Does Bollywood Portray Sex Slavery as Cute and Funny?

One of the hottest songs of 2012 “Fevicol” from Dabangg 2 shows item girl Kareena Kapoor Khan dancing with Salman Khan, in a neon lit Kanpur brothel. Available girls hang from every window and the clinking of payal can practically be heard as young girls follow Kareena in a seductive dance.  By-standing men throw wads of rupees in the air rejoicing. Kareena’s playful attitude and cute smile makes the whole scene innocent enough, but what is the underlying message that songs like this are sending?

The Chief Judicial Magistrate of Muzaffarpur, Bihar called attention to “Fevicol” as a harmful portrayal of women in an inappropriate sensual manner, as so many women fight sexual harassment and abuse in India.  The official claimed that this song was condoning overt sexuality at already troubling time for women, after the gang rape of a 23 year old in Delhi, which created a national uproar.


But where do these ideas come from? Does Bollywood gloss over the sex trade and try to make it look ok? Films like Dabangg 2 show a funny, vibrant and even “innocent” side of prostitution. All the girls are middle aged, beautiful,  flirtatious and willing. What about the millions who aren’t there by choice- those who are trafficked? There are all kinds of prostitution that exist in India, including what they fantasize in the movies, but this does not portray the reality for a huge percentage of women, girls and boys and even men trapped in the sex trade.

Most “sex workers” in India are under-aged, poor, and not there by choice. Some a trapped by poverty, some by pimps, some by abusive relatives, and some by mere shame. If only Bollywood films were to show 3 year old boys being sold, AIDS orphans digging through garbage, and pregnant woman selling themselves to feed their other hungry children, we would have a more accurate picture of what the sex industry really looks like.

There are a few moves like “Agneepath” that show glimpses of the reality of human trafficking. Also films like “Devdas” and “Umraao Jaan” show the pain and suffering of a courtesan life, even in the midst of glamour and riches. But the vast majority of films still portray the glitz and glamour of item songs, and beautiful 20-something girls willingly available, while the reality is glaringly different.

When considering patronizing films like Dabangg 2, and others which are openly glorifying prostitution, lets remember the reality of the sex trade in India. Even though Kareena plays it off as cute and funny, it certainly is not.

10 thoughts on “Does Bollywood Portray Sex Slavery as Cute and Funny?”

  1. Wow. I hadn’t seen this but that is sick. Most of the women in prostitution in India aren’t there by choice. From the devadasi to the red light district of Mumbai, most are sold into this by someone else and forced to do the work and the age is getting younger and younger. It’s just sickening that Bollywood is trying to glorify it this way.

  2. I agree with your post but at the same time, films only show what they like because they have that freedom in their creativity to do so. It’s just a shame that many people watch this and do begin to think that prostitution, trafficking is okay when it isn’t. This is the reason why I do not get why Bollywood films don’t stay away from ‘item songs’ because they’re clearly giving the wrong message to the public who are gullible enough to be taking it very literally. I understand that it is a money making business but money can be made in other ways too. Murder 2 was also another movie which do not glorify the idea of trafficking and also did quite well in the box office.

    Anyways, great post. You touched on a good topic which should be highlighted so that people think twice before believing everything they see to be the reality of issues in the world.

    1. Thanks for the comments Bhavika.

      I continue to hope that the public can’t be fooled so easily by the influence of the movies, but it is certainly discouraging to see such films.

  3. Hi Jessica, I agree with you in that the sex trade shouldn’t be portrayed in more glamourous way than is.
    But what you’d expect from a Bollywood movie?
    I’m raised in a different part of the world (namely Europe), and I don’t claim to be an expert in the case of Bollywood movies, but these movies have NEVER portrayed reality.
    When you think of the lack of diversity in skin colours….anyway.
    That’s what I wanted to say about Bollywood movies.

    I don’t think prostitution and sex slavery are the same per definition.
    In my case, which is rare, I’ve chosen to prostitute myself.
    And yes, I have to admit I’m an exception, in that I loved my ‘profession’.
    And I’ve earned very good money.
    If a woman really loves to do it, than I’d call it prostitution, a ‘profession’. In other cases, since sex is, to most people, a very intimate and sacred event, I would call it a form of slavery.

  4. Not only prostitution but many other wrong ideas are being shown in Bollywood.
    How does “love happen” in Bollywood? Innocent beautiful girl is stalked non-stop by wild manly hunk… she doesn’t like him but she eventually falls for him.
    Foreign women are always easy, ready to kiss on the lips as soon as they meet and have sex.
    For example: in Murder 2 their first kiss is forced by the man. In zindagi na milegi dobara the foreign girl sleeps with the indian guy she just met, but the indian girl “waits” (waits a couple of days lol). And in almost any funny love story the girl will hate the guy or avoid him somehow at the beginning.

    This sends completely wrong messages to people. Some say “its just a movie” yeah yeah… but go yell in a crowded street that X Bollywood actor is stupid and there will be for sure someone to come fight with you as if you are talking about one of their brothers or sisters. Bollywood is not big… its MASSIVE.

    STILL… there are some amazing movies that show different and fresh ideas and confront the audience with reality, without taking out all the fun… like English Vinglish, Kahaani, 3 idiots, ship of theseus among others!

    1. Mara,

      Thanks for pointing out these inaccurate and sad portrayals of females in Bollywood. Let’s keep watching the films which have a positive message and condemning the ones which are negative, harmful, and reinforce falsified stereotypes which hurt women.

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