Chaman Bahar Is an Addition to B’Wood’s List of Toxic Masculinity

The latest Netflix release is problematic.

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Hindi Female

Another disappointment to drop on Netflix is Chaman Bahar, shouldered by Jitendra Kumar who earned a lot of appreciation for his role in Panchayat. Chaman Bahar was supposed to be his first feature debut, and we silently mutter a thousand prayers that this film did not release on the big screen. Directed by debutant Apurva Dhar Badgaiyann, the film is another addition to the list that reeks of problematic male protagonists who are celebrated instead of suffering the consequences of their actions.


Toxic Male Gaze

Chaman Bahar scores high on this one. Billu (Jitendra Kumar) might hail from a small town Lormi in Chattisgarh, but his goals are ‘high’. He doesn’t want to spend his life taking orders from the District Forest Officer like his father. Thus, Billu sets up his paan shop with a lot of hope, only to discover that business is as barren as the area on which it’s set.

With days turning into nights, Billu’s patience wears thin, till one day lady luck smiles on him.

A government employee and his family move into the house right across the street. Immediately, the entire male population of Lormi parks itself in front of Billu’s shop, salivating over the gentleman’s schoolgoing daughter Rinku.

The boys clock the number of times Rinku steps out of her house so that any chance of shamelessly stalking her does not go missed. With Rinku’s arrival, Billu’s fortune takes a turn. He makes no attempt to stop these kids from discussing the length of the teenager’s clothes, rather discovers that he too is smitten by her.

But Billu is nowhere in the race to ‘own’ Rinku. Two other young men, one from a political family and the other a rich brat, have also set their eyes on her and thereby ensues a competition of chasing, leering and teasing a girl who NEVER objects. In fact, she is shown to turn a deaf ear to the fact that what these men are doing is absolutely disgusting. Billu’s two jobless friends take advantage of the situation, and for the ‘entertainment’ of these bored and useless minds, arranges for carrom games just beside Billu’s shop.

The latest Netflix release is problematic.
Jitendra Kumar in Chaman Bahar. 
(Photo: Netflix)

Billu is in threat because by now he has declared Rinku his. He starts doing what problematic Hindi films’ crazy lovers do - inks ‘R’ on his wrist, engraves his and the girl’s name on a huge rock and even throws a card with a love poem written on it in their garden. He becomes bolder by the day and when a cop teaches him a lesson for encouraging the ‘laundebaazi’ near his shop, a song wails from the background, egging Billu to create a ruckus and take revenge for being pointed out what’s right. Billu paints the town red insulting Rinku’, thus giving everyone a chance to dissect her character.

In all of this, the biggest problem is the manner in which Billu is lauded by people around him, be it the sons of two ‘influential’ people from the town - Shiladitya and Aashu - or his friends and neighbours. Chaman Bahar ends on the note that the onus always lies on the women.

The latest Netflix release is problematic.
Shahid Kapoor in a still from Kabir Singh.
(Photo: YouTube screengrab)

This toxic gaze is not new to Bollywood. Released last year, Kabir Singh created a huge outrage with the portrayal of the eponymous protagonist played by Shahid Kapoor. Kabir, a college student, has absolute disregard for the faculty, smirks while fat-shaming a student and openly harasses a girl he takes after. Kabir doesn’t care about what Preeti feels, he is only interested in making her bow to his whims and fancies and does not squirm to abuse her physically and mentally. And surprisingly, there isn’t a single character in the film who raises his/her voice against Kabir. They are all too happy praising and rewarding him for his actions. Secondly, Ranjhanaa. Despite a significant portion of the movie trying to deconstruct the Hindi movie-style wooing, which does border on sexual harassment, the film’s messaging doesn’t come through.


Mute Female Characters

What is shocking about Chaman Bahar is that Rinku does not have a single line in the film. From the beginning we see her exiting the house to either go to school, drop her brother off or take the dog out for a walk. In one of the scenes Rinku is being chased by Shila’s and his gang. At one point, Shila asks his driver to pick up speed so she is made aware that she is being chased. Is this scene supposed to elicit a laugh? Rinku is never seen questioning this troublesome behaviour, and when things begin to escalate she completely vanishes from the frame. She is seen exchanging glances with Billu, but it’s strange how we never know what is going on in her mind. Even more bizarre is the way in which Rinku’s father decides to deal with the entire incident. Chaman Bahar is built on a concern that keeps growing with each year. But the treatment is tone-deaf and leaves us acutely uncomfortable.

The latest Netflix release is problematic.
A still from Chaman Bahar.
(Photo: Netflix)

As we speak about criminally underutilized women on screen, let us come back to Preeti. We are introduced to her through Kabir’s eyes. Always dressed in a salwar kurta, Preeti has one expression plastered on her face – fear. She has been sketched out to be at Kabir’s beck and call, to be slapped at without confrontation and to break down in every second scene. The first proper sentence Preeti utters is – “What do you like in me, Kabir?”

It’s disheartening to see that even in 2020 we have characters like Billu and Rinku. With every film like Chaman Bahar or Kabir Singh, a Thappad takes a hit.

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Topics:  Jitendra Kumar 

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