When it comes to comedies in Bollywood, there is a lot that needs to improve. While we have the occasional gem like Khosla Ka Ghosla or Hera Pheri, most movies, comedy or otherwise, tend to resort to problematic tropes like fat-shaming to evoke laughter.
In fact, here’s a look at the times Bollywood normalized fat-shaming or used it as a comical element:
1. Kal Ho Naa Ho
Sweetu’s best friend Naina told her she was only worthy of being loved if she lost weight. And Sweetu’s sister compared her to a double-decker bus. In fact, Sweetu’s weight was a source of comic relief throughout the film, with characters constantly commenting on it. Friendly reminder, a human being’s worth is not determined by how much they weigh!
2. Kabir Singh
In the horde of problematic things that this movie served in the name of love, there was also the comparison of ‘healthy chicks’ to Teddy bears. And the insinuation that if you’re healthy (the national euphemism for fat, as if the word fat, in itself, is an insult), you can’t be good-looking. Oh alongside this gem, was also the casual shaming of female friendship.
One of the earliest examples of gross fat-shaming that I’ve seen was in Dil. To cut a long story short, one of the scenes in the film showed that if Raja lost a match, he would be forced to kiss an overweight woman. Brandishing a fat woman as a punishment was seriously flawed – but certainly not uncommon in movies from the 90s. And of course, in these instances, the overweight person was always shown to be unhygienic – to make the very idea of kissing an overweight woman disgusting.
In one scene the creators achieved the holy, or rather, the unholy trifecta of problematic comic elements. Because in just one scene, they made a joke about false rape accusations, insulted a woman for her weight, and made fun of a community (Parsi). It doesn’t get more cringeworthy than 90s cinema, does it?
Yet another gem from our childhood, Diljale had a whole song titled Ho Nahi Sakta, that started with our protagonist (Ajay Devgn), running away from kissing an overweight woman.
6. Mission Mangal
If you thought such gems were restricted to just the 90s, then think again. In Mission Mangal Tara (Vidya Balan) comments on Varsha’s (Nithya Menen) weight while discussing her professional capabilities. When Rakesh Dhawan (Akshay Kumar) reacts with a disapproving gesture, Tara does not admit her mistake. Rather, she indulges in a self-deprecating remark. And Dhawan sees no point in correcting it.
Self-deprecating humor may be directed at yourself. But when you indulge in it on a platform millions are viewing, it sets an unhealthy precedent where bodyweight *is* an acceptable thing to joke and comment upon.
Ghoomketu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) ends up marrying an overweight woman because of an accident, and it’s referred to as a ‘terrible’ twist of fate – so much so, that he refuses to see her face for 10 days after their marriage and is actually scared of her on their wedding night! And the creators also don’t make an effort to even show the female actor’s face, till she has transformed into a skinny person. However, the moment she loses weight, he is instantly in love, aka attracted, to her. Attraction is personal but for the love of God, can we please stop treating fat as ugly?
8. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham
One of the most popular examples of fat-shaming is the way Rohan is treated by his brother. While a little sibling teasing is normal, the film spends the entire first half making Rohan’s weight a punchline, with people constantly controlling what he ate. Hell, he is even nick-named laddoo.
9. Hadh Kar Di Aapne
While many Bollywood movies forego logic and physics in the name of storytelling, Hadh Kar Di Aapne did so by including an entire scene where the hero tries to pulley a fat man, but he keeps falling. One could argue that the joke here had more to do with a man falling than his weight, but with dialogues like, “mera weight zyada hai toh meri baat ka weight bhi toh zyada hoga“, it’s hard to agree to that argument.
10. Ujda Chaman
A film that was supposed to address insecurities that bald men face, ended up adding to the insecurities of people who are overweight. Because apart from thin-shaming (which isn’t an acceptable response to fat-shaming people), the film also shows Chaman (Sunny Singh) realizing he loves Apsara (Maanvi Gagroo), only after he sees his colleague’s mute wife. It’s a not-so-indirect comparison between being fat and being disabled. And it’s problematic to the core!
These are just a handful of examples from a few movies. We haven’t even turned to TV where jokes on fat people are as common as naagins. While naagins may be fictional, fat people actually exist in society. And speaking from personal experience, making someone’s appearance the butt of every joke actually hampers the self-confidence of people who look a certain way.
Bollywood has long had a history of running comical gags, that are anything but funny. Gags like cross-dressing, caricaturing communities’ accents or looks, or shaming someone for their body shape or skin color are far too common in Bollywood. Of course, there is the occasional homophobic joke thrown in as well. But it’s time we stop this. The world is moving on, being better and learning from the past – it’s time Bollywood did the same.