Halla Mach Jayega: How Bollywood Has Been Responsible For The Spread of Eve-Teasing

“Towal me bahar jaogi to Halla mach jayega
Towal me bahar jaogi to Halla mach jayega
Kar dogi badnaam tum Karo na aisa kaam tum
Tumko aise dekh Har ek ladka sharmayega

So begins a song from the famous Bollywood blockbuster Eena Meena Deeka, where the hero (Rishi Kapoor) “playfully” cautions the heroine (Juhi Chawla) to not go out in her towal (a knee-length skirt), as this will tempt men and cause them shame, public distress and a host of other problems. Not surprisingly, what proceeds immediately after her refusing to heed his “advice”, is that she is followed around by a whole town of men, who intercept her way, pushing, pulling, tripping and slapping her towal-clad bum – all led, of course, by the hero.

The entire song – on the outset – is a depiction of the protagonist’s supposed love, care and concern for the girl. While most enjoyed the slapstick humor of the song, it took me a while to understand what was really so funny about it all: that it was titillating to see how the hero’s prophecies came to life, considering he pretty much perpetrates most of the “halla”.

I was on my way to the local market near East of Kailash, New Delhi and all of these haunting memories came rushing back when I was irked by a man on a cycle. As I bowled over into the slush to avoid him, he went on happily singing the song ‘Akeli na bazaar jaya karo‘ from the 1998 movie Major Saab. Of course, five years of studying Political Science had answered many questions, as I learnt what patriarchy was. However, in that moment of what has so euphemistically been called “being eve-teased” (read: harassed), a new answer to some of these questions hit me like a lightning bolt. The answer was of course, Bollywood!

I grew up in Park Circus, Kolkata, a locality that was congested, underdeveloped, dotted with intermittent pockets of slums, and notorious for all its ‘Biker boys’ and their shenanigans. Occurrences of “eve-teasing” have always been frequent throughout my life – bikes screeching to a halt less than a step away from me, on-purpose-accidental bumping into me, calling me “Sheila” (when seen in long skirts), “Madonna” (when in short skirts), “Laali” (when I had red hair), and “Pakizah” (when in Indian attire). It also occasionally escalated to running off with my cycle when I was not looking, catapulting stones into my bedroom from neighboring terraces, aiming laser lights at my nipples. Groups of sneering imbeciles would sometimes surround me, tugging at my clothes, scaring me with sudden antics, buffoonery, and casually dropping the sentence “bohot din baad dekha tum he” while gesturing a cunnilingus.

In my pre-teens, all of this infuriated me, and I kept asking myself, “If they are interested in me, why on earth would they be so rude to me, scare me, hurt me and humiliate me?” It also never made sense when my mother said to me “All this only happens to you because you want and like attention”. Now, I had my answer. After going through a catalogue of similar songs, I was left wondering how actors and actresses could agree to be a part of the sheer and blatant stupidity that permeates this culture of harassing women, one that has been so adoringly sanctioned by Bollywood. Songs that I had grown up loving, now only caused disdain, if not rage. What glared back at me, instead of humor, were typically mnemonic scenes from my childhood locality and my intruded adulthood – where local gundas had been replaced by well-groomed, foundation-faced, chap-sticked attractive young men; men who now also perpetrated all the atrocities that had plagued me and others like me for years. Songs where forcing women, manhandling them, annoying them, jibing and jerking them around, accusing them of being provocative, catcalling, accidental groping, were all neatly portrayed as musings of a “roadside Romeo’s” proclamation of love. And naturally, they expected in everyday life to encounter the women of these songs who, behind their nakhras, aitraaz and inkaar, actually enjoyed the attention – giggling to Govinda and Chunky Pandey’s tomfoolery in ‘O Lal Dupatte Wali Tera Naam Toh Batah‘, to Amitabh’s charisma in ‘Jumma Chumma de de‘, or Ajay Devgun’s “heropanti” in ‘Premi Aashiq Awaara‘, or Aamir’s boy-next-door charm in ‘Khambe Jaise Khadi Hai‘.

Not surprisingly, most of these songs were typically set in public roads, college campuses, classrooms, local markets, malls and other public places. The lyrics axiomatically contain language that is not flattering – referring to women as khambas, chaadis, cheez, maal, amongst other words – and is often beguilingly used to objectify women. The videos, the lyrics, the stance, the flavor and the very essence of many of these Bollywood songs depict, in shockingly similar terms, nearly every aspect of eve-teasing today. There is perhaps no confusion as to why all the pestering is regarded as so reminiscently ‘filmy’.

Bollywood had developed a culture that directly influenced, invoked, ratified and endorsed glaringly, but also subtly, the art of eve-teasing. It sends out a message that not only sanctions harassing women, but (like the term ‘eve-teasing’ itself) implies a chronic justification – that we women call it upon ourselves, backed by the patriarchal assumption that we too like it. This is portrayed perhaps most clearly in a particularly distasteful song from Haseena Maan Jayegi, which ends with Sanjay Dutt passing on great wisdom to his younger brother wherein he says “Har gaane ke finish mein haseena maan jaati hai yaar“. This, right after a 5.57 minute tutorial on how to corner women into saying ‘I Love You’. Ultimately, it is about ‘boys being boys’, that they’re just ‘having some fun’. It is made acceptable. Why? Because they like us, of course. Even after I came home after 2 years and a Master’s degree, these incidents continue to be components of daily life.

Suman Quazi has completed her Masters in Political Science from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.  She is a freelance writer currently working from home in Calcutta, enjoying good weather, home-made cups of tea, reading and love-making.

Featured image courtesy.

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