India is a country where one in every three people is illiterate. Research suggests that those with low literacy skills usually have equally inadequate problem-solving skills. These people with a low rate of literacy often feel isolated and vulnerable, and many of them feel like outcasts. This partly explains why people who have low literacy are statistically more likely to be involved in crime – either as the offender or the victim. It may also help to explain why crime rates are higher in neighborhoods, where a high percentage of people have low literacy.
However, literate or illiterate, everybody just loves Bollywood in India. Bollywood is almost like a part of the identity of the country itself. When we talk about Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957), which played an essential role in shaping the newly formed Republic of India’s national identity. The film had successfully managed to deliver a sense of Indian nationalism to urban and rural citizens alike. Hence we see that Bollywood has long influenced Indian society and culture. A lot of the country’s musical, dancing, wedding, and fashion trends are Bollywood-inspired. Bollywood has been consistently producing fashion trendsetters from the time of Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam (1960) to Madhuri Dixit in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) to Rani Mukherjee in Bunty Aur Babli (2005) and to Deepika Padukone in Padmavat.
Having said that, the point is that Bollywood films hold power to discuss difficult topics through a medium that appeals to the masses in India. It helps to initiate conversation. When we look at Veera, played by Alia Bhatt in Highway, the storyline of the movie instills and evokes empathy in the hearts of the audience. It makes you understand the struggle of a 9-year-old child who experiences continued sexual abuse within the household by a family member. The absolute reluctance of an urban family to talk about an issue so deeply ingrained in the society struck a chord with many. The movie also discusses the abusive past of the male lead in the film i.e., Mahabir played by Randeep Hooda. Imtiyaz Ali effortlessly lets you feel the pain of these characters and their abusive past. Every 15 minutes, a child is sexually abused in India, and the movie Highway simple gave a face to these statistics.
Then there are films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan, which voice a serious problem like sexual abuse and child trafficking of children, especially differently-abled, as shown in the movie. The main lead other than Salman Khan, i.e., Munni played by Harshaali Malhotra, gets trapped in a brothel looking place when Salman rescues her. The mere act of a celebrity figure like Salman Khan dissing this act makes a lot of impact on the people who are watching the film. Somewhere the public gets the notion that what just happened was morally wrong, and since in India, a lot of people look up to Salman Khan as an icon, no wonder people take that lesson home with them.
Another movie that’s worth mentioning is Mardaani. The character of Shivani Shivaji Roy played by Rani Mukherjee sets out to uncover a Delhi based child-trafficking cartel. Even though it’s a work of fiction, there is a specific tone of reality in every scene of the movie. Other movies that deserve mention are Gunday starring Ranvir Singh, Arjun Kapoor, and Priyanka Chopra, which deals with the whole issue very sensitively that how easy it is in India for people in positions of power to exploit those they are supposed to protect outlining the POCSO Act. Moreover, Kahaani 2 starring Vidya Balan as the main lead tackles the issue of child abuse head first. From focusing on how children face so much difficulty expressing about the abuse they suffer, discouragement of using the language of sex and sexuality, to the fact that most abuse often occurs within a family set up, which is either hushed up or silently encouraged by other members of the family under the false pretext of maintaining respectability.
All these films make an effort to tackle child sexual abuse in various ways with varying degrees of success, but having them on a platform like Bollywood encourages conversation around the topic. These films compel the audience to see these issues in a different light. They also spread awareness about it at the same time. Academical.ly books are meant to do the same from an early age onwards. They are tackling body, safety, and sexual abuse education in the best way possible.