Amidst the barrage of trolling, criticism, debates and conversations around Amazon Prime’s web series Rasbhari starring Swara Bhasker, one thing stands out – the discomfort of our society when it comes to seeing a woman being sexually active on-screen or off it.
The eight-episode-long Rasbhari puts the spotlight on topics like teenage sexuality, sexual repression, and the hypocrisy in the upbringing and value systems for girls and boys.
Yes, women have sex. And yes, they do have multiple partners sometimes.
The labelling of Rasbhari as soft porn, vulgar and irresponsible content, is soaked in irony, as the same audience loved it when male actors such as Salman Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Ranbir Kapoor played ‘play-boy’ characters in many films.
Remember laughing at that scene from the movie Sanju where Ranbir’s character says that besides his wife, he has slept with around 350 more women? Or the scenes where Shahid Kapoor’s Kabir Sigh is losing his mind because he wants to sleep with a woman? Or in the film Cocktail where Veronica and Gautam have an exactly same lifestyle but even then, she is the slut and he is the colourful man who wears his heart on his sleeves.
While we enjoy seeing a sexually active man on-screen, all our ‘sanskars’ take a collective beating when we are confronted with an emancipated, sexually active woman on-screen.
When men have sex with multiple partners, the audience is OKAY with it because “men will be men.”
In the show named after its protagonist, Swara’s Rasbhari is the object of desire for a teenage boy, object of lust of all the men in the town, and object of hatred for all the women/wives of the men who are lusting after Rasbhari. The women want to beat her up for luring their husbands but not even once does anyone confronts their husband’s debauchery.
The show is a glaring reminder that as a society we have grown to be fine with the idea that men sleep around, but are all up in arms with the idea of a woman being sexually involved with more than one man. Moreover, we label her with terms such as ‘home breaker’ or ‘husband snatcher’ or the very infamous ‘other woman.’
Yes, sexual interest among adolescents is as common as among adults. And yes, this stands true for all genders
In a thought-provoking scene in Rasbhari, a group of women are seen discussing the sexual desires of a little boy. His mother says, “mera beta bolta hai maa shaadi kara do, ab raha nahi jaata” [My son told me to get him married because now he is unable to control his desires]. Soon after, her little daughter dances to a famous Bollywood song in front of the guests, and we see the same bunch of men and women calling out her parents for not controlling their daughter and how she will go on to bring disgrace to the family.
We have been told time and again that the sexual desires of an adolescent can be greatly influenced by comprehensive sex education that covers aspects like sexual orientation, safe sex practices, consent, respect and much more. All this knowledge goes for a toss when a parent tries to be either be selective (based on the child’s gender) or chooses to not address the topic of sex education during their child’s growing-up years.
Not perfect by important narrative
Rasbhari sure isn’t perfect. Taking the route of mental illness to justify Shanu’s sexually active self (Rasbhari) could have been avoided - especially in a show that wants to talk about the importance of understanding sexual desires and flawed conditioning of the society when it comes to all things sex. Nevertheless, Rasbhari is certainly a laudable attempt to shine light on the much-ignored topic, which has been often just depicted in an overtly titillating manner in a dozen of cheap sex-comedies like the Masti and Kya Kool Hai Hum series.
And no statement on Rasbhari can be complete without a special shout out to Swara Bhasker for her restrained act as the attractive and no-nonsense school teacher, Shanu, while going all out to play the unabashed and unstoppable Rasbhari. For her haters and online trolls, Swara could not possibly have given a better response!
(Also read: Bollywood's Rebel With a Cause: Swara Bhasker)
(Edited by Athira Nair)