“In a country where violence against women runs rampant, and when Bollywood portrayals of stalking have been used as a legal defense for real-life stalking, what kind of message is India’s beloved film industry sending countless moviegoers?” asked Farah Naz Khan in an op-ed for the Aerogram last year.
Now, an online petition is calling out the same trends in Tamil-language films, aka “Kollywood,” and calling for an end of the glorification of stalking.
If you’ve seen a rom-com film from India (or hell, one from America) you probably know what this looks like. Man and woman meet. Woman, whether out of shyness or disinterest, rejects man’s advances. Man, convinced he is overcome with love, refuses to take “no” for an answer, and hounds the woman until she eventually gives in. This behavior, says petition creator Iswarya V and many others, encourages men to stalk and harass women under the impression that this is how to “woo” them.
“These films continually reinforce the message that stalkers will ultimately be rewarded for their persistence,” says the petition. “This encourages a sense of entitlement in the offender. It also denies women the right to say ‘no’ to their stalker, and consistently invalidates the reality of the victim’s responses, trivialising or ignoring her anguish at being stalked.”
The petition also cites numerous recent cases in which women have been stalked, then murdered by their stalkers when they rejected their advances. “In August, a stalker walked into the home of a schoolgirl, set himself on fire and hugged her, all the while saying that he would not let her live for spurning him,” writes Huff Post India. In July, a 24-year-old woman named Swathi was murdered in broad daylight in a train station by her stalker.
According to a study in Communication Research, “Media portrayals of gendered aggression can have prosocial effects, and that the romanticized pursuit behaviors commonly featured in the media as a part of normative courtship can lead to an increase in stalking-supportive beliefs.”
The petition not only calls for filmmakers to stop supporting these narratives but for actors to reject roles that would encourage stalking. On the campaign’s Facebook page, it also points out that stalking wasn’t a crime in India until 2013. “Cause-and-effect relations are complex and hard to establish,” it writes, “but it is an undeniable fact that movies are a potent influence in validating what kinds of behaviour are acceptable and which are not within any society.”