I was watching the Jhalak Dikhla Jaa premiere last week and was appalled when one of the performers staged the circumstances of a gang-rape to open her performance. She danced, petite, delicate and in faux distress as a large group of tall male dancers in black moved around her menacingly. I was not appalled because I work on Prajnya’s gender violence campaign. I work on the campaign because this is a circumstance I would find appalling, and it is scandalous that it is considered artistic foil for a competitive dance performance that has nothing to do with violence.
Surfing channels a little later, I watched one of my favourite songs and actors. And thought, not for the first time, whether in Hema Malini’s place, faced with someone other than Dev Anand and a host of cameras and film crew, I would find the song or situation in the least bit beguiling. Consider this: you travel for work with a male colleague and cannot be in your room without finding him peering through every window and opening! It would actually be terrifying.
Pal bhar ke liye, Johny Mera Naam, featuring Dev Anand and Hema Malini
Another song that really is criminally catchy is “Khambe jaisi khadi hai,” from Dil. In this very sexist, menacing number, Aamir Khan and his friends mock new classmate Madhuri Dixit for daring to not respond to their overtures.
Khambe jaisi khadi hai, Dil, featuring Aamir Khan and Madhuri Dixit
The menacing tone of this is taken forward to the rape simulation in the film, which is Aamir Khan’s character’s way of proving to her that rape charges should be made seriously. Well, that’s not the message you remember first though–what you remember is that the potential victim falls in love with her assailant.
People made a huge fuss about ‘Choli ke peechhey kya hai,’ but I have always found Madhuri Dixit’s hit, ‘Chane ke khet mein’ a great deal more scandalous. Perhaps my understanding is faulty, but does she not talk about being accosted in the fields and ‘jora-jori’ chane ke khet mein? How is coercion in the gram-field appropriate for any celebration?
Chane ke khet mein, Anjaam, featuring Madhuri Dixit
But all these three songs are catchy, and the first one is really a classic, so quietly, like a sugar-coated pill, stories about violence slip into our playlists and we listen to them with pleasure rather than horror.
I was thinking about this and came up with three examples, and three Hindi examples, because this is what I listen to and this is what came to mind. I am sure there are lots of other examples. Do share them. Let’s see if we can come up with a long list of songs that really should be banned, if only we could get them out of our heads! At least, let us tempt the possibility that someone will read this post and its responses and think: hey, actually this is not a cool song or dance situation! A girl in these circumstances is actually more likely to be traumatised or screaming for help rather than dimpling back in exasperation or dancing beautifully!