Akshay Kumar was being sexist. Mallika Dua was right to call him out
'Aap bell bajao, main aap ko bajata hun' is not humour, it is harassment at the workplace.
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2017 will hopefully hold a special place in history. It will be viewed as the year that saw women reaching a breaking point in terms of the entrenchment of sexism in Indian society and taking a stand. Between women birthing a movement of solidarity and empathy called #MeToo and a Dalit feminist challenging elite, upper caste predatory behaviour in Indian academia, a notable example, perhaps, would be of a woman comic and actor taking on an established name in Bollywood.
Mallika Dua on October 25, slammed Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar for making sexist remarks on her on Star Plus’s television show, The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, where Kumar is the judge. Dua was joined by her father Vinod Dua, a veteran journalist in this endeavour.
In a tweet that has since been deleted, Mallika Dua wrote: "So, I want humour to be limitless. I also don't want to be uncomfortable at my workplace. The lines are blurred." She Mallika also shared the clip on Twitter (this too has been removed now) and wrote: "Hey! Quick question. Does anyone find 5:26 funny? Charming? Entertaining? Family entertainment. GEC."
Vinod Dua wrote on Facebook: "I am going to screw this cretin Akshay Kumar for telling his co-worker Mallika Dua that 'Aap bell bajao, main aap ko bajata hun (You ring the bell, I will bang you)’ at 5:26. This is his sense of humour and language. Star Plus. Wake up."
As per reports, the clip in question was not part of the show when it was aired. Hindustan Times reports that the comment was edited from the telecast of the episode, and that it was mysteriously leaked after Mallika Dua was sacked from the show as a mentor, allegedly because of poor audience ratings. The report further stated that comics Zakir Khan and Hussain Dalal were fired earlier this month, and that all three have been replaced as mentors by filmmaker Sajid Khan and actor Shreyas Talpade.
Speaking to IANS, Vinod Dua said, "I don't expect an apology from Star Plus as they have not aired this episode. But I expect an apology from this fellow [Akshay]."
Humour versus sexism
Mallika Dua was forced to take down her tweets calling out the blatant sexist remarks Akshay Kumar made. Why? Because she was trolled by fans of the star on social media, and that she, in her own words, does not "enjoy abuse and cyber bullying".
Trade analyst Atul Mohan, talking about Vinod Dua, told HT: “When your daughter does such things on stage [comedy], what do you have to say about that? She herself is known for doing such things. These days if you compliment someone, no one notices, but the moment you say something negative, it spreads like wildfire.”
Fans of Kumar too have called out Dua, claiming that she herself relies on vulgar humour quite often. According to them, this isn’t any different.
Most of the people who have termed Dua’s humour as vulgar are referring to an All India Bakchod sketch where she plays the humanisation of the dating app Tinder. In that video, Dua’s character is that of a nymphomaniac. Of course, as is the case with almost all AIB sketches, the language and the content is a bit mature. But uttering expletives or talking about sex cannot be equated with sexism, of a powerful veteran actor making an off-colour remark about him having sex with a relatively new person in the industry.
In a blog for The Quint, Dua writes, “This isn’t about Akshay Kumar. This is about every big Bollywood star and every other big shot, who cannot tell the difference between charm and harm. This is about every big celebrity who thinks his colleague enjoys being grabbed by the waist and twirled without her consent. This is about workplace etiquette for everybody, men and women included, and about understanding the idea of professional communication so we don’t make someone uncomfortable in their place of work, unintentionally or otherwise.”
A remark that made Dua uncomfortable at her workplace is something that should be treated as sexual harassment. After all, harassment occurs when one person has formal or informal power over another. The concern here is not about a brand of humour, it is about inappropriate behaviour at workplace.