Madonna to Bollywood: Bad Feminism?
Two of the most iconic lines in Madonna's speech at the 2016 Billboard Women of the Year were, "to age is a sin" and "women can be sexual only as long as men want us to be, we women cannot own our sexuality". The reality of these two lines can very well be contexualized in Bollywood. The latter's devotion for item songs serves as a testimony to the extent women are sexualized in Indian cinema. One can’t seem to make any sense about the need associated with such songs but to merely serve as an instrument to capture the gaze of the male audiences. The lyrics that are commonly used in these songs are absurd and straight-up demeaning to women. But, unsurprisingly, these songs are lapped up with immense enthusiasm by almost all the age/gender groups and one may find it irresistible to not do the hook step when they are being played. However, what is surprising is that even the most established actors, associated with causes like women empowerment, child rights, sex education, etc are comfortable with promoting and using such songs. in their movies.
Even established actresses in particular find the need to include item songs in their movies. For instance, Kareena Kapoor dancing to the unfortunately extremely famous number, Fevicol Se from the Dabbang trilogy, which is inarguably the most misogynistic song that Bollywood has ever produced... In a country like India, where women are still struggling for empowerment and fighting for establishing, an identity of their own, fevicol se wants us to believe that women are tandoori chicken ready to be paired with alcohol. Given the environment and the kind of societal norms Indian women have to deal with on daily basis, do we really need songs whose sole agenda is to reduce women to the stature of an object? Thus, the term, item songs.
This just being the tip of the iceberg, it makes it scarier; most of the popular tracks played on loop at birthday parties of four-year-olds to wedding ceremonies of forty-year-olds are almost all item songs. This is extremely problematic and regressive because most of these songs internalize and normalize the idea of submissive behavior, stalking, and eve-teasing. In one such song, Afghan Jalebi, the lyrics read as follows: Hai tujh pe right mera, Tu hai delight mera, tera rasta Joh Roku tokne ka nahi" (Which loosely translates to "I have every right on you. If I block your path, do not protest"). In a country where people have no regard for consent and boundaries, such lyrics aids in developing a mindset, that such kind of behavior will at the maximum be considered as ‘filmy’ and that it is okay to be ‘inspired’ by films. And, for a nation that breathes cinema, this gives rise to a lot of potentially dangerous scenarios.
One of the most popular arguments that are usually heard from the supporters of item songs, women do item songs to celebrate their sensuality. There seems to be no issue with women celebrating their sensuality; however, the harsh reality is that under the pretext of celebrating sexuality, women are being subjected to lewd male gazes and are further objectified. In Bollywood, audiences are usually shown fragments of a woman's body, a swinging navel, and a shaking hip. This brings us back to Madonna's speech where she talks about how women can embrace their sexuality as long as it satisfies the men but can never embrace their sexuality as their own.
Further, it is often seen that a mid-twenty-year-old actress is usually paired up with a married/unmarried forty-year-old actor. However, notably married actresses are rarely seen on the big screen. “To age is a sin” does not apply only to pop culture in America but also to the Bollywood culture in India. As actresses age, their “value” in the market also deteriorates . We can see in numerous movies that younger actresses are made to play the role of mothers to actors who are older than them even when there are older actresses who are capable of pulling off the role. This just goes on to show us that “To age is a sin” in the entertainment industry.
Even after six years of the famous speech made by Madonna, her words hold true and no one knows for how long will they continue to.