Despite a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Barbara Białowąs and Tomasz Mandes directorial 365 Days became a huge sensation with its arrival on Netflix in June this year. The film, which was based on Blanka Lipińska’s book was vehemently criticised for its problematic subject matter. But it kept going viral owing to its titillating screenplay that also led to its comparison with Fifty Shades of Grey.
"A woman falls victim to a mafia boss who imprisons her and gives her 365 days to fall in love with her,” says the film’s description on Netflix and guess what? She does fall in love with him! The only catch? It doesn’t really take her 365 days to do so.
Now, in a recent interview, the film’s lead Michele Morrone has his character as a kidnapper. Here’s what he had to say: “We are talking about fiction. It's another person's vision who wrote the book. For example, the beauty and the beast. The beast was a kidnapper. It is absolutely the same. If you watch 365 Days, there is a scene where they are together and Laura tells Massimo, 'I don't need 365 days because I love you'. So it was her decision to be with Massimo.”
Well, clearly logic isn’t Michele’s strongest suit. To brush aside a film’s subject matter by saying that it is “fiction” is perhaps the most myopic thing to do as an actor, for clearly films have a more lasting impression on the audience than Michele would like to believe. It especially makes me worried as an Indian cinema enthusiast. For instance, think about Tere Naam, how Salman Khan’s lovelorn character and his repulsive hairstyle became a HUGE craze post the film’s release. Clearly, to assume that films don’t impact the audience is a major folly that has long been committed in the entertainment industry, especially the Indian cinema.
365 Days has been criticised for its misogynistic messaging, promoting harassment and rape culture. In the film, the hero literally kidnaps the heroine. It's highly problematic for the film's lead character to think that it is merely fiction and should be taken in that spirit. The same is being done in Indian cinema for decades now. Sadly, nothing has changed. What started with fiction has become the norm now. Sexism, rape culture, misogyny...Bollywood has had a long-standing struggle with these concepts and everything connoting to them and 365 Days just reminds me of every single one of them. Here’s how:
Recently a Reddit user started a thread talking about the ‘glorious’ 90s in Indian cinema and how they were far from perfect when it comes to matters pertaining to women, sexism, and consent. The thread posited an important question: “Do you think the 90's Bollywood movies are responsible for the misogynistic behavior in the majority of Indians and even contributed to rape culture?”
It further explores the goon-turns-hero trope and how the man literally harasses a woman into falling in love with him, something that also works out alright in the plot.“The hero will put her in her place. He will forcefully grab her when she tries to leave, interfere with everyone she talks to. Stalk her. Enter her goddamn hostel room and write love declarations on her wall,” the thread reads.
I don’t know about you but it definitely reminds me of both 365 Days and a love-crazed Radhe from Tere Naam. And as we talk about stalking, I am also reminded of a slew of other Indian films including Badrinath ki Dulhania, Raanjhanaa, Tere Naam, Wanted, Saawariya, Fan, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Besharam, Highway and Fanaa.
The culmination of the romantic plot in 365 Days wouldn't have been possible had it not been for Stockholm Syndrome, the feelings of trust or affection felt by a victim towards a captor in cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking. In this regard, Indian actresses have been easy prey owing to their severely masochistically drawn characters.
“Are you lost, Baby Girl?” is a line that'll be reiterated several times in the 365 Days. The female lead is constantly told what's best for her and what she needs to do in life. In fact, she is infantilized to the extent that she actually listens to the man and agrees to leave all that she has just to be with him. The toxicity is nicely camouflaged with all the mollycoddling (also tough love) that the actress receives.
And well, speaking of toxicity, I am certainly reminded of Kabir Singh here. Through Shahid's character in Kabir Singh, we got a lead character whose love knew no bounds, like literally. From waging a fight for his ladylove to slapping her when required, all things were fair in love for Kabir Singh and as much as we disapprove of the same, this passive-aggressive lover boy has been a long-standing figure in the Indian cinema. Ranbir Kapoor in Rockstar was no less. Neither was Salman Khan in Dabangg.
Clearly, 365 Days is just one of these movies that start with fiction, catch on for all the sensationalisation, and then go on becoming the norm because, well, patriarchy! To say that they are "merely fiction" is to fool oneself and everyone else. Can we at least be honest about the crap that we are serving in the name of cinema if we can't stop making such films?
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