How Bollywood Creates Unrealistic Romantic and Sexual Expectations

From being warm and comfortable favourites on bad days to go-to movie binging sessions with friends, Bollywood has always found a place in our hearts. Being one of the biggest cinematic industries to ever exist, Bollywood has made big and small impressions on the young and old alike. But romance has been an ongoing concept in Bollywood, taking various roles and forms throughout the years, meaning something different for everyone. 

When a social concept is moulded and restructured in so many ways visually, it affects generations of people and creates an idealistic expectation of what romance should look and feel like. And more so, our image surrounding love and intimacy seeks to find happily-ever-afters. According to George Gerbner’s cultivation theory, mass message systems like movies are vessels through which communities can cultivate shared and public notions about values about people. 

Back To Classics - Stories and Societal Roles 

Bollywood has expanded massively, but the most popular stories remain fantastical, larger-than-life and picturesque. With elements of drama, colour and expression, they became the pedestal with audiences raving for the characters on screen. 

An Ideal Romantic Partner 

One of the most iconic and often most repeated characteristics seen in Bollywood movies would be the role of the lovable chocolate boy, a mixture of grand gestures and over-the-top proclamations of love. Shahrukh Khan from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge fits into this dynamic like a puzzle piece and has been the dream partner for women across ages and generations.
Top Male Characteristics 
  1. Charismatic: A Bollywood hero of any worth would know how to attract as much attention to himself at a party or any social situation without effort. Effortlessly charming, extroverted and smart, he knows where he stands and likes the attention, and thrives on it. 
  1. Go-Getter: You must’ve heard this phrase “let him propose, why would the girl do it first?” Whether it be asking you out on a date or a marriage proposal, guys will take the first step. This zeal for initiative and want makes them desirable and perfect “boyfriend” material. Thus, heroes in Bollywood are always taking the first step. 
  1. Macho: A very prominent problematic characteristic is the machismo shown by main characters in popular Bollywood films. Men are associated with “hardness and strength” and any sensitive qualities are shamed and put down. This has created a hostile space where men hide how they feel and find it harder to express difficult or conflicting feelings. “Men don’t cry” comes from years of Bollywood showcasing men as insensitive and harsh. 

Top Female Characteristics 
  1. Meek and Obedient: Listens to every parent, follows all rules, women counterparts in Bollywood films have been “perfect daughters, wives and mothers”. Revolving around a main male figure that calls all the shots and makes a plan for their lives, women sit tight and obey. This backward approach created a sense of societal expectation for men to search for these qualities in a partner. 
  1. Shy And Gentle: A woman and strong opinions don’t go together. Taking any popular “masala film” plot, whether it be a boisterous “Dabbang” or classics like “Dil Chahta Hai”, women are under the control of male counterparts and survive as romantic endeavours to pursue. In various popular films like “Main Hoon Na” (an SRK mega film), Amrita Rao turns from a woman who holds pride in her choices to a doll after an “appropriate” makeover. From her stern self, she becomes shy and reserved. These transformations are not new in Bollywood and are a common trope. 
  1. Conventionally Attractive: Bollywood is one of the largest instigators of the “perfect” body image. Curves, but in the right places are the name of the game. While OTT has brought a bit of a change in this trend, popular films have lean, symmetrical women on display. Following a closed and restricted standard of beauty, what is assumed to be attractive takes a toll on the minds of women and contributes to low self-esteem and image.  


Bollywood & Sexual Imagery 

A crock pot of cultures and themes come together to make a Bollywood film, and it’s nothing without its music and dance. And popular movies always have one song admiring a woman’s beauty but it’s not always tasteful. With suggestive lyrics paired with slinky clothing, women are put on display as sexual characters of desire and lust. 

  1. Imagery: From innuendos to camera angles, Bollywood is filled with sexual imagery through visual context. For ex: “Sheila Ki Jawaani”, speaks of a woman who is beyond anyone’s reach as she is too unattainable and sexy. 
  1. Male Gaze: are shown as leering, grabbing audiences for item songs, often surrounding the woman while she dances and shows off her “perfect body”. Men are seen as voyeurs and the woman is barely treated as a “subject” for their eyes. 
  1. Lyrics and Music: From new school rap to old Bollywood musicals, women and often men have been placed within music and songs that are crude and on-the-face with suggestive lyrics describing bodies and looks. Purely based on how good he/she looks, these are often the most popular parts of various big films. 

Bollywood, from classics like Sholay to the uber-popular Kuch Kuch Hota hai, all have indications and instances of the male gaze and aspects of sexuality spread throughout. There are clear messages of beauty, love and marriage that are deemed conventional and normal. This causes negative connotations for audiences and film lovers and blurs the line between reality and idealism.

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