If you thought Kabir Singh was the first time that Bollywood served toxic masculinity on a platter and called it romance, then think again! Or rather, watch again. More specifically, the 1999 action-drama, Arjun Pandit.
Starring Sunny Deol and Juhi Chawla in lead roles, here are all the reasons why Arjun Pandit was a toxic drama that should have never been made in the first place:
1. Arjun Pandit, a scholar-turned-criminal, constantly harasses and humiliates Nisha, a model.
Within the first 15 minutes of the film, we get to know of Pandit's reign of terror, and witness it too, as his men first stalk Nisha, and later even abduct her and bring her to Pandit - just so Pandit could celebrate her birthday.
Apart from this, he also forbids her from doing a photoshoot, shouts at her father, and even burns her clothes because he thinks they are 'inappropriate'.
For the longest time, it appears he is acting this way, out of just love. It's only later that it is revealed he is acting out of love, but also, revenge.
2. He abducts her from her marriage and later, forcibly marries her.
He literally abducts her from her own wedding to a man of her choice, and then forcibly marries her. Oh, between breaking her marriage and marrying her, he also attacks her car in a fit of rage, while proclaiming he loves her. Only after marrying her, he reveals that he did all this to show her how he too was forced to lie in court (at the trial of her sister's rapist) because his family members were threatened.
3. In a flashback it's revealed Pandit believes Nisha was the reason he turned to a world of crime.
Apparently, Nisha falsely implicated him in a murder that she only instigated him to commit. She did it to exact revenge for her sister. Arjun had seen Nisha's sister being assaulted by a local MLA (Sanjay Sharma) but failed to testify against him, because his goons threatened his family.
4. However, while Nisha is responsible for Arjun being jailed, she is not responsible for him choosing a world of crime.
Nisha is certainly to be blamed for giving false testimony and manipulating Arjun and landing him in jail. But the incident that actually sends him down the path of crime is different. He is released from jail by Sanjay Sharma's mother and even offered a job, but once he is out of prison, Arjun attends Nisha's dance show (to talk to her). There, he grievously attacks a man who passes a sexist comment on Nisha. Through a bit of misunderstanding, Arjun ends up getting embroiled in a world of crime, when he could have just taken up a job that Sanjay's mother offered and moved on. And while I'm all for men taking a stand against casual sexism, violence doesn't have to be it.
5. In the present day, it is only when Nisha tries to commit suicide, that Pandit decides to let her go.
6. After lying and manipulating each other for over 2 hours, Arjun and Nisha realize they actually love each other.
Oh, but not before Nisha begs for forgiveness, because clearly, she was the only one who did anything wrong!
Well, at least Nisha had more agency, or at the very least, more dialogues than Preeti in Kabir Singh. And at least Arjun Pandit tried to give reasons, flawed as they were, for why the characters acted the way they did. However, that still does not excuse the glorification of manipulation and abuse. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the film was a commercial success. How do we even blame Bollywood when in the last two decades, the audience has continued to support such 'heroes'?
All images from Disney+Hoststar.