The story less told
It hurts, and hurts badly, to see that several marriages lose steam (passion) after the initial days of ‘romance’ (or is ‘frequent-sex’ the term?) and get converted into actual physical wars. Worse still, in this 21st year of the 21st century, women are also seen to be the perpetrators of violence and husband-beating is common especially in the post-COVID phase, not that it didn’t exist 15-20 years ago. Let me start off by telling you about a TV actor who called me home in 2004 to give an interview about his broken marriage and revealed that his wife used to spank him with a broom. The tabloid, whom I gave the story to, ran it the very next day with a big masthead on Page 1, saying such-and-such actor is being thrashed by his wife with a jhaadu. The actor was upset that the tabloid was selling copies by thrusting his dirty linen in people’s faces when they stopped their cars at signals; he had a big issue with the headline–but think of it, today every actor wants a compromised media who publishes not just the headline but even the copy only after he/she has read it and waved the green flag. This actor has now married again and is presumably happy in his life. So yeah, why are women getting increasingly aggressive? Arzoo Govitrikar tells ETimes, “It’s difficult to pinpoint reasons, at least I hit back only to defend myself, and did not speak about my suffering to anybody except my sister Aditi. But I think it’s time that psychologists and psychiatrists come into the picture to have a calming influence on the most important intra-relation, which is between a woman and her spouse. Warring couples should see some professional mediator before things go out of hand.”
Psychiatrist-cum-psychotherapist Dr Anjali Chhabria, whose clientele includes several couples from the film and TV world, pulls the curtain down completely and declares, “Women are getting very aggressive no doubt and I know of such cases in the glamour world. Many husbands, who have been victims at the hands of their wives, have told me that they would soon go to the press but somehow backed out at the last minute. For all you know, it might happen that they’ll start doing it sometime.” And what does she do in such cases where males are tormented? Dr Chhabria reveals, “Like in any other case of matrimonial disharmony, I call the couple together and counsel the wife. We have even called children and some of them have turned towards their father and told him that he should go out of the marriage for his own welfare. Counselling, with or without medication depending on the case, helps.”
There’s a school of thought that suggests the tyrant behaviour of certain women might be the result of retaliation to the cruelty that men have imposed on them since ages. That is why modern laws have been created to safeguard the interests of women–an attempt to balance the equation of power. But, one of the ironies in our la-la land of movies and TV serials is that our filmmakers have started to boast about depicting reality these days and yet, they’ve not come up with a subject that deals with husband-beating. Be it ‘Agnisakshi’ in 1996 or ‘Thappad’ in 2020, the victim is a woman and understandably so. But, is the claim of being progressive missing a crucial angle? Let me tell you about a chat I had with BR Chopra’s son Ravi Chopra at Mumbai’s Empire Studios while he was making ‘Baabul’. I asked Ravi why he had made two films, ‘Baghban’ (2003) and ‘Baabul’ (2006) on the same subject of children being cruel to their parents. Did he know that there are several parents around us who scar the minds of their kids in their formative years by abusing them left, right and centre? Ravi Chopra shot back, “Yes, I know. But on both occasions I chose to go with a story of children torturing their mother and father simply because if I had taken the other route, a topic like that wouldn’t click in India. I have to make what sells,” he’d smiled.
There’s a school of thought that suggests the tyrant behaviour of certain women might be the result of retaliation to the cruelty that men have imposed on them since ages. That is why modern laws have been created to safeguard the interests of women, an attempt to balance the equation of power. But, one of the ironies in our la-la land of movies and TV serials is that our filmmakers have started to boast about depicting reality these days and yet, they’ve not come up with a subject that deals with husband-beating. Be it ‘Agnisakshi’ in 1996 or ‘Thappad’ in 2020, the victim is a woman and understandably so. But, is the claim of being progressive missing a crucial angle? Let me tell you about a chat I had with BR Chopra’s son Ravi Chopra at Mumbai’s Empire Studios while he was making ‘Baabul’. I asked Ravi why he had made two films, ‘Baghban’ (2003) and ‘Baabul’ (2006) on the same subject of children being cruel to their parents. Did he know that there are several parents around us who scar the minds of their kids in their formative years by abusing them left, right and centre? Ravi Chopra shot back, “Yes, I know. But on both occasions I chose to go with a story of children torturing their mother and father simply because if I had taken the other route, a topic like that wouldn’t click in India. I have to make what sells,” he’d smiled.
That women are exploited and men are not, cannot be the only narrative though. Certain men believe they’ll become laughing stocks if they admit to having been beaten by their wives. Arzoo’s lawyer Ishika Tolani insists, “It would certainly not look like a comedy if a filmmaker in India shows a man being battered and bruised by his wife. By showing the problem, you are addressing it and perhaps leading the malaise to the rectification chamber.”
Celebrity lawyer Vandana Shah whose clientele has included Malaika Arora and Ranvir Shorey says that women hit differently. “She would scratch his face or pull his hair. There is no truth to the belief that women cannot overpower men. I know a TV actor’s wife who is violent. I know of an actress who’s told her actor-husband that he should at least allow her to go and enjoy an affair as he cannot give her enough money to enjoy the materialistic desires of life.”
Continues Shah, “I know of a Bollywood couple wherein the wife is shoving, pulling, pushing and slapping him and waiting for the husband to react. But will men come out and talk about it? They might at some point, but for now, they mostly refrain from lodging complaints as they fear that they’d lose respect in the eyes of the people around them and even if they file their grouse, they won’t be taken seriously.”
Over to senior actresses like Sonu Walia and Ayesha Jhulka for their take on husband-bashing and wife-bashing respectively. Ayesha feels that a lot of cases against men have been due to the misuse of the undue advantage that a woman has got after Section 498 (A) came into effect. “I know for a fact that a male friend of mine has been wrongly accused by his wife in a similar vein. Bollywood mein bhi suna hai (I’ve heard about it in Bollywood, too); it happened in a production unit that I worked in. We used to listen to that man as he narrated his tales of woe, but what could we do about it?”
Sonu says that the change in the mental, physical and financial structure of human beings in the COVID-era has further contributed and consequently aggravated it to heights, leading to an increased number of marital disputes. “I have friends who are close to thinking about it- hitting their hubbies- and when you’re close to thinking about it, the day is not far off when you’ll actually do it. What I mean is that these women have been pushed so hard against the wall for such a long time that they have decided not to take it lying down anymore. A friend of mine has a husband who comes home invariably drunk, and you can imagine what follows.”
The fact of the matter
On the other side, there’s wife-beating, still far heavier in numbers than husband-beating. Actress Nisha Rawal who was recently brave enough to talk about the alleged torture meted out to her by Karan Mehra, sat down again yesterday to dwell on it and offered, “Today, women are talking about their suffering. They are standing up for their own selves, which they should. I wish this mobilisation had started earlier. It would have made it harder for men to inflict torture.” Nisha’s close friend Rohit Verma (of ‘Bigg Boss 3’) who was almost constantly by her side in her recent hour of crisis, tells ETimes, “I was in an abusive relationship with a man and we decided to call it off so that the sanity of both of us could be maintained. If you’re asking me why marital or love relationships are spitting fire, I think in our world of showbiz at least, it happens mainly if a gap develops in the status of two partners. Showbiz is all about dikhawa (pretence/perception) and if your life loses flamboyance and success, you feel terribly hurt in front of your partner, so much so, that you want to hurt him/her.”
A producer (on request of anonymity) tells ETimes that a couple of male singers have a history of roughing up their wives, but nothing could be done because the ladies in question have been meekly quiet about it. Famous filmmaker Brij Sadanah (of ‘Victoria No 203’), whose son Kamal recently split with his wife after a marriage of 20 years, had allegedly got into a nasty fight with his wife which led him to kill all the members of his family before he went on to shoot even himself (1990). When ETimes contacted the surviving member of his family, Kamal, last night, with a query if his father had shown any bouts of aggression before the tragic, err, ghastly incident, Kamal went mum and did not revert.
Another psychiatrist, Dr Yusuf Matcheswalla (who treated Shweta Tiwari’s husband Raja Chaudhary in Mumbai’s Maseena Hospital in 2008 who was reportedly violent in his marriage with her) gets vocal to say that anybody who is hitting his/her married partner needs to be analysed for depression. “Treating such patients helps to save the situation from getting embarrassing, but then, it should be done in time.”
Psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty comes down heavily on men who’re addicted to alcohol and spoil their marital life. Hailing women for their progress in all spheres of life, albeit not directly, Dr Shetty says, “The success of a woman can bring about a lot of power struggle in relationships,” and adds, “In many such cases where the wife is doing better than the husband in terms of pay packet, the man hits the bottle. Alcohol abuse makes a man lose self-control and then the kheecha-taani (tug-of-war) further causes damage that cannot be repaired.”
Adding a moot point that every parent should consider to eradicate wife-beating from society, Ishika Tolani says, “The way men are conditioned differently by their parents is a major reason why they consider themselves almost as if they own their wife.” What Tolani is saying, rather asking, is simple: Right from the moment they are three-years-old, why are sons given toy guns and knives and daughters given dolls and kitchen sets? However, Tolani also says, “Women need to provide a warm atmosphere when the man comes home. Often I have seen in my practice that it begins from nagging: Mind well, I am not justifying that wife-beating is correct if the woman nags her husband- ‘Where were you? Why didn’t you take my call?’ All I am saying here is that the flashpoint is often a woman’s nagging. As trivial as this may sound- but mountains are built from molehills, aren’t they?”
Does the inequality in treating the two genders also influence aggression? Reminds me how just recently people started criticising Bollywood heroines Deepika Padukone and Kareena Kapoor when they read reports of the actresses asking an acting fee that was higher than what they were being offered. Tolani tells us that pay disparity can lead to heated conflicts within the four walls but talking about Kareena asking for Rs 12 crore to play Sita in a film, she says that the story was not true because she knows the makers of that film at a personal level and they have told her that Kareena was not even offered the project in question. She adds, “One more reason of man inflicting violence, and he stands severly condemned again, is if and when his wife refuses him sex on a particular night. But it is difficult to prove this charge where forced sex can tantamount to rape- but note well, there are several cases which contain this kind of charge that have been filed in court.”
The proverbial grey shades
Dr Shetty returns to say, “Why isn’t anybody discussing the reason of violence from women or men being an off-shoot of the extra-marital affairs that today happen at the drop of a hat, the prime culprit being the easy intermingling of both sexes at workplace which in turn provides lot of options (Bollywood and Tellywood are (in)famous for illicit liaisons)?”
Goes without saying that kids of warring parents get caught in the crossfire. Tanuj Virwani experienced it when his mother Rati Agnihotri filed a police complaint against her husband Anil. In an exclusive conversation with ETimes, Tanuj had confessed. “It put me off track. We went through a lot. It seemed they would divorce each other, there was a lot of talk about that as to who I would stay with. Thankfully, my mausi (mother’s sister) stepped in and made them talk; transparency and security returned,” quickly adding, “We are now much better than perhaps even before.”
”’Thappad’ screenplay writer Mrunmayee Lagoo, daughter of Reema Lagoo, says frankly that she hasn’t seen spouse-bashing happen to anybody in her circle. Yet, her writing in the film surprised herself, too. She explains, “I focused on a couple of facts. One: Marriages were always complicated, it’s just that women are coming out now and talking about it if they have to suffer at the hands of their partner. Two: insecurity and frustration do the talking and unfortunately it’s someone closest to you at hand who has to bear the brunt.”
Rati Agnihotri, Rashami Desai, Dalljiet Kaur, Karisma Kapoor, Sneha Wagh… the list is long. And we have no way to count men.
A senior serial-maker (name withheld on request) says, “Wife-beating or husband-beating- both are equally wrong. That the men are not covered under the Domestic Violence Act is also a story but perhaps for another day. But both these shameful acts in society should be treated immediately.”
Food for thought? Too many questions, too many versions, too many reasons, even too many ideas to reduce this menace- but the solution is strangely still a mirage.