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Thursday, May 5th, 2011 - 3 comments

Teenage Pregnancy and Indian Cinema

A few quick shots from a typical 70′s or 80′s Hindi film or ‘masala’ Bollywood flick:

A young girl who is studying in college meets a handsome boy who pursues her.

Most of the time, they do not indulge in making love or activities which would allude to the same while the audience is left with the impression that their love is beyond physicality and “pure.”

There are, of course, some song and dance sequences: the girl and boy both indulge in dancing (another form of covert passion!) and singing. You need to understand Hindi and a few nuances to understand the actual suggestive meaning of the songs which can almost be translated as having sex with words (in a decent, accepted and covert way) but no, tarry a little my friend, there is almost no physical touching there either.

The story will further involve some conflicts and fighting scenes, and in the end the girl and boy, being given the blessings of society to get married, will board their “honeymoon” vehicles in the last scene.

Else: the girl and the boy sleep together, wherein there is a fadeout transition with two flowers coming together or flames of some candles becoming one, with the camera losing focus on everything except these objects which act as curtains for the nefarious activities which the holier-than-thou actors and actresses could never indulge in (i.e., have sex).

If the girl becomes pregnant then she is abused by her parents: “TUMNE HUMAARE KHANDAAN KA NAAM MITTI MEIN MILLA DIYA, KULAKSHINI….KYA ISSI DIN KE LIYE TUMHEIN PAIDA KIYA THA.” In other words: you have brought dishonour to the family…bad word…did we give birth to you and bring you up to witness this day (as in the day you brought news to us that you had had sex before marriage and have proof in the form of a pregnancy), and so on and so forth continues the saga of abusing the girl. The boy who she slept with is never blamed. So much so, that he almost exits the film like a callous youth who is not bothered about the girl, “his mistake,” or the unborn child.

The girl decides to give birth to the child, after which she either leaves it outside some religious institution or brings up the child as a bitter mother. The child then grows up as an angry young person who decides on avenging the mother by attempting to buy back the respect that his mother lost with his birth.

Fast forward to the 90′s:

This was the era of glamourous cinema, when kisses were the “in-thing” but pre-marital sex was not. The silver screen showcased relationships as innocent and shy while family drama was the catch phrase. During this period, teenagers or pregnancy outside or within a marriage were not used as themes for films except for one or two odd films, which never delivered the promise of showcasing some off beaten topics like teenage pregnancies, pre-marital sex, etc. All these themes ended up becoming prey to a moralistic perspective of filmmaking.

Present-day Bollywood:

We see suggestive scenes, our humour has become more innuendo-prone, and yet we avoid topics which deal with the sexual health of young people or sex life. The films which are considered “bold” and “not to be seen with parents or in the company of older people” have some hot scenes which are considered immoral and representative of “concepts bought from the west.”

This makes one wonder how it is that as a film industry which is obsessed with love stories and makes sure that every film has a love angle to it (whether needed or not), it cannot find a way to bring sexual health out of the closet and speak about it? To date there have been few films which have dealt with teenage pregnancies, and none of which speak about abortion or else extract and separate abortion from a moralistic debate as well as look at it from the health point of view for the expectant mother. Indian cinema never deals with women dying while going for an abortion — and come to think of it, almost none of them speak of or show abortion or the dilemma of a young person who is about to go for it.

There are only a handful of films which have ever dealt with teenage pregnancy or out-of-wedlock pregnancy. The first film is a 70′s film called Julie, which spoke of an Anglo-Indian girl who has sex before marriage and becomes pregnant. She gets married into a Hindu family, such that everything becomes alright. Two things worth observing here: someone influenced from the west (an Anglo-Indian girl, wearing short skirts) can indulge in sex before marriage, but she still needs to be purified of her ‘sin’ by getting married. Another film of the 90′s was Kya Kehna, which shows a young college going girl becoming enamoured by a handsome, rich hunk and sleeping with him. She becomes pregnant and doesn’t even consider adoption, but brings up the baby on her own because the guy has no plans of marrying her. The film takes a moralistic stand and manages to pick none of the issues related to the complexity of a teenage pregnancy, but at the same time ends up with the cliché of a girl marrying a boy in order to live a socially acceptable life.

Of recent, Tere Sang was another film which was supposed to be about teenage pregnancies, but in reality dealt with everything except that. For an industry which produces more than 100 films in a month, 3 films over a period of 30 to 40 years is a sad statement to make for such a strong medium.

The Indian electronic media have avoided issues which it could help form strong public opinions about. These films deal with love minus the sexual awakening, and the only time that sex is shown on the silver screen, it is shown so vulgarly such that one cannot but want to avoid it. Realistic natural phenomena like pregnancies, teenage curiousity about sex, or situations like teenage pregnancy are avoided or showcased from the society’s high moral pedestal rather than a friendly healthy perspective. The media in this case tend to take the status quo stand that the society supports, rather than showcasing its power of formulating public opinion or mobilizing people. The films never let health come to the forefront in any form as to what sort of a trauma a girl might go through in this condition, the kind of choices available to her, or what kind of support she can get and from where.

Also, another point worth mentioning is that none of these films have to date tried to deal with the issues of the poor, wherein it is a norm for a girl to be married as soon as she begins her menstruation cycle, and bear children even before she is 16. A nation, where 60% of the girl population is married before 20 years of age, needs to question its media policies as well as its creative cadre about why and how this important aspect of our lives (our sexuality) has been missed and misrepresented for a period of more than 75 years.

Media as a whole need to use its powers of: Educating, Inspiring, and Formulating public opinion so that Indian society can learn to deal sensitively with topics which until now it has successfully avoided.

The views expressed in this blog-post are solely those of the author.

Comments (3)

Raquel Wexler
Saturday 14th May, 2011, 1:51pm

What an excellent post. I studied some years ago in the Department of Radio Television and Film of the University of Texas @ Austin where a good deal of similar research was being done on Brazilian telenovelas and and reproductive health/demography. Brazil is the most populous country of Latin America having a population of more than 180 million. Its fertility rate has declined significantly in the last 15 years and now stands at 2.3 children per woman. In rural areas, larger family sizes are still found in rural and impoverished regions of the country, and teenage pregnancy remains a issue...In Brazil everyone watches telenovelas, especially the most popular ones that follow the evening news. 88% of households own a color television set so the vast majority of households, rich and poor own a TV. Telenovelas air from Monday to Saturday and are of short duration ( a few months rather than years like American soap operas). Scripts are developed and novelas aired within a short period of time 10-14 days if not less, so what you see on TV can very much reflect what is happening in the socio-political realm of the time - and makes for interesting viewing (for subtext etc). TV Globo is one of the largest TV producers in the world. In Brazil it reaches more than 60% of the viewing public and their novelas are exported all over the world. I recently observed a couple living in a village with a population of 2 in rural town in The FYRo Macedonia captivated by a dubbed Brazilian telenovela....There have been many experiences of successful collaboration between Globo and the integration of SRHR issues through the medium of telenovelas. A recent example is Paginas de Vida (Pages of Life). Read more at http://www.grist.org/article/2010-09-25-soap-operas-spread-messages-about-reproductive-health-population
I've also included a related academic article by Hornik and McAnany ( on Mass Media and Demographic Behaviour) http://www.unm.edu/~werder/Documents/553readings/Reading23.pdf

Zohaib MianJee
Sunday 5th June, 2011, 3:46am

excellent work dear....congrats....

Julie G.
Tuesday 28th June, 2011, 10:46am

Hello,
First sorry for my bad english,
I'm looking for a movie that I saw when I was young, I can't remember the title.
I was searching on the web and I read your very interting post, so I thought maybe you could help me.
The story is about a young girl (poor) in a village, her mother is dead, and her father drink a lot.
she's hired at the landlady house to work, one day she asks the landlady to teach her indian dance.
The old landlady's grandson comes in the house, he's running for some kind of election and he abused the young girl who gets pregnant.
she hides and keep the baby.
That's all I remember, but I really want to see it again, so if you know which movie I am talking about could you help me please?
Thanx a lot.

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Guest Editor

Roli Mahajan

About

Roli Mahajan holds a Master’s degree in Mass Communication and Journalism, with a focus on English Literature, Sociology, and Mass Communication and Video Production from the University of Lucknow, in India. Ms. Mahajan is an International Year of Youth Journalist for Advocates for Youth, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, that focuses on improving policies and programs to advance young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. As an International Year of Youth Journalist, Ms. Mahajan blogs for Amplifyyourvoice.org, a youth activist website dedicated to sexual and reproductive health and rights globally. She reports from India, where she is based, as well as from international conferences that she attends. In this capacity, most recently, she reported from the UN Climate Change Meeting that was held in Mexico in December of 2010. Ms. Mahajan has freelanced as a reporter for the health section of Mail Today and has worked as a volunteer editor for Panorma Zine, an ezine published by TakingITGlobal. She has also served as a videoblogger for the project, Women Aloud: Videoblogging for Empowerment. In this capacity, she worked to feature inspiring stories from her state, Uttar Pradesh. Her film "Rowing Her Way Through The River of Life“ has been selected for screening in the 4th Samsung Women's international Film Festival, to be held in Chennai in March 2011.

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