Nenu Local to Pushpa: How Telugu film songs normalise stalking

In Indian cinema, where hero-worship is taken quite literally, the fact that a lead actor mouths these lyrics and is shown stalking the female lead until she “falls in love with him” is especially dangerous.
Screenshot of Allu Arjun and Rashmika from Pushpa
Screenshot of Allu Arjun and Rashmika from Pushpa
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“Disturb disturb disturb disturb chestha ninnu, neekishtam ishtam ishtam ishtam ayyevaraku nenu…,”  these are the lyrics from the song Disturb Chestha Ninnu from the 2017 Telugu movie, Nenu Local. The words loosely translate to, “I'm going to disturb you continuously, till the time you start to like me.” In the video for the song, the lead actor Nani is seen following Keerthy Suresh around a college campus. While she looks annoyed by this and keeps trying to get away from him, he continues to sing and pursue her.  

In the recent hit film Pushpa, starring Allu Arjun, we have the song Srivalli. “Chuupe bangaramayena srivalli, maate manikya mayena,” sings the character played by Allu Arjun. He is asking the female lead, played by Rashmika Mandanna, ‘"Are your looks as valuable as gold and your words equivalent to pearls, that you won't look or talk to me?” At another point, he sings, “Despite leading such a great life, I'm still roaming around your house.” And when he doesn’t get the attention he is looking for, the lyrics change to, “Once a girl attains 18 years, any girl looks better, not just you. Despite all that, you are not even looking or talking to me.”

In 2007, Ninne Ninne from Desamuduru, was one of the most popular Telugu songs of that year. In the movie, Allu Arjun is the hero and Hansika Motwani, who is cast as the female lead, plays a nun. He sings to her that she is letting her body and beauty go to waste and should be cursed for that. He further asks her why she has to follow her beliefs, considering how beautiful she is. 

These are just a few examples of the sexist and problematic songs that are rife in Telugu movies. From stalking and not taking ‘no’ for an answer, to sexually harassing women, these songs run the gamut from normalising to glorifying and romanticising these acts to the movie audience. Many of these songs go on to become super hits and are downloaded as caller tunes and the lyrics posted as WhatsApp statuses.

Watch song from Pushpa here :

In Indian cinema, where hero-worship is taken quite literally, the fact that a lead actor mouths these lyrics and is shown stalking the female lead in songs until she “falls in love with him” is especially dangerous. These acts could potentially inspire fans to behave similarly in real life.

In India, stalking is a crime under Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code. While most cases go unreported for various reasons, as per the latest data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there were about 8,512 cases registered in the country in 2020 for stalking. Those who commit the crime can be imprisoned and made to pay a fine. Unless you are the male lead in a Telugu movie, in which case anything goes.

Watch song from Nenu Local here :

No concept of consent

From the lyrics in the songs to the way it is shot, what is on screen is a complete violation of women's rights. “There are even songs that show women being ‘teased’ about their skin colour and personality as well. There is discrimination, character assassination, gender violence, ill treatment of women in such songs and scenes,” says Sandhya, who is the president of Hyderabad-based Progressive Organisation for Women (POW).

Vamsi, a professor in the film studies department at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Tirupati, says that these kinds of sexist songs, where men don’t know the meaning of the word ‘no’, have been seen in the Telugu film industry from the 1960s onwards.

Watch song from Desamuduru here :

“What we see in such songs is an endorsement of sexual and physical harassment. Even in the videos, the male actor will be seen touching the woman actor’s body without her consent and it is all made light of as it is just seen in a song,” he says.

In the movie Krishna, starring Ravi Teja and Trisha, there is the song, Nee Soku Mada. Ravi Teja is seen following Trisha though she shows her displeasure. He goes on to grab her and touch her inappropriately even as she tries to pull away. “The hero has the privilege of breaking or endorsing all patriarchal regressive thoughts on screens,” says Vamsi. “And it is only the hero’s right to make sexist remarks or touch a woman inappropriately. Ironically, when the villain tries to do the same, there is a fight.”

Watch song from Krishna here:

For many college students, these movie stars serve as strong male figures in their lives. This kind of behaviour becomes the norm for these younger generations, says the professor. “Heroes are portrayed with strong masculine characteristics. Male audiences tend to think that if they are following what the hero is doing, they too will be considered masculine. There is also the tendency to think claiming a woman’s body is a form of power and is intrinsically linked to masculinity. So, when a hero does it, it gets normalised and becomes part of the culture, when it should not and is wrong,” adds Vamsi.

Sandhya questions what kind of message such songs give audiences with regards to the concept of consent. “If the hero figure is seen doing these violative acts, it is nothing short of encouraging society to replicate the same and making it acceptable behaviour. While many women, in reality, are victims of stalking and harassment, in these songs there is no concept of consent,” she says.

Most of the lyrics in these songs are for the male lead, and very few see the female lead retorting. Paavu Thakkuva from Nachavule in 2008, showed in a song how common and pervasive it is for women and young girls to face harassment: be it at the bus stop, or standing on one’s terrace. College Papala Bussu from the movie Vikramarkudu showed the lead actor harassing women but getting it back from the women for his behaviour. But, these songs while showing some push back do not condone sexist behaviour as strongly as they could.

Vamsi says that sexist songs in Telugu movies started increasing in the 1980s and seem to show no signs of stopping.

“These kinds of portrayals continue to haunt the Telugu film industry, even while it is being questioned and condemned by the entire world outside,” Sandya says.

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