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Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri
There’s no escape.
MAKE IT STOP

Bollywood has twisted Holi into a disturbing tale of sexual violence

By Maria Thomas

India’s most famously colourful festival has a dark side.

As the country gears up to celebrate Holi on March 02, stocking up on bags of coloured powders and preparing the traditional gujia sweet, women are still coming to terms with the sheer nastiness of the news that a New Delhi student had balloons filled with semen thrown on her. While this incident is particularly appalling, it’s a reminder of how the joyous occasion makes way for sexual harassment in the garb of uninhibited interactions among strangers. It is normal during the celebrations for complete strangers to douse passersby in water and colours.

Of course, sexual harassment is cruelly commonplace across India outside of Holi, too. But many women can attest to being particularly targeted at this time. And, often, Bollywood has a lot to do with this.

Besides teaching generations of Indians that stalking is the best way to turn a “no” into a “yes,” movies with Holi songs have for decades featured suggestive lyrics that almost normalise sexual harassment, disguising it under bright colours and celebrations. These songs are often accompanied by titillating videos that focus on female stars being chased by their lovers and drenched in colours, despite their protests. Nevertheless, they make it to Holi party playlists every year and contribute to the culture that makes it especially uncomfortable to be a woman out in public at this time of the year.

Here’s some of the biggest culprits:

Aaj na Chhodenge from Kati Patang (1970)

Rajesh Khanna’s character says he won’t leave alone his lover, played by Asha Parekh, even if her clothes are soaked during the Holi celebrations.

Ang se ang lagana from Darr (1993)

In this song, Sunny Deol’s character promises to touch every part of his lover’s body with his own, and says he’s undeterred by even her complaints to the police.

Soni soni from Mohabbatein (2000)

Here the leading women, who make their entrance dressed in pristine white clothes, are forcibly coloured by their lovers who croon that their “abuses” can’t stop the men from loving them.

Do me a favour, let’s play holi from Waqt (2005)

In this song, actress Priyanka Chopra’s character bemoans being followed by her lover, and urges him not to touch her blouse. This, however, doesn’t stop Akshay Kumar’s character from pelting her with colours.

Balam pichkari from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013)

While Deepika Padukone’s character has a little more agency than previous Bollywood heroines in this recent movie, she doesn’t escape being objectified in its Holi song, and facing what surely should count as sexual harassment when Ranbir Kapoor’s character playfully peers at her cleavage.

Go pagal from Jolly LLB 2 (2017)

The heroine here protests at being followed by a man. But the song brushes aside her plaints saying there’s no need to get upset because, after all, it’s Holi and it’s “no fun” if you get upset.