For toxic Bollywood, change begins at home

Toxic masculinity plagues both society and cinema, but what’s more disconcerting is the normalising of the same, again in both realms.

Published: 27th August 2023 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th August 2023 12:31 PM   |  A+A-

Image used for representational purpose.

Social media trolls have been busy after actor Alia Bhatt revealed that her actor-husband Ranbir Kapoor dislikes it when she steps out wearing lipstick. Netizens were up in arms for the ‘damsel in distress’, advising Alia to “dump him and move on”. “Toxic husband”, “Misogynistic behaviour”, they cried. But is this really surprising?

Take, for instance, Ranbir’s character of Mickey in Tu Jhoothi Main Makkar (2023). He’s a man who is clingy, won’t take no for an answer, and makes the woman feel worthless. Mickey’s family too wants his fiancée to stop working after marriage and become a docile bahu. While actors have no say in the design of a character, can misogyny on screen be divorced from misogyny off-screen, as the lipstick episode shows? Many would say this resonates with the Kapoor & Co. household, which earlier forbade its daughters-in-law from working in films, Neetu Kapoor and Babita being a case in point.

Why blame the Kapoors alone? Recently Sunny Deol showcased his brand of toxic masculinity when he commented that men looked like girls when they shaved their bodies. His half-sister Esha Deol also recently revealed how her ‘Orthodox Punjabi male’ father—Dharmendra— didn’t want her to act in films.

Toxic masculinity plagues both society and cinema, but what’s more disconcerting is the normalising of the same, again in both realms. In the same interview, Esha backtracked to say her father was just being protective of her. Alia has also gone on record to shut down trolls calling out Ranbir and painting a picture of marital bliss.

How often have we heard dialogues like “Kya ladkiyon ki tarah ro raha hai (Why do you weep like girls)?” Shockingly this blatant misogyny disturbs no timber. Body shaming is also core to misogyny. Actor Shanti Priya recently claimed that Akshay Kumar once commented on her knees being too dark. The actor said she went into depression and Akshay never apologised for his remark. In another incident, Sumana Chakravarti expressed her displeasure at Kapil Sharma joking about her lips on The Kapil Sharma Show.

Objectifying a woman’s body in films is another shame that has gotten normalised, as we see in raunch item numbers. But why do actors not refuse to go along with these? Simple, many do not have an option. Did debutante Mandakini in Raj Kapoor’s Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985) have the choice to refuse to be clad in transparent wet clothes? No, because it was the ‘master showman’s’ diktat. Tisca Chopra reveals how, on a location shoot, the director asked her to meet him for dinner in his hotel room to ‘discuss the script’. Neena Gupta too shared that a well-known male personality kept knocking on the door of her hotel room for hours one night. 

Can things change? Yes, when film stars start demonstrating non-toxic behaviour in their personal lives too. And when filmmakers refuse to pander to the tastes of the shallow sections of the audience and stop hiding behind ‘cinema mirrors society’. They need to remember that mirrors reflect.

Balaji Vittal

Film commentator and author

Twitter @vittalbalaji

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