Here's a scene most of you won't have difficulty relating to. A conventionally pretty girl is walking to a bus stop near her college, and a guy, obviously in cool denims and black shades, is watching her intently. Just when she's about to go out of sight, he decides to follow her, in a manner no different from what we call stalking. The girl is obviously irritated, but never yells out for help.
Soon the scene shifts to inside the bus: the 'stalker' is now the knight in shimmering armour, and is the only man who is around to shield the girl from other shady passengers, all of whom are doing exactly what he did a minute ago! But, as you know, she is a girl and, therefore, bound to like the ‘macho’ guy protecting her.
Change the scene again. The two are out of the bus now, but the guy continues to follow the damsel in distress and even reaches her home. He is unfazed even when he's face-to-face with the girl's brother, usually a dreaded local gangster. Surprise, surprise, the brother-who's-also-the-gangster is so large-hearted that he approves the 'stalking' boy and gives him permission to hover around the girl whenever he wants to.
Did you just say this is so filmy? Perhaps it is because these are snippets from a hugely successful Telugu movie. In fact almost all the Telugu movies with big star cast have a similar storyline. Ram Charan is building a career out of such roles. Ravi Teja, Pawan Kalyan, Allu Arjun, Prabhas and a long list of others are repeating the same scenes in their films with different degrees of voyeurism and perversion.
Any film industry in the world displays inertia when it comes to unlearn the old tactics and embrace new ones, which are more contemporary and logical.
The women were not at the helm of affairs in Telugu cinema except some films dealing with the theme of women empowerment in the late '80s and early '90s. The advent of commercial cinema in the second half of ‘80s started tilting the equation in favour of the heroes. The male filmmakers targeted the 18-35 age group but they left out the chunk consisting educated-urban men. Not many objected to the content of such films as such a hero was supposed to be the representative of the semi-urban society.
Says Taapsee Pannu, a Hindi-Telugu actor, “Firstly they refuse to evolve with the new evolving times because that's not how I see myself or any other girl I know getting impressed with stalking. Secondly, they just keep repeating the same formula for a hit. If stalking was a hit in one movie, you will see ten other movies instantly pick up the same idea. No one wants to do an extra effort to come up something new and interesting.”
Does it reflect the social trend? “No it doesn't. It reflects the cinematic trend. As I mentioned above, hit movies give birth to 10 times more number of scripts with the same idea to be safe,” says Taapsee.
But, this issue is probably not as simple as it looks from the outset. Ram Mohan, who runs a popular NGO Help for the welfare of women in Hyderabad, brings out the other side of the coin which is more disturbing. “In the 1960s, a Telugu movie called Sudigandalu projected the intensity of criminal attitude among not only the youths but also among children. One of the children in the movie commits a murder under the influence of detective novels and sexually flavoured pictures. However, today there is extraordinary prevalence of internet and smartphones which is instigating them to commit several crimes against women. It is increasing a lot day by day.”
Filmmakers wouldn’t take more than five seconds to wave-off Ram Mohan’s idea, but let’s check the credibility of his notion. Section 354 of IPC deals with the cases of assault on women with an intent to outrage her modesty. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Andhra Pradesh registered 6930 cases under Section 354 in 2013 against 4406 such cases in 2007. A duration of six years saw more than 57.28% increase in crime against women.
Ram Mohan says further, “The access of various crime stories, sex sites through internet and media are increasing day by day simultaneously influencing the youth and children which is really a hardcore situation. Everyday such stories are being explained unnecessarily by the media.”
Quite often, the filmmakers are quoted as saying that films are the reflection of the society and what they are showing is still not as scary as what’s happening in our real lives. But, this comes across as a lame excuse because even relatively less ‘intense’ crimes are also on the rise. As per NCRB, the cases registered under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code in AP, which broadly deals with the insult to the modesty of a woman, is also on the rise. The number of such cases went up to 4702 in 2013 in comparison to 3316 such cases in 2007. A 41.79 % jump in six years is something that can’t be overlooked. Always remember, these are the cases which feature relatively small crimes like lewd gestures and word teasing.
The filmmakers might not be the culprits but stalking related plots are affecting the sub-conscious of the viewer. You might as well think the heroine as dim-wits who are simply waiting to fall in love with the hero, but Taapsee strongly objects to such perception, “It should be taken as a stale uninteresting film's plot. I don't think it's to be taken as deep as to touching the woman's status in any way.”
This again brings us back to the target audience which the filmmakers are aiming for. Today, a film's collections are dictated by how much it collects in the first week and unlike the situation a few years ago, most of the moviegoers in the first week happen to be young men, a group with better purchasing power. This makes them vulnerable to the ideas propagated by the filmmakers. The conversation between Mahesh Babu and Kajal Aggarwal in Businessman was termed vulgar but later it was accepted in the name of sarcasm. Basically, it was perceived as harmless teasing.
Ram Mohan blames technology for this. He says, “It certainly demeans the status of women. Because of the films and internet access, some of the girls are feeling it is a prestigious issue to have a boyfriend. This leads to several bitter incidents against the girls.”
It’s tough to spot the point of equilibrium between the society and its cinema, but if this is the case of vice-versa, both the Telugu cinema and the immediate society are on fault. It’s not just escapist cinema because its aftereffects go beyond the usual line. A college going youngster may fall prey to a flawed thought process and end up committing crimes that he wouldn’t do otherwise. Even if the society is at fault and it’s seeping into films then the responsibility of filmmakers increase manifolds. They need to do a cross-check and do something for the betterment of the content in mainstream Telugu cinema. As per the current situation, the only party which is at the receiving end in every case is the woman. (Interact with the author at Twitter/@nawabjha)