This is what happens when the arrogance of being a ‘big brand’, an ‘influencer’, gets the better of commonsense.
That Times of India carried a voyeuristic image of an actress was bad enough, but no more, no less, than media houses everywhere around the world have been doing, even while sanctimoniously pretending to be above click-bait.
That Deepika Padukone felt the photo was intrusive, and called it as she saw it, is her prerogative. Whether she has shown skin in a movie or photo shoot before is irrelevant — she is within her rights to say that the photograph was shot and used without her permission or her awareness.
But for Times to turn this into a crusade, to “prove its point” in this fashion, is just plain nauseating. (And the less said about the sophomoric crudity of those arrows the better).
When you screw up, the simplest, most obvious, most graceful thing to do is accept that you screwed up, make amends if possible, shut the hell up if not, and move on.
PS: (This is being written an hour after the post above):
To my surprise, my mailbox has filled up with readers reacting to the ToI story, and to my quick take on it above.
Many of the mails are expressive of disgust. But also, a lot are — how do I put it? ‘bewildered’ is a charitable paraphrase of some extreme language — by what the writers see as media hypocrisy.
I remember this interview Kareena Kapoor once did on TV. She talked, at length, about how hard she had worked to get ready for her most recent role — gym sessions, she said, and extreme diets, and no drinking even water hours before the shot was being canned. Because, she said, the first shot of her in her character of Poo showed her in a bikini, and she needed to be perfect for it.
It is sad, but it is also true, that in Bollywood, female stars are required mostly to peddle their pulchritude. Flesh sells; beefcake and cheesecake are equally commoditized. Acting skills are an optional extra accessory — in fact, being able to act is often a disqualification.
Producers and often the stars themselves reach out to media, promise “exclusive” images of themselves in revealing costumes in return for prominent display and often, even pay journalists to feature such images prominently. This is no new thing — I first encountered it in Tamil cinema in the mid-Eighties; then during the early and mid-nineties in Bollywood. (This is not to suggest that Tamil cinema invented this business — just that I was first “reporting on” Tamil cinema before I moved to Bombay).
Grant all that. Grant, too, that Deepika Padukone, like her peers, has actively participated in the fetishization of her body in movie after movie; her producers have sold her form, and she has been a willing participant.
None of that negates her right to determine how her body will be used and by whom, though. Just as the fact that a prostitute sells herself willingly, to be used any which way the buyer wants, does not of itself mean that she cannot be raped. The argument that because she has actively participated in the shooting of films and still images that show off her body does not mean that anyone can exploit her pulchritude without so much as a by your leave.
Why is that argument so hard to understand?
Deepanjana Pal has a similar argument in a well-argued piece here. The money quote:
Today, however, we’re making our way out of that moral straitjacket. One of the reasons we’re managing to do this is that mainstream media has put “bold” photos on its pages without apology or shame. Sure, this may have been the result of a deal with a film producer (especially if the photo is in Bombay Times), but most readers don’t know that. All they see is a woman unashamed of her body. Today if an actress is photographed wearing a bikini, she is no less respectable than a woman in a burqa or a full-sleeved, high-necked blouse and sari. Considering how many strictures are placed upon most women, dictating how they should dress so that they’re not ‘asking for it’, you could argue that when an actress wears revealing outfits and is depicted as worthy of respect on and off screen, it’s a necessary rebellion.
This is why actresses who do item numbers pose an uncomfortable dilemma for feminists and why it’s disgraceful that Gupta is attacking Padukone for her public persona. Yes, an actress may choose to depict herself as sexy and wear next to nothing, but it’s an independent and informed choice. Padukone, for instance, exercised her right to choose when she signed up to play the role she does in Happy New Year; or when she, throwing realism to the winds, played a doctor who can carry off an outfit composed of a ghagra and a bra masquerading as a choli inYeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.
Read the piece in its entirety. It is worth your while.