Mental HealthRelationshipsWhat Has Bollywood Done to You And Your Relationships?

What Has Bollywood Done to You & Your Relationships?

Bollywood influences millions with its stories, characters, and messages. Yet, beneath the glitz and glamour lies a portrayal of society that is built upon & perpetuates unrealistic notions. From gender stereotypes to toxic relationship dynamics, Bollywood movies sometimes reinforce harmful beliefs. Some ways in which it may impact your mind:

  • A Happy Ending Requires Two:

The notion that a protagonist, particularly if female, must find love to achieve a happy ending is a pervasive trope in Bollywood and storytelling at large. It’s a narrative so deeply embedded in our cultural consciousness that we often equate romantic fulfillment with ultimate happiness. Perhaps, it’s time to question the validity of this idea. Do we really need someone else to be truly happy?

While I agree that romantic relationships can undoubtedly bring joy and companionship, they are not the sole determinant of happiness. The belief that one NEEDS a romantic partner to experience true happiness overlooks the surplus of other sources of fulfilment that exist beyond romantic love. Friendships, personal growth, creative pursuits, and self-discovery are just a few examples of the many routes an individual can take to pursue happiness in their lives. AND if we were to believe this notion that Bollywood has upheld, would that mean a single person would not be able to find true happiness? That can’t be right. This notion seems crooked & highly unrealistic. Furthermore, it can instil feelings of inadequacy among those who may not have found romantic love or whose relationships do not conform to societal norms. Its important to remember that happiness is a deeply personal and multifaceted concept, and there is no one-size-fits-all formula for achieving it. While romantic love may play a meaningful role in some people’s lives, it is not the ONLY route to happiness. By broadening one’s understanding of happiness beyond romantic love, one can find more inclusive & diverse ways to pursue happiness.

“As a therapist, I have noticed that people in healthy, supportive relationships often report higher satisfaction and well-being. However, staying in dysfunctional relationships might lead to distress and dissatisfaction, just as being single but content with one’s life can correspond with high levels of happiness and fulfillment”, added Swati Gupta, a Counselling Psychologist & Behavioural Scientist. 

  • The Hero-Rescues-Heroine Trope:

One of the most enduring clichés in Bollywood is the notion that the hero must rescue the heroine. This narrative reinforces patriarchal ideals, portraying men as saviours and women as damsels in distress. Such depictions undermine the capabilities of women and perpetuate the myth that they need male validation or protection to thrive. In reality, every individual, regardless of gender, may find themselves in need of assistance or rescue at some point in their lives. However, this need is not exclusive to women. It’s time to normalize the idea that men can also seek help or find themselves in situations where they require rescue. Human vulnerability knows no gender boundaries, and acknowledging this can help break down the harmful stereotypes we have all learnt over time.

Hero rescues Heroine
Moreover, the notion that the hero is to solve problems or rescue others overlooks the importance of simply being present and offering support.

“The recurring theme where heroes rescue heroines may influence personal expectations, suggesting a dependency model in relationships. In sessions, clients often grapple with the disparity between this narrative and real-life partnerships that demand equality and mutual support. Such portrayals can lead to a quest for an unrealistic dynamic where one partner feels the need to constantly ‘save’ the other, rather than fostering a relationship of interdependence”, Gupta opines. 

Sometimes, there are situations where one cannot actively solve the problem, but providing emotional support and solidarity can be equally valuable. Whether you’re a man or a woman, being there for someone in their time of need is a fundamental aspect of human connection and empathy. It’s time to move beyond the narrow confines of gender roles and embrace a more inclusive and compassionate understanding of support and rescue.

  • The Sacrificial Woman:

Bollywood often glorifies the notion of women sacrificing their dreams and aspirations for the sake of their male partners or families for only then they are perceived as a family-oriented woman, a good wife, or a good mother. This perpetuates the idea that an idol woman’s value lies in her ability to prioritize others’ needs over her own, while sacrificing her own dreams & aspirations. But does one really need to sacrifice their own needs in order to be viewed as “good” or virtuous?

Gupta also said, “These films often stick to showing women in limited, sometimes self-sacrificing roles. Clients may not say it outright, but it’s evident that these movie images affect how they view themselves and act in relationships. Women especially might struggle to match the ideal, always-supportive characters they see in films, which can lead to inner conflict. This influence, though not always openly recognized, molds their sense of self and plays a role in how they handle personal connections and what they think society expects of them, showing the deep impact of media portrayals.”

  • Female Characters as Props:

In many Bollywood movies, female characters are relegated to the role of props, existing solely to further the male protagonist’s storyline. Their character’s background, aspirations, and complexities are often sidelined in favor of serving the male lead’s narrative arc. Moreover, the prevalence of item numbers and objectification of women further reinforces harmful stereotypes and diminishes their agency. It’s really 80s of Bollywood to still reduce actresses with huge potential of playing complex roles to that of an ‘arm candy’. 

  • Stereotypical Depictions of Women:

Bollywood frequently portrays women in narrow, stereotypical roles, such as the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ or the ‘traditional Indian wife.’ These limited black & white representations can contribute to the objectification and commodification of women, reinforcing rigid standards of beauty and the idea that certain dressing style can depict the woman’s personality & character. A bit of a reality check: A saree doesn’t have to mean Sanskaari and a mini skirt doesn’t necessitate non sanskaari. People are not what they wear. Outfits could be solely extrinsic.

Stereotypical depiction of women
A bit of a reality check: A saree doesn’t have to mean Sanskaari and a mini skirt doesn’t necessitate non sanskaari. People are not what they wear. Outfits could be solely extrinsic.
  • Normalization of Unhealthy Behaviors:

Bollywood movies often romanticize behaviors like stalking, possessiveness, and coercion in relationships. In Bollywood, ‘no’ is often understood as the righteous path of having to woo them down until they say yes, which they eventually will, cause its Bollywood. However, this sends dangerous messages about consent and perpetuates the myth that love justifies controlling or manipulative behavior. Furthermore, the normalization of pursuit despite rejection in Bollywood movies undermines the importance of consent. The persistence contributes to the erosion of understanding of boundaries in real-life relationships as well.

  • False Notions of Love:

Bollywood frequently perpetuates the idea that love can miraculously transform individuals or justify unhealthy dynamics. That one only needs to be patient, get a little bullied by the person they love, get their self worth diminished to some extent, and soon their loved one will change into the dream partner they’ve always wished for. This is not how it goes in real life. Nobody has to take the responsibility to ‘fix’ someone by letting that someone break you down multiple times before they show remorse. You deserve someone who respects you regardless of what they are going through. You deserve someone who appreciates the efforts you make, and not take you for granted. Waiting for someone to change while they tear you apart portrays an unrealistic set of expectations about relationships and fails to acknowledge the complexities of human emotions and agentic personal growth.

  • Unrealistic Beauty Standards:

“Bollywood’s presentation of beauty can contribute to an internalized standard that many find unattainable. In clinical encounters, this often manifests in clients’ struggles with self-esteem and body image. The pressure to match these on-screen ideals can lead to a range of issues, from social anxiety to body dysmorphic disorders, as individuals measure their worth against a highly curated and often unrealistic yardstick”, said Gupta.

The emphasis on slim waists and six-pack abs in Bollywood perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards for all regardless of gender. Flawless skin, perfect hair, cylindrical waist or one with abs on it and tall! This could be a reality for many, but its not the ultimate standard of what one needs to like. You can be short, or have zits or have hair that doesn’t always look perfect—- NOW THAT’S REALISTIC. Such depictions contribute to body image issues among viewers. The lack of diversity in body types shown in Bollywood further reinforces harmful notions of beauty and self-worth.

  • Misrepresentation of Female Desire:

Bollywood frequently neglects or diminishes female sexuality, prioritizing male desire in its portrayal of intimate relationships. This imbalance undermines women’s sexual agency and pleasure. It’s essential to recognize that the desire for sexual fulfillment is a natural aspect of human experience and should not be stigmatized or judged. Consensual sexual experiences, where all parties involved experience joy and satisfaction, are entirely realistic and valid. Regardless of gender, individuals have the right to seek and enjoy sexual pleasure in safe and consensual ways. Bollywood has the opportunity to challenge existing norms and promote a more inclusive understanding of sexuality. Somebody, tell them!

Bollywood movies often fail to adequately represent marginalized communities. LGBTQIA+ characters are frequently relegated to caricatures or used as punchlines, reduced to their stereotypes and erasing their lived experiences. Similarly, issues related to disability, caste, and ethnicity are often overlooked or misrepresented, further marginalizing already disadvantaged groups within society. By failing to address these complex and intersectional issues, Bollywood movies contribute to the invisibility of diverse voices and experiences.


The unrealistic depictions of relationships, beauty standards, and gender roles in Bollywood films wield significant influence over viewers and can deeply impact mental well-being. The continuous exposure to the “perfect” ideas of romance, beauty, and success often sets unrealistic standards that viewers may feel pressured to emulate. This constant comparison to the unrealistic ideals can lead to feelings of inadequacy, erode self-esteem, and contribute to the onset or exacerbation of mental health issues, particularly among impressionable audiences, including young viewers. Bollywood’s normalization of unhealthy behaviors and toxic relationship dynamics can have far-reaching consequences. By glorifying possessiveness, control, and emotional manipulation, these films inflict a pattern of abuse and coercion that can extend to one’s real-life relationships. It leads to the normalization of such abusive behavior. Additionally, it also undermines the importance of consent and mutual respect in interpersonal dynamics. Consequently, individuals may find themselves trapped in cycles of trauma and dysfunction. 

“In my opinion, Bollywood heavily influences how love and romance are viewed in India, mirroring and reinforcing societal norms and expectations. Movies like Rocky aur Rani ki Prem Kahani and Animal serve as examples, with Ranveer Singh’s character in RRKPK displaying positive, healthy relationship qualities, or “green flags,” such as respect and good communication. On the other hand, Ranbir Kapoor’s character in Animal might show “red flags” through harmful behaviors like aggression and manipulation, pointing to unhealthy relationship dynamics”, Gupta claimed.

Movies & meme culture have often glorified and/or minimized mental health issues in a melancholic manner or in a manner of hilarity at times. Research has found that media portrayals of mental health issues, including romanticized depictions of suicide or unrealistic beauty standards, can contribute to negative outcomes such as increased stigma, poor self-esteem, and psychological distress among viewers. That’s not what anyone aims for when they turn on the TV.

Perhaps, addressing these issues requires a concerted effort from both filmmakers and audiences. Filmmakers must take responsibility for the messages they disseminate and strive to portray more realistic and healthy relationship dynamics on screen. By depicting characters who communicate openly, respect boundaries, and prioritize mutual consent and respect, Bollywood can play a constructive role in promoting positive social norms and fostering healthier attitudes towards relationships. 

And yes, bollywood has its moments but maybe it’s time for a reality check: 

Happiness can be found without pain and relationships can bloom without drama.

You may also want to read about breaking free from societal expectations.

If you’re looking for counselling and psychotherapy, please book your sessions here.

Until next time 🙂

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