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Invoking the bro-code, the song Teri Bhabhi doesn’t just commodify women, it also manages to show you everything that’s wrong with Bollywood!
One would think that with the passage of years in cinema, and the success of movies like ‘Pink’ or ‘Thappad’, Bollywood is finally outgrowing its stale and regressive tendencies. Especially the ones that treat women like commodities owned by their boyfriends, husbands or fathers.
But the first song from the ‘Coolie No. 1’ remake by David Dhawan, starring Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan would burst our bubbles. The song titled ‘Teri Bhabhi’ was released earlier yesterday.
In the song, you can see Dhawan demanding men to step away from their would-be ‘bhabhi’ by evoking the bro-code. And the other men oblige, not because Sara Ali Khan’s character is seen as a human being deserving respect for her agency. They do so because Varun Dhawan has laid ‘claim’ on her.
This music video is rooted in the culture of the ‘bro code.’ The ‘code’ essentially warrants a cisgender heterosexual man to infantilise and commodify women’s bodies. It lets the men take away the women’s agency, even mistreat or harass them. The most important element of the bro-code is that the man’s ‘bros’ are expected to support him. They are supposed to never rat him out, despite having full knowledge of his actions.
The women who find themselves in the private sphere of these men’s lives are defined by and limited to their relationships to these men. It attempts to obscure the experiences of women in a gendered society. And it pushes them back into the confines of domesticity, at least in the popular imagination.
Over the years, feminist struggles have helped women overcome several thresholds. It has helped them find themselves in the civil society movements and as employed individuals. But this patriarchal conception of treating women as properties tries to take away from the women their identity and their position in the society.
In situations where women find themselves as the victim of gender-based violence, this commodification creates a space wherein very little empathy or support is afforded to the women. However, it rests solely on her relationship with the men in her life.
So, a rape survivor would receive conditional empathy or support for being somebody’s daughter or wife. But when removed from her relationship with those men, she is made the perpetrator of the very crime she’s a victim of.
Media takes that up and represents that positively. So, male ‘heroes’ while trying to woo a woman would exhibit outright stalkerish behaviour, stopping at nothing, not even harassment. This is then romanticised and valorised until he finally wins her over. But if the girlfriend or wife of the said ‘hero’ is exploited by someone else, the hyper-masculine angry young man’s rage takes centre stage and not the woman’s trauma.
Pop-culture reinforces these ideas by idealising a certain category of women. It does so by calling these adult women ‘girls,’ and rendering all other bodies and gender presentations as ‘undesirable.’
A thin, fair, feminine woman who depends on a man either emotionally or for security, or both, is romanticised. Similarly, ‘damsel in distress’ needs a ‘knight in shining armour,’ Cinderella needs her ‘Prince Charming.’
Even a female superhero is infantilised. So, while DC’s ‘Supergirl’ is an adult woman being called a girl (a word used for children), Superman can remain a man in all his glory.
Cinema is influenced by, and in turn influences, the accepted culture of the society. So, when mainstream movies like ‘Coolie No. 1’ choose to reproduce harmful stereotypes and toxic masculinity, it goes a long way in the normalisation of the same. It cements into the society the very things it could try to counter.
Picture credits: Still from the song Teri Bhabhi on YouTube
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An undergraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional
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