had raped the heroine or the hero’s sister” (from Chopra’s biography Prem Naam Hai Mera, penned by his daughter Ranita Nanda).
That the rape scene was firmly established as a popular genre in Bollywood is evident from what Chopra revealed later in the book — by the mid-1970s, the Indian government had to intervene and tell the filmmakers to reduce rape scenes.
Chopra himself seemed to have no qualms about his image as a serial rapist as, in the book, he summed up his career by saying, “People thought I was one of the coolest rapists to have ever graced the Hindi film screen.”
Even in the classical film genre, the superhit song ‘Inhi logo ne le liya dupatta mera’ in Pakeezah (1972), written by Majrooh Sultanpuri and sung by Lata Mangeshkar, is a musical celebration of how different men, including a policeman, molested a woman.
The 1980s And 1990s
In the 1960s and early 1970s, the titillating rape scenes, though meant to attract crowds to theatres, were shot with villains and baddies who were either killed or arrested by the end of the film. In the late 1970s and 1980s, however, a sub-genre was invented where rape was a virtuous act that could be life-saving or executed by the hero for a larger noble cause.
In Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1973), Shashi Kapoor was shown to have sex with Sharmila Tagore’s character in her sleep to save her from death due to cold, impregnating her in the process. Tagore was shown as thanking him for his thoughtfulness.
The genre called ‘Jism ki Garmi’, where sex with a woman in sleep was sold as a life-saving medical therapy, was thus born. It was replicated in several films.
Badle Ki Aag (1982) featured Sunil Dutt and Reena Roy, where Roy’s character thanks him by calling him a “devata”.
In Ganga Jamuna Saraswati (1988), which featured Amitabh Bachchan as Ganga and Meenakshi Sheshadri as Jamuna, the couple was shown to agree that since hearts were already one, it did not matter if bodies had also become one through the sex-in-her-sleep act.
In Saugandh (1991), which featured Akshay Kumar and Shantipriya, the heroine almost instantly falls in love with him after a similar act and even regrets her anger at his sexual harassment and abduction attempts earlier in the film.
Film Inteqam (1988), directed by Rajkumar Kohli, showed lead actor Sunny Deol kidnapping Meenakshi Sheshadri’s character and throwing her into a brothel to get even with her brother, who was the lawyer of the rapist.
The film shows Sheshadri’s character falling in love with Deol’s character and eventually marrying him, suggesting that a sexual crime by the man does not come in the way of romance, especially if done for a noble cause like revenge.
Film Insaniyat Ke Dushman (1987), also by Rajkumar Kohli, showed lead actor Raj Babbar raping Dimple Kapadia’s character to take revenge with her lawyer brother.
While Kapadia’s character is initially angry at him, she softens up as he explains his motive — he was truly in love with her and was willing to marry her, which was proof of his noble intentions towards her honour.
Kapadia’s character accepts this explanation and reciprocates his ‘love’ by breaking into a dance with him in the following scene.
Bollywood films of this era also promoted marriage with the rapist as a solution to “restoring the victim’s honour”, and it was not necessarily the stereotypical villain who played the rapist.
In Himmat Aur Mehnat (1987), lead actor Jeetendra rapes Sridevi’s character under the influence of alcohol. She tries to commit suicide, but Jeetendra stops her in time.
She tells him she is jumping off the cliff as “she has no right to live anymore”. In response, Jeetendra slaps her. The next scene shows the two have married in a temple, and Sridevi is happy and smiling wide.
In Benaam Badsha (1991), lead actor Anil Kapoor rapes Juhi Chawla’s character Jyoti on her wedding day in lieu of money. Jyoti decides to leave her fiance and, instead, win the heart of the rapist, hoping he would agree to marry her in order to restore her honour.
In the following scenes, we see Jyoti secretly sending love letters to the rapist, in what are supposed to be light-hearted comic scenes.
Film Tyagi, which was released in the following year, shows Shakti Kapoor’s character raping a woman and eventually marrying her with her consent. The film shows Rajnikanth, who plays Kapoor’s elder brother, convincing the woman to marry Kapoor by educating her that no police case filed by her would bring her lost “izzat” (respect) back.
It was as if the industry had successfully taken the stigma off the rapist because, in the films that followed, the lead actress was shown cherishing the idea of rape.
Film Anjaam (1994) featured a song, ‘Chane ke khet mein’, which had Madhuri Dixit blushing, smiling and dancing while recounting an episode of rape in a field.
Two years later, actress Sonali Bendre similarly blushed, smiled and danced on a song titled ‘Bharatpur lut gaya’ in film English Babu Desi Mem. The song begins with Bendre nursing her wounds and recounting how, when she was returning home after fetching water from a well, a policeman caught her, forcibly removed her blouse and raped her.
Incidentally, this was a remake of a song from 1984 film Aasmaan that featured Sarika.
In late 1990s, as Bollywood moved towards the feel-good romantic-comedy genre with superhit films such as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), blatant use of rape as a means to win the woman began to thankfully disappear, even though Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge was not without problems.
The film shows Shah Rukh Khan teasing and harassing Kajol’s character when her undergarment accidentally slips out of her suitcase and later lying to her that he raped her when she was unconscious. These were scenes that are supposed to evoke laughter from the audience. There is also a “comedy” scene of Shah Rukh tearing Kajol’s blouse and eating it.
These moments are shown as a build-up to romance flowering between the two.
As previously pointed out by these authors, Bollywood did change its ways after the massive outrage against the Nirbhaya rape case in 2012, which worked to sensitise the masses against anti-women crimes such as stalking, teasing and rape.
Themes of a hero winning his woman through stalking and rape did drop drastically. However, perhaps because titillation has been a major crowd-puller for the industry since its inception, the age-old ‘item number’ genre in Bollywood evolved into extreme objectification of women.
They were either shown as enjoying leers and jeers and even groping by several men, such as in ‘Khallas’ song in Company (2002), feeding into the gangrape fantasies of perverts, or describing themselves as a piece of meat that can be consumed with alcohol, such as in ‘Fevicol se’ in Dabangg 2 (2012).
With an inglorious history such as this, a song that makes a parody of Bollywood’s own shameful rape genre serves as a reminder that the industry, after all, is not ready to change its ways.
Readers may be reminded of a disturbing case from Uttar Pradesh’s Kaushambi district in 2019 when a 13-year-old Dalit Hindu girl was gang-raped by three men, who captured their act on video and circulated it. The video showed the girl pleading to the men to spare her, uttering the words — “Bhaiya, Allah ke liye mujhe chhod do”.
When the authors of this article met the survivor, she shockingly revealed that the rapists — Mohammad Adil, Mohammad Adik and Mohammad Nazim — made her say those words. This clearly pointed to the perverse thrill that the rapists got from the words they no doubt picked up from Bollywood.
Despite all this, Bollywood continues its celebration of rape.
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