Three Bollywood Movies That Sensitized Sexual Health & Wellness
By – Sidharth Iyer
With a few special exceptions, everybody – social scientists, movie makers, and laymen – seems to be in agreement that there are profoundly significant relationships between motion pictures and human behavior.
The conceptual framework within which the significant analysis of the effects of motion pictures on human behavior and attitudes occur, arise from the fact that the motion picture is not received by a passive mind, but an actively participating one.
Let’s take a look at three Bollywood movies that were not only able to deal with taboo topics related to sexual health & wellness with maturity, but also sensitize them through stories of great courage and passion.
Normalizing Homosexuality & Spreading HIV/AIDS Awareness
One obvious sign of evolution in Bollywood – with this heart-wrenching story from writer-director Onir – was the way in which an unconventional relationship was portrayed with the maturity and subtlety that it deserved.
My Brother Nikhil tackled homosexuality without treating it as an ugly joke, a dirty alliance or an aberration. The gay relationship was neither designed to shock the audience nor make them feel queasy. It was an attempt to showcase that two lovers (regardless of their sexual orientation or preference) should be looked at just like any other “normal” couple. And all that matters in the end is the love, faith and unbreakable bond that they share.
The nuanced portrayal of Nikhil’s trauma without going into details of why he got the disease was very thoughtful of the director, and steered clear of showcasing the “perverse” gay relationship that led to Nikhil testing positive for AIDS.
The harrowing experiences and humiliation were reconstructed minimally. And there wasn’t an iota of drama, which could have alienated the importance of the message and made the film too facile and cursory. However, it remains undoubtedly one of the most decent, well-intentioned films from Bollywood which had just one cause – that of human dignity.
‘Shubh Mangal Savdhan’ on Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
It’s universally acknowledged that Indian men are sensitive about their “manliness”, just like how a sterile man is seen as less than virile. So when a Bollywood actor like Ayushmann Khurrana stars in a film that deals with male sexual health issues such as erectile dysfunction (ED), it only helps create more awareness.
Sugandha (Bhumi Pednekar) and Mudit (Ayushmann Khurrana) are in love and engaged to be married, but discover that he has erectile dysfunction after a night alone together doesn’t go as planned. Mudit cannot get over his “non-performance” and Sugandha is a little bewildered that her fiancé is so obsessed with it. “We don’t need to have sex, Mudit,” she tells him. “There are so many other things we can do. We’ll do yoga.”
Experiencing ED can be an isolating experience which can eat away at partners’ confidence, self-esteem and hope for the relationship. From an evolutionary point of view, a man’s sense of his manliness, his identity, is deeply rooted in his sexuality. If a man can’t get it up, the ego is hurt. In most cases, if a man opens up to his friends, then he gets ridiculed, and if he opens up to his partner, he feels inadequate and inferior.
If there’s one point of criticism, it’s that the movie focuses on the problem and doesn’t provide any solution. However, according to a few news reports from 2017 the movie encouraged men suffering from this problem to seek medical advice, which should be considered as a big win for society! Before Shubh Mangal Savdhan, Khurrana’s debut film Vicky Donor, in which he played a sperm donor, wiped out some of the stigma surrounding male sterility, as that film showed sterile men happily becoming fathers with the help of donors’ sperms.
We still live in a time where Men are shy when it comes to buying condoms. And just like how our patriotism is defined by us ‘getting up’ for the national anthem, our masculinity is defined by our ability to ‘get it up’. We have to give credit to movies such as these for producing sensible content addressing taboo issues.
‘Pad Man’ on Menstrual Hygiene
Today, Arunachalam Muruganantham, 58, is a renowned and respected social entrepreneur who lives in the city of Coimbatore in South India. But there was a time when his neighbors were convinced he had lost his mind.
Back in 1998, when Muruganantham married Shanthi Natrajan. He witnessed how she would use torn rags to absorb the blood during the onset of her menstrual cycle. He was left aghast to find out how common this practice was. Other women in the villages around Coimbatore would use whatever was at their disposal – wrapping small mounds of ash or sand in cloth to use as absorbents.
Muruganantham’s single-minded obsession to provide the basic menstrual hygiene for his wife by means of a sanitary napkin consumed nine years of his life and nearly cost him his marriage – but culminated with the invention of a machine that could manufacture low-cost, high-quality sanitary napkins.
He was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2014. In 2016, he won an Indian national award, the Padma Shri, given to civilians for their contributions to society.
The year 2018 saw the release of – what’s considered to be – the world’s first feature film about menstruation, the trailblazing Bollywood movie Pad Man starring Akshay Kumar, and directed by Indian filmmaker R Balki. It was produced by writer Twinkle Khanna, who came across Muruganantham’s story while researching for a column.
The biopic traced the journey of India’s “menstrual man,” on his quest to design the perfect low-cost sanitary pad and how he came to invent a machine to solve the problem. The movie came at a time where families of about 70% of the 355 million menstruating women and girls in India said they couldn’t afford sanitary products, according to a 2016 report.
The Positive Impact of Movies
The next time we hear about how movies have a negative impact on society and the youth these days, with the excessive use of drugs, violence and alcoholism; let’s also take a moment to reflect on the positive impact that movies have had on the wellbeing of society.
When stories of courage and passion receive the same level (if not more) of adulation and support from the audience going to the box-office, it will further motivate storytellers to bring more positive stories to the big screen.
Remember, content is the simple game of Economics – Demand meets Supply! So let’s crave for more positivity, and rest assured the demand will be met…