Bollywood has long had a history of sexist, misogynist, and predatory songs.
A new release shows us that little progress has been made in the industry when it comes to objectifying women’s bodies and their agency.
Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan’s newest song ‘Teri Bhabhi’ from “Coolie No. 1” is the latest song raising eyebrows both in it’s lyrics and visuals.
For starters, the music video displays Dhawan’s character as controlling and possessive.
He is seen going about, making sure men are keeping their eyes away from Khan, who plays his love interest, as he has already declared her as his own.
One line in particular stands out. Sab Jidhar Woh Hai Udhar Dekh Rahein Hain / Hum Toh Public Ki Nazar Dekh Rahe” which translates to They’re all looking towards her / And I’m monitoring where everyone in the public is looking.”
Right off the bat, this idea of monitoring and control is established, and presented almost as a given.
Dhawan is seen as dominant and possessive, and ensures that not a single man will look at Khan in any way, and especially not out of desire.
The men, of course, oblige, and don't resist or challenge him. They simply accept that Khan belongs to him, and they shouldn’t dare disrespect her for that very reason.
What does this say about our society?
Women are rarely ever viewed as humans with agency on their own. They’ve always been viewed as objects for men to desire, and their ownership is given to male figures in their life before they have a sense of their own belonging.
This song is a perfect example of men claiming women as their own because of toxic masculinity, patriarchy and dominant vs submissive roles in society.
Men are taught at a young age that they’re meant to be dominant and controlling, but usually only towards women who are single, as they likely wouldn't dare disrespect her if another man is in the picture.
Societal and traditional norms regulate this belief too, and reinforce the idea of women as property.
For instance, when women get married, they’re often required to put the happiness and respect of those around them before their own, often forfeiting their independence and being tied to the whims of their partners.
While that’s a given in Bollywood’s love stories, there’s one thing that hasn’t been discussed enough in relation to upholding the way womxn are only ever given respect to the men in their lives: the ‘bro code.’
This song reminded me a lot about one of Udit Narayan’s greatest hits Akeli Na Bazaar Jaya Karo from Major Saab.
Sonali Bendre is seen trying to escape Ajay Devgn when he begins to follow her everywhere with a bunch of men, while also singing to her that he’s protecting her from ‘the evil eye’ as if him, and his “bros” aren’t a part of the problem.
Nazar has long been an excuse to police women in relation to traditional values.
Akeli Na Bazaar Jaya Karo and Teri Bhabhi both have similar connections - both Devgn and Dhawan are seen following their love interests, reminding others to keep their eyes away from Bendre and Khan, and take away their agency.
The ‘bro-code’ has long been used to protect men from their predatory behaviours, and this song is highly rooted in rape culture.
It isn’t quirky for Dhawan to be seen following -- or stalking -- Khan around in public, and although many may think it’s him being protective, it is possessive, because he knows having her roam around town by herself will likely lead to her either being assaulted, harassed or stalked.
The song did not face backlash, because of the way these ideas have become so normalized in society.
It isn't normal to have ownership over your partner, and watching the music video or listening to the lyrics will provide insight into why this logic should raise red flags.
This song should ignite a much larger conversation around controlling, possessive men who claim to have ownership over their partners, and that it is not okay for them to follow their partners around in the name of "protection," when these same women would not have basic respect in public without them.
It isn’t cool - it’s disturbing.