Has Bollywood influenced Indian Male Behaviour?

Anti-mimesis is a philosophical position that holds the direct opposite of Aristotelian mimesis. Its most notable proponent is Oscar Wilde who in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying said that, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. That raises a very important question for us. If Indian cinema is art, has life been imitating art to create the current male archetype of the masses?

Bollywood is India’s largest driver of mainstream popular culture

Bollywood is just a mirror, perhaps a bit curved and not as plain as we want. But its still a mirror, and merely a representation of our society – it’s aspirations, it’s hypocracy and it’s imagination. Bollywood for long has been one of the cultural hot buttons that has offered a way for life to imitate the portrayal of archetypes in Indian cinema. Why would I find a page on Google called 16 famous rape scenes or the best rape scene in Hollywood to be from Damini featuring Rishi Kapoor and Meenakshi Seshadri? In the film Rishi’s Kapoor’s brother attacks the maid in the house with his friends during a noisy celebration of Holi, which is a commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna. The festivities officially usher in spring, with Holi celebrated as a festival of love. To plant a rape scene during Holi is therefore a bit of anti-thesis.

The scene which is pure horror but must have been lapped up by the film’s audiences, at the time, having been brought up on a steady diet of rape in Indian cinema. In fact, the public has been enjoying this for decades. And subsequent Censor Boards have found it perfectly legitimate to allow Indian cinema to portray rape which is so unnatural and a serious sex crime, whereas it has always taken a moralistic view of allowing consensual sex since the beginning of time. In another blockbuster film, there’s a chilling scene in a blockbuster where the Thakur (Amrish Puri) enters his haveli proudly declaring his son has now become a man. He has just committed rape. Is rape then the first rite of passage into manhood for Bollywood?

The masses at large are susceptible to be influenced by a steady diet of rape in Bollywood films which by any standard is unnatural behaviour, compared to consensual sex. The mind of the rapist and how it got there of course is one of the darkest realms of human sexuality.

It is also interesting that when you search for ‘rape scenes in Bollywood’ you will find that in someway rape is associated with sex rather than crime and also associated with porn.

Eve teasing is another common scene in many Bollywood films. Is it only a lack of respect of women or is it purely a substitute for wooing women?


Do Movies and TV influence Behaviour?

There seems to be enough evidence that movies and TV do influence behaviour. For example in 1972 in the US the Surgeon General’s Office of the United States National Institutes of Health announced that for the first time, scientific evidence had been assembled from a number of behavioral studies that showed a causal link between the exposure of children to televised violence and their subsequent aggressive behavior. This meant that violence on television or in movies could stimulate or influence some children to participate in aggressive or violent behaviour. It may well be the same for other emotions including sexual behaviour.

Albert Bandura, the Stanford psychologist, has concluded that imitative learning plays a highly influential role in accelerating social changes, in inducing long-lasting attitude changes, and in strengthening or extinguishing emotional responsiveness to various stimuli. This conclusion suggests that people’s basic values, as well as behavior and possibly their consciences, can be manipulated and engineered.

In recent years Bandura and a number of associates have amassed a great deal of evidence that has repeatedly and powerfully shown how live models or those on TV and on the theater screen can teach new behavior patterns and influence or even change opinions, attitudes, and values in a society.

The portrayal of women in Indian cinema is showing signs of improvement in recent years but Indian director Mira Nair still isn’t happy with mainstream Bollywood depictions which she sees as often demeaning. “A lot of our films go down the same old stereotype,” she says. “When there’s a sexy babe she has to gyrate and gyrate and she has to be an object of great allure and sex appeal and almost I would say vulgarity.”The item number* in Indian cinema has been designed for sexual arousal but often leads to sexual repression of the audiences.

Says Mira Nair “In the mass cinema one is seeing outrageous item numbers with the latest Bollywood queen in a largely male environment where she swings her way to all kinds of allure,” she says. “I really question this. I don’t think it leads to any kind of respectful interaction between men and women.”

Sexual repression is a state in which a person is prevented from expressing his or her sexuality. The songs in Bollywood movies, which generally serve no plot-furthering purpose, are included purely for entertainment. They tease the audiences perhaps causing even more sexual repression than feeding them natural consensual sex. Of course, the cinema industry justifies it by saying that they are giving the public what they want. But as a responsible art, they should not just feed people what they want, especially because in this case it is they who have created this need in the public’s mind in the first place.

The censoring of consensual sex, giving importance to rape and violence against women, eve teasing as a form or substitute for wooing, the woman’s subdued role in the story over so many decades, and the introduction of the item number* could well have created a sexually repressed audience amongst the masses. The objectification of women, the viewing of women as “sex objects”, has been a part of Indian cinema since the beginning of time.

Movies are a powerful weapon. It can sway the way a society thinks. And it is time Bollywood took on a more responsible role to shape a society of the future.

*An item number or an item song in Indian cinema is a musical performance, one which often has little to do with the subject of the film in which it appears. The term is commonly used in Bollywood, to describe a catchy, upbeat, typically sexually provocative dance sequence for a song in a movie.

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Prabhakar Mundkur has spent 40 years in advertising and worked in India, Africa and Asia. He is currently Chief Mentor with HGS Interactive a part of HGS in the Hinduja Group. He is on the advisory board of Sol 's Arc (solsarc.org ) an NGO dedicated to special education for intellectually challenged children. He is also a member of Whiteboard ( whiteboardindia.org ) which supports senior management of NGOs in financial management, PR, Communication and HR through pro bono expertise.


  1. Since drinking alcohol or smoking or watching item numbers is still legal, but very injurious to health perhaps the censor board should add a new statutory warning.

    “Item numbers kill women”

    As indeed they do.

    Unreported rapes are often unreported because the women raped have died.

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