Growing up, I always associated Bollywood with romance, because every other film is a love story. It was only with time, that I realized that most of these films are flawed in their representation of romance. So much so, that it ends up being toxic. While a lot of this behaviour is problematic, these films show it as the epitome of romance – deeming it normal, or even ‘love’, at times.
And here are some toxic traits that Bollywood films normalized about relationships:
1. Changing oneself for their partner.
Bollywood has always had a thing for makeovers. The ugly duckling trope has existed in films for a long time now, where a person starts liking someone after they get a makeover. This has even been romanticized in Hindi cinema, with music sequences and montages. Lucky from Main Hoon Na is an example of characters that are normalized for choosing a partner after they’ve ‘changed’ into their potential match.
2. Deeming verbal or physical abuse as ‘passion’.
If we look closely, we have very few Bollywood films that stand up against abuse. A lot of these films consider it a characteristic of a passionate relationship. Kabir Singh is proof that Bollywood still doesn’t know how to write male characters that aren’t toxic. Ignoring problematic behavior or going on to normalize it is a red flag – something that Hindi cinema considers ‘romantic’.
3. Having to be burdened with your partner’s emotions or the lack of it.
A lot of movies show ‘fixing’ a partner or being burdened with their emotions as a part of the ‘love story check-list’. Wanting to be there for someone comes with affection, but not everyone can be in the space to do it all the time. For instace, Tara from Tamasha not only had to deal with the guy’s issues but also fix them – as if she doesn’t have her own problems to deal with.
4. Lack of consent.
You can wrap anything into a song and call it romantic, but it doesn’t always make it so. Stalking a person to force them into falling in love with you or not waiting for a ‘yes’ are some things. Every other Bollywood movie gives us a man following around a woman or not taking a simple ‘no for a no’. And, Raanjhanaa is just one example out of the many – where Kundan blackmails Zoya with something as sensitive as suicide, just so she agrees to be in a relationship with him.
5. Passing off insecurity as love.
Things like treating your partner like an object, or being ‘insecure’ with any other person breathing around them aren’t normal. But, Hindi films treat them so. With characters like Safeena from Gully Boy, we’re constantly made to think that we can let go of the toxic behavior as long as it’s associated with jealousy.
6. ‘Owning’ a person.
As much as we’re made to believe by society, we do not own a person if we’re involved with them in a romantic relationship. Our partner is not a property and it isn’t okay to treat them like one. However, Vivah’s famous song Mujhe Haq Hai or Bunny’s indirect confession of love to Naina in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani are proof that Bollywood doesn’t know a lot about healthy relationships.
7. Keeping someone on the hook.
Giving someone just enough to keep them as an ‘option’ is as scary as it sounds – and it’s not like we haven’t been there. But, guess what? Hindi cinema treats this like the perfect love story – Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Tanu Weds Manu and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil are just some movies that come to mind. Such films further show, that it’s totally normal to expect someone to be emotionally present, even when you’re not.
8. Labelling your partner’s life choices secondary.
Expecting your partner to give up on something that they want is diabolical, and there’s nothing that speaks ‘love’ here. But, most films treat it as a ‘requirement’ in relationships – to have to adjust. For instance, Vaidehi from Badrinath Ki Dulhania was expected to leave her job and later compromise for something less in order to get married.
9. Not respecting someone’s privacy.
It’s definitely not normal to spy on a partner or go through their personal conversations with friends or other people. And as much as we treat it like a pre-requisite in relationships, it’s wrong. But, a lot of Bollywood movies laugh it off or even applaud the idea. The scene from Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 where Kartik Aaryan’s character records Ruchika’s conversation with her friends, at her home, is a fitting example.
10. Being afraid of their growth.
We’re a all a product of competition, specifically with a society like ours. But, that doesn’t make it okay to bring the baggage into a relationship. And, there have been times where Bollywood normalized being jealous or toxic with a partner’s growth. Aditya Roy’s character from Aashiqui 2 is an example, where he went on to sabotage the relationship as soon as Aarohi gets the spotlight.
Bollywood, toxicity ko romanticize karna ‘is not funny’.