Why We Need Statutory Warnings For Violence Against Women in Films
Shahid Kapoor in and as Kabir Singh.
Shahid Kapoor in and as Kabir Singh.(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

Why We Need Statutory Warnings For Violence Against Women in Films

Kabir Singh was the top grossing Bollywood film in 2019, raking in 331.24 crore in India alone. If you haven’t been living under a rock, you must’ve heard of this movie where the protagonist is a misogynistic man with anger issues and a God complex. He’s shown abusing the girl he claims to love, threatens to rape a woman, and viciously chases his domestic help. And people paid money to watch it!

Responding to the negative reactions on the film the director went on to say, “intimidation has its own charm” and that, if there’s no liberty (to slap one’s partner) in a relationship, then it is not strong enough. Sure, liberty to hit or abuse and terrorise verbally!

And it’s not Kabir Singh alone. Scores of Indian movies routinely show women getting beaten up, sexually assaulted, harassed, and tortured. What kind of a world do we live in where watching gender violence is a casual part of media experience?

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Is Misogynistic Cinema Normalising Gender Violence?

Cinema is one of the most popular and easily accessible entertainment media. Research has proven that film has the power to shape perceptions on a range of subjects.

In a country where celebrities inspire almost religious fervour, it’s expected that what they portray on screen will impact attitudes and behaviours of people. Especially adolescents and young adults who are impressionable and try and emulate what they see their idols do on screen.

The objectification of women and the age-old clichés that Indian movies perpetrate on reel – “no means yes”, “it’s ok to get he girl by any means”, “if she laughs you’ve got her” – are some of the leading causes of harassment women face in real life. How is molestation and stalking a form of courtship?

And not just women, the stereotyping of men as alpha, aggressive, and domineering is contributing to the problem as well – pushing men to conform to these expectations and trivialise women.

The current narrative in Indian popular cinema normalises the idea that a woman is a man’s property and must be a subject to his wishes. A piece of research found that convicted rapists in India don’t even understand the concept of consent and have a sense of entitlement and ownership over the victim.

No wonder then that a woman is raped in India every 22 minutes!

Inflicting violence on women and girls is a criminal act punishable by law. There is no question that glorifying it via mass media under the guise of passion or romance is encouraging a culture of misogyny. Bollywood has been consistently pandering to misdirected masculinity by normalising serious crimes such as stalking, abduction, and even rape.

It also glorifies taking revenge on the women of the enemy’s family. Gang wars are fought over the bodies of women who are related to the men in those gangs.

The scene from the award winning film Badlapur comes to mind, where the protagonist seeking revenge rapes the girlfriend of one of the men he’s seeking. And then we wonder why we routinely see news of village councils sentencing women to rape for alleged crimes by their family!

Why On Screen Violence Needs Statutory Warnings

Isn’t it ironic that every movie scene that involves smoking or drinking alcohol (not a criminal offence) displays a statutory warning – as against the scenes of violence against women?

Movies even add the disclaimer that no animals were harmed in the making of the film. Then why not warn against the gender violence? Why not mention that it’s only for cinematic purposes and is otherwise a punishable offence?

What’s worse is that in some cases the violence isn’t even obvious.

When the husband repeatedly berates and puts down his wife in English Vinglish, when the man rejects his modern girlfriend for her traditional friend in Cocktail, when a girl has to wear makeup to be noticed in Main Hoon Na, the subtle message that goes out glorifies and reinforces the idea of a certain kind of women vis-à-vis a her role in real life. And that subliminal messaging is thrice damning to women’s place in society.

Having statutory warnings in place is essential to ensure that the audience knows what constitutes violence and that it is not acceptable in any form or manner. If people are constantly reminded how gender violence is unacceptable and unlawful, we can challenge the misogynistic mindset.

In addition to warnings, films that depict physical, sexual, emotional, and mental violence against women and girls could have a short film spot or public service announcement (PSA) in the beginning and/or middle by the same actors. This announcement could go a long way in reminding audiences that violence against women and girls is illegal. It could also list the laws in place that are applicable to such incidents of violence.

Statutory warnings and PSAs are a small addition to the film and not a difficult thing to do. And yet, there is no inclination from the industry to implement this basic feature. This callous attitude towards women’s safety must go. If the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) can take a health-based stance on smoking and drinking, then why not on violence against women and girls that affect health, both mental and physical, of women?

It’s Time to Take Action

Breakthrough has always taken a strong stance and an action-oriented approach to ending gender violence. To encourage and expedite action on this critical issue of onscreen violence, we at Breakthrough are submitting a petition to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and the Central Board of Film Certification.

The petition requests that depictions of, and, references to, violence against women and girls should have disclaimers and statutory warnings on screen – in both television and cinema. We request that there be a prominent and meaningful disclaimer at the bottom of every such scene identifying the act of gender-based violence in the scene and the laws that punish such acts.

It’s time that each one of us raises our voice against gender violence. Over 25,000 petitioners have already signed. Here’s how you can do your bit:

Click this link to sign our petition and help #RedrawMisogyny
• Spread the word by sharing this link on your social channels with #RedrawMisogyny
• Write to us @<email ID> to play an active role in ending gender violence

(Sohini Bhattacharya is CEO & President at Breakthrough, an organisation working to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable. She is a social change enthusiast with 25+ years of experience in the development sector)

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