Throwback Thursday: Bollywood’s Cheap Shots At Plus-Sized Women Are Exhausting
Have you ever heard someone being called Tuntun for being fat or gaining weight? Well, a word that has become synonymous with having extra flesh is actually someone’s name. Tuntun has been Bollywood’s one of the earliest female comedians who was unfortunately often reduced to her size. Fat-shaming plus-sized women and using them as joke material has continued since and it seems like there is no going back.
This was especially true for 90s movies where the fat person, mostly a woman, was a comedic device, pushed into the storyline randomly to evoke laughs. If the character was weaved into the storyline, it was often as the female lead’s sidekick, making her look prettier and more glamorous because look at who you would be with *gasp* the fat woman.
We’ve grown up watching movies that shame people on their size, colour, and sexual preferences. And with all of this fat-shaming we witnessed packaged as humour, we ended up believing jokes on someone’s body are supposed to be taken sportingly. So when a woman was shown as ugly because she was fat, we were supposed to laugh it off, because hey, it’s a joke. Add to that the angeles these women were taken at were often unflattering and you have the perfect recipe for disastrous body shaming.
Do you know what’s worse? When you start gaining weight as a skinny girl! Even a little gain somehow gives people the confidence to come to criticise you. They waltz down to make fun of you each time you put fries in your mouth or put up pictures. And if you get mad at them for body shaming you, they tell you various things – they are saying it for your good or you should know how to take things sportingly. I’d like to blame Bollywood for this asshole-y attitude people have.
For instance,a female plus-sized comedian that took Bollywood by storm was Manorama, a Tamilian actress of Sita Aur Geeta fame. But she has been cast as a fat, mean woman in so many movies with being subjected to body shaming dialogues because it’s not like they have feelings. In Sita Aur Geeta, when she tells Hema Malini, “Neeche aaja beti”, Malini tells her “Upar aaja moti”. Being called “moti” was common and in fact, that was one of the nicest things these women were called. Haathi, saand, and the list goes on. Being compared to animals because of your size apparently was perfectly acceptable, funny even.
Fat Shaming Because It’s Funny
Speaking of which, I bet no one remembers or even knows of this weird movie with comedy queen Guddi Maruti in it alongside Shakti Kapoor. In a particular scene, Kapoor is waiting for Maruti to die so he can marry a thinner woman. Soon after, she faints and Kapoor is seen rejoicing that a female elephant collapsed. He is also seen kicking her to wake her up, treating her like just flesh. Maruti revealed in an interview that at the peak of her Bollywood career she was told to not lose weight so they can continue using her as joke material. While it may keep the finances coming in, it must have blown these women’s confidence to smithereens. Apparently, Guddi Maruti was made fun of for her weight since her school days and she had steeled herself against all the hate.
Meanwhile, in the movie Dil, Aamir Khan is challenged to kiss a woman if he loses a fight. And why is that difficult? Turns out the woman is fat and dark. Omg, two reasons to shame a woman. Much wow. If he won the fight, up for grabs (no really) was the beautiful Madhuri Dixit. And if he didn’t, a dark woman would be the one he would have to engage in a lip lock with. We’re not sure this is funny but perhaps the audience then found it hilarious. We don’t know.
In Bandhan, when Salman Khan is looking for Rambha on the bus, he goes to the wrong window and calls her name “Jyoti”. On realising it’s not her but a fat woman, he says, “ugh, moti!” What the fuck even?
In Kal Ho Na Ho, Delnaaz Irani played Preity Zinta’s bestie and throughout the movie, she was teased for being plus size. She was told she isn’t dateable because of her weight. In fact, she was seen as so undateable that just anyone would do. Anyone with a penis and a willingness to be with her, even though that guy responds to being called “Ramdayal”. At some point, even Preity, a character with plenty of issues herself, deems it fit to talk about her weight and how she should lose some.
Using fat women as joke material and body-shaming them while at it has been done since the black and white era with Tuntun. Cut to today and we are still walking down the same shallow and insensitive path. The Kapil Sharma’s show is more or less based on this humour as Bharti is seen being roasted for her weight time and again. Even Archana Puran Singh isn’t spared for her big built. What is this nonsense Bollywood and television keep giving us? I mean, it would be silly of me to expect any better but hey, a girl has hope.
Thankfully, Dum Lagaake Haisha came with lessons the entire country needs to learn. It’s time to start including plus-sized women in mainstream cinema. We need to stop looking at women through the lens of shallow thinking and discrimination. All sizes are okay, all shapes are okay and women are more than that.
Movies like Veere Di Wedding also had women characters who were plus size but in this case, Shikha Talsania wasn’t used for laughs. However, the brief mention about her being insecure about her weight is quickly brushed aside, lest the characters dwell upon it and show some depth. I guess the good thing is that she isn’t made fun of.
However, the bar can’t be so incredibly low. Mainstream representation of women who are plus-size is still a pipe dream. Except a few campaigns that are few and far in between, plus size women are rarely seen in media. But hey, that is changing. But as a throwback, we needed to talk about this. A couple of brands are abandoning the thin is beautiful philosophy and for that, we are grateful. Sabyasachi gets a shoutout for being inclusive.
ALSO READ: The Fault In Our Comedy Stars: The Kapil Sharma Show Needs To Change Its Sexist, Body-Shaming Brand Of Humour
I have come a long way since I started gaining weight after being a skinny girl all my life. I have had to explain to my own cousins and best friends that making jokes about someone’s weight is a douchebag move. You don’t have to take those sportingly. Someone called you fat? Ask them, “So what?” Yes, you have fat, and no, that is not an insult or something to be shameful of. So fuck them who think being fat is the worse someone can be. No, you’re shallow and pathetic. Being fat is so much better than that!