Because dirty pictures sell so well

Bollywood has always been liberal about rape. Even in the 1950s, an opportunity - not necessity - was all its male characters needed to indulge in sexual violence. No cliché was left untouched, no heroine was taboo, and no villain so stuffy that he could not turn rape into his professional habit.

According to media blogs, actor Prem Chopra is guilty of 250 rapes on celluloid; Danny Denzongpa, of 110; Shakti Kapoor of more than 80; Gulshan Grover of at least 22; Ajit of 12 and Amrish Puri of 9.

Actresses Usha Kiran (Patita,1953); Nargis (Mother India, 1957), Nutan (Dulhan ek Raat ki,1967), Poonam Dhillon (Noorie, 1979), Hema Malini (Kudrat, 1981), Zeenat Aman (Insaaf ke Tarazu, 1980) right upto Madhuri Dixit (Prem Granth, 1996) had to suffer the ignominy of various shades of indecent exposure for the sake of box-office success.

The 70s-80s decade reflected the first shift in the way rape was depicted in Bollywood. Moving away from the Thakur-dacoit backdrop, where women were abducted or raped to portray class/male dominance over poor farmers/women, Bollywood began to turn the act into an expression of unexplained violence. "Rape, which they show, and incest, which they don't, are two things our films don't discuss," says sociologist Shiv Vishwanathan.  

If the 70s-80s was the period of Amitabh Bachchan, it was also a time when Ranjeet held the rapist's brief. After acting out sexual assaults in a manner that was crowd pleasing and, often, comical, he would eventually be 'fixed' by the hero for his various villainies.  

However, recent films like Shanghai and Love, Sex aur Dhoka - which portray sexual violence in all its criminality - have brought about a positive twist to this Bollywood trend. When Emran Hashmi tries to force himself on Kalki Koechlin in Shanghai, it is portrayed as the very brutal repulsive act it happens to be.

In earlier times of Bollywood, rape had a steady clientele. It satisfied the male gaze. But its near-disappearance in recent years has been no accident - replaced by a brigade of consenting women. Though The Dirty Picture - based on the life of porn actor Silk Smitha - might not have featured rape, it still held out an open invitation to voyeurs.

"From magazine cover-girls to mainstream film heroines, no coercion or muscle is needed for a heroine to expose herself," said Irfan, a popular culture expert. This is probably why today's Bollywood audience, given a choice between a scene of rape or car racing, would opt for the latter.


also read

HT spotlight on violence against women

India shamed: Chances of a woman being raped doubled in past 20 years

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