‘Breaking Family’ Wave in Bollywood

The Indian word for homemaker is ‘griheeni’, which clearly recognises the woman as the chief homemaker, even if the man funds its running. This is logical given that nature has bestowed on a woman, the mantle of starting a family, by making her the child-bearer. She is the natural nurturer, who nurtures her baby in the womb for a long period before she lets him/her out into the world. And her nurturing continues, not just of the baby, but of the entire family (spouse, in-laws, sister-in-law, etc.) and with whoever she comes into contact — be it her neighbours, their children, her colleagues in a workplace, and society at large. The family as an institution largely depends on her commitment to this role, a role that demands immense consideration, sacrifice, compassion, love, and sense of responsibility.

Now, have you watched any Hindi film — full-length or short or any web series — lately, in which the female lead plays this role? Chances are you haven’t. You would have seen her as a corporate bigwig, ad filmmaker, pilot, model, bank employee, fashion designer, even as a forest officer, anything but as a woman who nurtures her family joyfully. Keeping the house functioning is a job that she will be shown doing cursorily, indifferently, her mind elsewhere.  The deep joy and peace in carrying out one’s family responsibilities, often placing the family’s good above one’s own narrow self-interest, that rippled through old Bollywood films (Bawarchi, Khubsoorat, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Vivah, etc.), is completely missing in the content that is oozing from the big screen or OTT platforms today. Today one can locate no content that promotes any family values.

It seems that feminism which arose in the West in response to situations obtaining there, and which travelled to India mainly through foreign-funded NGOs, to settle in our educational institutions in the garb of women’s studies, has totally clouded the psyche of India’s content-makers, both male and female. Thus, they are blaring the message that a homemaker’s life with all the values and responsibilities it entails, is a loser’s life which spells unhappiness for women. To be happy and she has a right to that, a right she must exercise vigorously, a woman should ideally secure a paid job (outside her home), and she must satisfy her sexual urges, either within or outside the marital framework.  If she chooses marriage, then she must ensure her husband meets her every wish; if not, she must walk out of the marriage, never mind its effects on others, even her children. The concept of the wife as ‘dharampatni’, the custodian of all virtues who keeps her husband on the path of virtue, has drowned in the rage and froth of feminism. So in the recent Alankita Srivastava-directed film, Dolly aur Kitty ke Chamakte Sitaare, a mother of two (played by Konkona Sen Sharma), huffs out of her marriage blaming her husband for not fulfilling her throbbing sexual desires, which she is thus left to satiate with delivery boys. Konkona moves out with a sense of entitlement, taking one child with her, while her husband looks on, guiltily. Again, in the recent web series Family Man Il, the wife laments the beating her career has taken because of marriage and motherhood, and finally leans towards another man, on account of her husband's workoholism.

Most Hindi films today (The Dirty Picture, Queen, Pink, Sony, etc.) reconfirm the basic premise of feminism — all women are exploited by the patriarchal system of society. Feminism exhorts women to regard themselves as “victims” and men – be they her father, brother, partner — as potential exploiters against whom women must forever be on guard. The stage is thus set for a battle of the sexes. Instead of viewing men as their partners in the journey of life, and conceiving ways to harmonise these relationships, using their natural sensitivity, women are encouraged to be constantly vigilant against any kind of exploitation by men, forget forgiving them for any slip. The core value of trust between family members, one of the pillars of the institution, is undermined by feminism and by films reflecting this ideology today. And films influence young people’s values and behaviour greatly.

Unfortunately, Bollywood is goading young women to believe that their only responsibility is to live as they fancy. A woman shoulders no responsibilities towards any family member or anyone else. So wives can stride out of marriages at the slightest of reasons. And before marriage, of course, they are entitled to pursue every joy they want. Thus, in the film Humpty Sharma ki Dulhaniya, the female lead (Alia Bhatt) merrily runs away from her home on the eve of her wedding — without sparing a thought for her parents. Living in the moment without a care for the future is the dominant note in today’s movies. Family values like saving for a rainy day have been thrown to the winds. Borrow if need be, but enjoy life.  And sex, preferably with no strings attached, is projected as the greatest joy that women or men can savour.

Love stories and romances are almost extinct in this world. What you are served, over and over again, is sexual liaisons of various hues, necessarily out of marriage and socially defiant, like sex between daughter-in-law and father-in-law in the Mirzapur web series. Also, it is no longer just a man who seeks indecent sexual favours. Remember this is a feminist world which claims gender equality in all rights. Thus even women are shown more and more as demanding sex from men in violation of social norms. In the web series Bewafa, beamed on Ekta Kapoor’s OTT Alt Balaji, a young girl seduces a famous erotic writer to sleep with her, on the eve of his marriage to another woman. She then warns him that he has to keep doling out sexual favours to her whenever she asks him in the future, as she is a minor and he has committed an offence by law. A woman can nonchalantly stoop to subterfuge for sex – the message is dinned in.

What is really worrisome is the casual attitude towards sex that is being promoted and subtly seeded in Indian women by Bollywood and its allied media outlets.  Marriage, from which traditionally blossoms families, is no longer a strongly recommended option in today’s films. (This is ironical, considering all our female actors, who play feminist roles — Vidya Balan, Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma, Kareena Kapoor, inter alia, choose marriage and motherhood eventually and live lives conforming traditional social norms). In film after film, like in the web series Bombay Begum, we encounter young women who sleep around casually, with friends or even near strangers, and without any negative repercussions. Even a sixty-plus woman (played by Ratna Pathak) is depicted as lusting for a young man in the controversial fllm Lipstick under the Burkha and the director essays to invoke audience sympathy when the youth rejects her rudely. Indeed, women are being roundly told to ‘go’ for casual sex, not marriage; they are being ‘groomed’ for casual sex, never mind its far-reaching deleterious consequences. Says Dr Raj Brahmabhatt, pioneer in sexual medicine in India, and consultant at Nanavati SuperSpecialty Hospital (Mumbai): “Studies have shown that casual sex leaves most women feeling sad, anxious, used, depressed, with poor self-esteem. If casual sex is encouraged as it is today by the media, it will lead to growing incidence of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), teenage pregnancies, obsessive behaviour, depression, violence, and suicides. Families will break down, so will society, and the joy of living will be lost.”  

This is a dangerous prospect staring us in the face today. With almost all OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Alt Balaji, delivering content extolling casual sex and running down the institution of marriage, and such content being easily available — literally in the palm of one’s hands – their impact on society and family dynamics is inevitable and visible. Families splintering, homes turning into battlefields, homemakers ridden by deep inferiority complexes, more marriages landing in family courts and crashing — trends increasingly apparent and deepening in India today.

Again, to be noted is that sex scenes are becoming increasingly more graphic, and bordering on pornography. Content producers, and sadly even women directors, are falling over one another, to not just depict sexual perversions, but to do so even more graphically, in the name of authenticity and freedom of expression — predictably to catch more eyeballs. Thus, even four stories of Satyajit Ray, which had no female characters and were written for children, have been completely distorted with liberal dressings of sex, drugs and alcohol – in the mini web series titled Ray, presently streaming gaily on Netflix.  

And then we ask, why are there so many rapes? If people’s minds are allowed to be flooded with such seamless images of lust, sexual perversions, and of women as available, “perpetually hungry-for- sex” beings, then we can only expect crime against women to shoot up drastically. Should these OTT platforms be allowed to air just any content, as they are permitted today, we cannot hope to save even the trimmed-down, already fragile, nuclear Indian family. Breaking the family means breaking the basic unit of society, it means breaking India. Surely it’s TIME the government intervened to censor OTT content! 

 Munmun Ghosh is a Mumbai-based journalist, fiction -writer, and sitarist. You can contact her by mail: [email protected]

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