Article Hindi

Why Akshay Kumar's 'Hans Mat Pagli' is a sign of regression not to be entertained


The first song from Akshay's social entertainer, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha signifies that Hindi cinema is not ready to let go of its habit of glorifying stalking.

Shriram Iyengar

So far, the promotion of Shree Narayan Singh's Toilet: Ek Prem Katha has revolved around the topical debate on the need for toilets in every house across India. The makers of the film have already tied up with the government of India's Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Movement) to add impetus to their message. However, the first song of the film, 'Hans Mat Pagli', which was released yesterday (28 June) delivers a cliched style of romance that borders on cringeworthy stalking.

The song, featuring lead actors, Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar, shows the actor trying to woo his crush by following her incessantly across the town. In the process, he clicks pictures without her knowledge. For a film that has been touted for its social message, the song sends out a very regressive signal.  

A couple of months ago, a Brazilian organisation, Promundo, campaigning for gender equality, put out a research document declaring that a vast majority of men — close to 90% — said that following, and harassing girls on the street was 'for fun'. The organisation might have done well to take a look at song picturisations in Hindi cinema. From Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor to Shah Rukh Khan and, now, Akshay, films have portrayed 'heroes' as the guys taking the lead in approaching, following, and almost forcing the girl to accept their proposals.

While it was an acceptable norm in the past decades, to continue with such a portrayal in a film that claims to be for the empowerment and liberation of women is disappointing to say the least. In an interview with Cinestaan.com, writers Siddharth-Garima had mentioned that 'we are a reflection of society. The films that we make are a reflection of society.'

Writers Siddharth-Garima: Reach of Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is more important than the box office

The fact that Akshay plays a man who is much older than the college-going Bhumi Pednekar in the film is another disturbing factor. He is not the only one. The song features Akshay, ironically, threatening another street gawker who looks at his girl. That such scenarios are only too dangerously familiar for women across India, and not all of them end in marriage, is something the director needed to have marked out.

However, one needs to admit that the director, as a storyteller, needs to create a situational comedy about an unmarried man brought up in a conservative society, oblivious of the ways to approach a girl he likes in real life. But to allow him to click pictures, sit outside her house, climb up trees of colleges, borders on an almost criminal breach of privacy.

Such portrayals, commonplace in satellite towns, have been depicted in films like Raanjhanaa (2013). In Aanand L Rai's film though, Dhanush's Kundan ends up being beaten up and thoroughly rejected, giving it a more realistic touch. Akshay's hero is unlikely to face either consequence, as it would alienate a major demographic (his fans) for the film.

Writers Siddharth-Garima had mentioned, "In this age, feminism has become only about eve-teasing and they don’t get into the root, is what we feel. Women should stand up for their own, that is feminism."

Pednekar's character does stand up for herself, but in the matters of toilet hygiene. The warped sense of romance seems to be instilled in her as well. In the second version of the song, she takes on the role herself by stalking Akshay's character, and repeating the entire scenario by clicking pictures and videos.

The second version of the song, sung by Shreya Ghoshal, continues into the expected denouement of the girl finally confronting the 'stalking' hero, only to hear 'Chashme se leke joote tak saara brand nakli bidesi hai, par saala aadmi desi hoon' (From my glasses to my shoes, everything is fake foreign but I am a genuine Indian man). To boot, he promises that he will offer her more 'romaans' than any 'doctor, engineer' she will marry.

Sadly, and expectedly, the heroine chooses the romance, and the stalking continues.