#VogueEmpower: Dear Bollywood, practice women rights before you preach

Advaita Kala
Advaita KalaApr 05, 2015 | 11:36

#VogueEmpower: Dear Bollywood, practice women rights before you preach

Let me at the outset establish that it would have been equally problematic if Deepika Padukone had endorsed virginity in her “My Choice” video. The fact that she has chosen adultery has irked many people for entirely the opposite reason. This really isn’t about social conservatism versus liberal values – there have been objections by upholders from both ends of the spectrum. The intent of the video – a little in the “too cool for school” and detached from the reality genre, as Bollywood is often accused of, fairly and unfairly, brings to the forth the superficial understanding of women’s empowerment this video represents. The issues that challenge female participation have been articulated often enough and the rightful shaming of misogyny has finally found a public platform, as we saw recently in the case of Sharad Yadav and his comments in the Rajya Sabha.



However, to assume like the supporters of this video (mostly other celebrities) that this two minute film takes the conversation on women’s emancipation forward is over-reaching. To put it quite simply, it hasn’t – except for “engendering” a facile battle of the sexes debate with parodies made at one tenth of the budget of this glamorous film, making just as much of an “effective” point in support of men.

The most problematic aspect of this video is its lack of nuance in an attempt to be heard whilst disastrously viewing the whole issue through the prism of morality. This has, I would argue, had a debilitating effect on the dialogue about female rights. It is counter intuitive to view women’s rights from the prism of morality (for or against), even if it is done with considered provocation. The idea after all is to unshackle women from societal norms of propriety and “moral” behaviour, but to do that by setting standards that sound remarkably similar to how men have approached these issues and have been criticised for, is self-defeating and hypocritical, no matter what the intention.

Provocation is not unusual to rights movements, all marginalised sections have used it, the famous “bra burning” an often quoted reference to the women’s movement in the United States, supposedly never happened, but got traction because a burning bra was found at the site of a protest, or so goes one story.


Forever linking female sexuality via acceptable lingerie to women’s rights, the “bra strap and hook show” of this video, attempts a cheeky reference (one assumes) to that moment in feminist history. Even that may have been overlooked, if the points made were not so desperate in their attempt to put forth a “new age” woman, who frankly has been around for a while (in a certain social milieu).


Furthermore the elevation of personal lifestyle choices as a standard for empowerment diminishes the pertinence of the truly significant choices that women are struggling to make across India – health, education, career, etc. Recently, students at a college in Delhi (men and women) used sanitary pads to make their point about misogyny. A far more honest use of provocation as a symbol of protest, that places the most intimate and distinguishing female experience front and centre and does not fall back on the glamour of perceived emancipation as scripted by men (wind-blown hair, flat stomach, lingerie peeks), especially because the fight for equal rights can be a bloody one.

When the top actress in Bollywood, takes it upon herself to speak of female emancipation, it is churlish to see such a contrived and superficial rendition of what it means to have the right to choose. In the past, I have supported Deepika’s right to object to her “objectification”, but her glamorous, ivory tower view of what it means to be a woman in the real world, belongs more to reel than real. The words she spouts may have been scripted – drawing banal analogies between snowflakes and snow fall – and size five and 15 (this is Vogue, after all) but contrivance aside, what would have been far braver from Vogue and their muse would have been an attempt to bust the “beauty myth” that enslaves thousands of young women who read the magazine and watch films, both of which perpetuate this goal unabashedly and with exacting and discriminating standards.



During a conversation on her career and men, Katrina Kaif, made an off the cuff disclosure about the need for her photographs to be airbrushed. It was said in the cavalier manner that underlined how prevalent this practice was and more importantly how she was unafraid of puncturing the halo of perfection that surrounds her, given that she is hailed for her beauty. It was this statement that got lost in the swirl of Kapoor and Khan talk that was truly impactful, that said to women that we must own the “real” – even Bollywood sirens who are pre-packaged for the rest of the world.

The film industry is an unequal place, this is evident in the content it produces and its work practices, further more it can be predatory and systematic in its silencing of women. When female actresses find the courage to speak up as Deepika has in the recent past about her battle with depression, we must, as the listening public, encourage them and help them find their voice. But of equal importance is the need to not lend our voice to the “rah rah” club and help our stars touch down, so they can use their considerable power to contribute to truly significant social change. Or else this will all just be one big premier party, where everyone has complimentary and banal things to say to each other, only to be forgotten in the next instant. Lets leave that social nicety to the reel world.

Last updated: April 05, 2015 | 11:36
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