When actress Deepika Padukone tweeted, “Yes! I am a woman. I have breasts and a cleavage! You got a problem?” on Sunday afternoon, social media went on to hail her as the next-big-thing in women’s empowerment movements in the country.
Bollywood celebrities, prominent media personalities, along with the aam aadmi spoke out in her favour and said ‘she has given it back nicely’ to the media organisation which Tweeted a provocative picture of Deepika’s midriff to promote a news item on her ‘cleavage show’.
Of course, that news item and the outrageously cheap intent with which that photograph was posted on social media are downright deplorable and repulsive. The actress’s bold response is commendable. But then, the entire hullabaloo over the actress’s outburst gives an impression that ‘journalists’ (if only the writer of that ‘news item’ could be called one) and ‘the media’ are the biggest villains as far as commodification of a woman’s body goes.
The news organisation acted on the principle that a post featuring Deepika and her cleavage would fetch them a good number of hits. But doesn’t the Bollywood make use of the same formula to earn the easy bucks? Isn’t because of this formula that in most Bollywood films an item number is thrust upon the script by all means?
The narrative of the notorious Tweet and Deepika’s revolutionary response completely undermines the fact that Bollywood itself, especially in a neo-liberalised India, has been the most evil vector for spreading the malaise of objectification of women. Bollywood films, except for the avant-garde ones, consistently sell sexually commoditised imagery of women’s body on the silver screen under the veil of entertainment. Thus we have the regular quota of skin shows, item songs, ‘steamy sequences’, and what not. What comes in Western films because the plot needs it, comes in Bollywood as a ploy to lure the audience.
Cinema as a medium can never be the means of entertainment solely. And it’s unfortunate that in India, the Bollywood-equals-to-entertainment only concept has successfully drained away the potentiality of the industry to make meaningful films. And thus, when the likes of Anurag Kashyap or Hansal Mehta make different kinds of films we set them apart and call them ‘non-mainstream’.
Skin show titillates and it sells massively in this country. The brains behind Bollywood productions know that very well and accordingly make way for their profit-making. And Deepika and her camaraderie, which has jumped on the wagon in her support, are very much a part of that industry. So, if Deepika Padukone really wants to speak out, she must bring in larger issues at hand and retrospect on the industry she is a part of.
This piece was published in Hindustan Times on September 16, 2014.