Approximately 210 million households in India own television sets, and out of that number, almost all have access to Bollywood movies. Bollywood, the cinema industry of India with a global influence, releases over 1,000 films a year – all of different varieties and origins. Children in India are exposed to these films before they can even talk, which naturally affects their beliefs as they grow up. Unfortunately, celebrities in the roles of exaggerated characters don’t exactly prove to be the best influence on young minds. The industry is playing an imperative role in normalizing social evils against women, including physical abuse, stalking and sexual violence. The harmful standards of romance in such films are clouding the judgment of young minds, bringing us to the question: is Bollywood romanticizing women’s harassment in Indian society?

The romanticization and subsequent glorification of threatening persistence has been prevalent in Bollywood screenplay for over 40 years now, and it only seems to be growing. From old iconic movies like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge to 21st century films such as Raanjhanaa, Bollywood fanatics have chosen to subconsciously turn a blind eye to the harmful behaviors often displayed in the male lead towards a woman. This behavior is intentionally played off as romantic and charming, which directly feeds into the culture of sexual assault and violence that haunts the country. 

The fact that young boys across the country see their idols playing into these tropes creates a discrepancy with the way men choose to approach women. Women in the films are more often than not shown to enjoy the stalking and persistence, which makes boys think that it is normal and even alluring. “Time and again it is portrayed quite realistically that apparently the girl seems to relish it,” Veena Mittal said. “Which is certainly untrue because if someone were to do that in real life, it would just be blatantly creepy.”

There seems to be a lack of awareness and understanding around the fact that there is a direct link between the romanticization of abuse in movies and the harassment that Indian women face on a daily basis. The constant exposure to films like these have undoubtedly had a negative impression on young minds, and this absurd normalization has translated and embedded itself in society. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2018 there were 9,438 cases of stalking in India – one every 55 minutes on average. One such extremely disheartening example was the infamous case of Priyadarshini Mattoo, a young law student who even after filing many complaints against her stalker, was sexually assaulted and murdered in her own home. 

Bollywood stands as a firm promoter of toxic masculinity, an example being the movie Kabir Singh. The film was a blockbuster hit in June 2019, reaching $379.2 million INR (5.1 million USD) in ticket sales. The movie’s narrative cements the misogynistic portrayal and objectification of women into  a prize that can be won. The movie showcases the main character, Kabir Singh, as a toxic individual who is glorified for asserting dominance over his partner Preeti by physically and emotionally abusing her. The irony is that the two of them are written to fall in love, ending up together by the movie’s end. The dehumanizing of women in the film is just one example of Bollywood encouraging discrimination and domestic violence.

Humans tend to have a bandaid approach to such topics, where making new laws and holding more trials is the obvious solution. I say that it’s time to examine deeper, and time for Bollywood to acknowledge the change in the political and social climate of the world. They must finally own up to their actions and accept responsibility to the power they hold over millions of individuals.