28.5.13

The sexual harassment of Mallika Sherawat

Mallika at Cannes and with Obama. PR?

It is unbelievable that a woman who is independent becomes an object of derision for saying what we do almost on a daily basis.  I’ve already made a reference to her earlier and elsewhere. What I’d like to understand is that at a time when we are applauding some women for “having balls” (sexist terminology, anyway), an anonymous female on a social networking site, whose own picture is a pair of legs taken lying down, dismisses a woman as being “all boobs and no brain”. There are many such ‘brave’ people whose vapidity hides their stupidity.

Mallika Sherawat, who we are talking about, is successful partly because we are what she says we are: a regressive society, enjoying a spectacle. Initially, no one was even bothered about the content of her comments; it was the accent that they found weird. Yes, she is speaking with a twang, in this interview to Variety, as much as Aishwariya Bachchan does. It is as fake as that of some urban Indians. Was she dishonest for saying she was the first woman to kiss on screen and wear a bikini? I agree she is not quite on the dot here, but I am amazed that those very people who have problems with exposure on screen are now dusting memory files or running a search to find out who really sucked face first or wore a two-piece. Then there is this business about her wearing too little, especially at major events. Who does not? If you talk about a woman having control over her body, then she is well within her rights to dress as she wishes. If she stated that following such attempts, “instantly, I became a fallen women and a superstar at the same time”, then this is true. In fact, the reactions to her only prove her point.

I first watched her many years ago. She had already become known for her bold statements – yes, she does that too. It was a debate on just such a subject and in that panel that comprised a well-known media person and a feminist, she held her own without shouting down anyone. She made a whole lot of sense, and even as I write this it does seem so patronising. Why do we have to certify others? Who has given us the right?

Oh, but she was running down our country, they say. Ah! An India they remembered after they ran out of jokes about her accent and her body.

If she is of no consequence, why did Aseem Chhabra, the New York-based analyst of all things Indian, especially culture, write an editorial piece in Mumbai Mirror? “How is Mallika Sherawat walking red carpets all the time?” he asked, aghast. And answered it himself: “By splurging on a PR team.”

And then he does what any good man would do – pit her against other women.

“She is not a former beauty queen turned actress like Aishwariya Rai, with a major contract with a cosmetic giant, who has actually worked in a few non-Indian productions that do qualify as Hollywood credentials. She is not a former beauty queen turned actress like Priyanka Chopra, who is legitimately trying to establish a signing career in the west.”

What does legitimately mean? Since when have beauty queens, who are recreated in ‘labs’ and taught how to speak, become superior beings? Does Ms. Chopra not have agents? Heck, she needed one to handle the dead body of one of her team because she was too busy being legitimate. And what she sang is essentially mimicking the west, using their fantastic music studios to sound like anyone but herself. And, yeah, heard that accent? Aishwariya has a PR team that her brand arranges for her. Besides, for someone living in the US, it is surprising that the writer does not know that all Hollywood stars have their lobbyists. It is part of the business. But he is doing his business:

“So what or who is Mallika Sherawat and how does she get invited to parties and get pictures with genuine celebrities that she tweets all the time? That question baffles me sometimes, although usually I do not care much about it. The only answer, if any, is that she has spent a lot of money on a public relations team, which ensures she dresses sexy, is spotted on red carpets and paparazzi take her pictures.”

Are the others dressed like nuns? She wore such clothes before she got anywhere near the red carpet; they are probably now designer labels.  If it is a PR team that is managing it so well, then many more people ought to hire its members. At least they do not stage wardrobe malfunctions and make their real celebrities look like rag dolls. Are the big film festivals taking money from PR agents to let anybody walk the red carpet? What does it reveal about them? The same goes for the paparazzi that the stars love to hate.

“It is less clear what she gets out of all the partying and being spotted on red carpets. I know she made Los Angeles her temporary home. Even her Twitter handle - @MallikaLA says so. I suppose she believes that handle gives her certain respectability, an edge over other Indian stars who insist on living in Mumbai.”

He obviously has not seen our Page 3 and the fact that people do party. They do not have to give explanations and there might be none. Is it so difficult to understand? And if she is just doing it without any purpose, does it not mean that she is getting nothing out of it, and is not on the make, so to speak? What exactly does “certain respectability” mean? Is he implying that she lacks respectability? What is his yardstick for measuring it? I’d really like to know, for it was difficult to find any substance in the verbiage of inanities.

He mentioned her being photographed with “genuine celebrities” (I suppose Paris Hilton would figure prominently in the list, although he has missed out on President Barack Obama), forgetting that celebrity is itself a term that has to do with popularity and little to do with genuineness because all possible means are employed to get it.

He dismisses her acting, which is fair enough. It is also true that she does not have big films, although a part in a Jackie Chan movie would be considered an achievement by some, especially when our own biggies do walk-on parts in Hollywood films.  But to take a statement she made and then snigger is no different from groupie behaviour at a dorm:

“So I wonder what kind of ‘a lot of love’ Hollywood was showing Sherawat? Hollywood does do inexplicable things like inviting people with unknown celebrity quotient to parties. But Hollywood producers rarely take the risk of casting unknown faces that do not have much promise.”

If Smarty-pants has the answer, why does he go on and on? Has her PR agent hired him?! (You know what they say about bad publicity, although this is not even bad – it’s a lot of slosh.)

He too manages to get hot and bothered about the “peculiar accent”, but quickly covers it up with the patriot card:

“Sherawat managed to make a few jibes at India – ‘a hypocritical society where women are really at the bottom’. She said she made a conscious decision to divide her time between Los Angeles and India. ‘So now when I experience the social freedom in America and I go back to India which is so regressive for women, it's depressing,’ she said…The interviewer failed to ask her how India was regressive for a woman like her, who presumably is financially successful and a well-known Bollywood personality.”

Does he recall how Indian women and celebs were the toast of news channels after the Delhi gangrape? How every misogynistic statement was paraded so that people could hit out at it? This was Indians discussing our hypocrisy, our patriarchy. Even our prominent film stars discuss inequality when it comes to roles and pay. The writer probably lives in a cocoon where he believes money and celebrity save you from regressive behaviour. The Hollywood he is so in awe of has several such examples of chauvinism.  

But to expect depth to understand pop culture is asking too much from someone who says, “In fact, what has stayed with me about her is that she is Haryanavi and I smile when I think about it, a slight Delhi arrogance I have over people from Haryana.”

Priyanka Chopra poses with Gerard Butler. PR?


Think about how a woman from Haryana, without the ubiquitous godfather, made it. It is pathetic that Priyanka Chopra has decided to oppose her by stating:

"I think we are a progressive nation. I disagree that we are a regressive nation. We are all sitting here and talking about educating the girl child, taking our country forward. I think it`s a misrepresentation of what our great nation is on the world platform…When it comes to Mallika`s statements, I think they were very callous and I don`t agree with her. It was upsetting for me as a woman. It was upsetting for me as a girl who comes from India. I think it was extreme misrepresentation of our nation. I don`t think it`s fair."

As regards the world platform, even Satyajit Ray was accused of marketing our poverty overseas by actress and Rajya Sabha member, the late Nargis.

Unlike our cantonment beauty queens, who live in a protected environment, Mallika Sherawat comes from a conservative family in a region where khaps issue diktats. Mainstream films in which Priyanka acts also misinterpret India. As do Miss Worlds who talk about changing the world. Why, the fact that they want to do something for the disadvantaged means that there are a whole lot of them. And we talk about it because it exists. She said it and so do you. What makes you superior?

© Farzana Versey

16 comments:

  1. Everything in the article is pretty good until the last paragraph. You have compared the upbringing of Priyanka Chopra against that of Mallika Sherawat and tried to undermine Priyanka Chopra's achievement. But a little more research would have shown that Mallika Sherawat has actually lied about her past. She is from a pretty liberal family from Delhi :) http://expressindia.indianexpress.com/news/fullstory.php?newsid=31255

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  2. FV,

    Exactly my sentiments. Cracking jokes about an actor's films or her roles therein is one part. But taking them as a licence to ridicule her opinions and credibility based on them is utterly wrong, not to say cynical. In this specific case, Mallika S has every right of making observations about gender equations in India, regardless of her own status / circumstances.

    Personally, I have always found myself admiring her and Rakhi Sawant for some vague reason. Perhaps because they could correctly identify what would shock the chauvinist males enough. Their 'transgressions', though calculated for publicity, have always convinced me that these were thinking, intelligent women, with some modicum of courage to boot. They were trashed as low-brow precisely because the existing patriarchial equations could not accomodate them. But in some small way, they did shake the popular perceptions.

    I entirely agree with Mallika S' comments on Indian society. At the same time, I would also like to express my faith that that things will change. Hopefully in our lifetime. And hopefully for the better.

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  3. Really stupid article. And why are you undermining one persons upbringing ? Cantonment upbringing ?! Has Mallikas PR agent hired you ???

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  4. Anon:

    If you saw it as undermining someone's upbringing and achievements and then you post a link to show the other has lied about hers, then you are a bit stuck on the upbringing bit, anyway!

    I was highlighting a cocooned existence and the pecking order. Priyanka has in fact often referred to herself as a small-town girl from Bareilly, and kept using this when she acted in 'Fashion' because the story was about just such a young woman. So, let's just accept each one's idea of promoting themselves.

    And I will not dismiss some of her performances only because I do not go along with her pov in this context.

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  5. F&F:

    {Their 'transgressions', though calculated for publicity, have always convinced me that these were thinking, intelligent women, with some modicum of courage to boot. They were trashed as low-brow precisely because the existing patriarchial equations could not accomodate them. But in some small way, they did shake the popular perceptions.}

    Well-stated. In fact, I really like Rakhi Sawant and this was before the cheesy society dames came to her rescue after watching her on 'Koffee with Karan'. That was opportunism on their part. Quite delicious role-reversal.

    {I entirely agree with Mallika S' comments on Indian society. At the same time, I would also like to express my faith that that things will change. Hopefully in our lifetime. And hopefully for the better.}

    After you :-)

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  6. Anon 2:

    As rhere are few people i write nice things about, I seriously wonder who might hire me for PR. Did Afzal Guru or Eminem? Drat. Can't think of others, because I am not even sweet to seculars.

    Anyway, thanks for reading. What would I do without you?

    This brings me to how completely it is possible to misread. I have a comment that I will not publish, but copy paste. Because I am polite and what I shall say is not!

    Here it is in full:

    {what her accent got to do with her statements. she think India is regressive , one might agree/disagree . One does acquire accent if he/she lives in west for a long time. I smell whiffs of jealousy in your article but then you are entitled to your views :) }

    You are a moron because you cannot read. I have stood up for her and pulled up others who made fun of her accent, among other things. I already said India is regressive, but clearly you lack any depth to see what is stated, forget fathom nuances.

    You are a typical chauvinist who has nothing better to do than try this business of 'envy'. Despite the above 'clarification' or rather sitting down and teaching you how to read, you reveal a pathetic mindset. You can't even afford to talk about regressiveness because you are an example of it.

    Anyhow, please find something or somewhere else to go. I've been through your asinine stuff, and personal queries before. Try finding something worthwhile in your own life.

    And don't get into the "you need anger management" stuff that you have in the past. I manage more than that, including people like you. And be thankful I have not posted your comment with your name.

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  7. Allthough I have seen several decades of life, I will say.... when I grow up I want to be like Mallika Sherawat and Rakhee Sawant and the like!!!!! Women with gumption, who think on their feet and can buck the system. What version of "entitled mean girls" do the rest of us play when we say that someone with the smarts of a Mallika, does not deserve to represent the mores/or talent of the country. Rubbish! Just a few months ago, I saw everyone (aka.."the mean girls"... thats pretty much most of middle class India with access to education) demonstrating in the streets screaming exactly what Mallika said (albeit inelegantly). Whether she wore a bikini first or what kind of accent she has, is just fluff. What she said, deserves saying. More power to her.

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  8. FV

    Good to know I do not fall under the label "Morons Who Cannot Read"! :)

    Eh, did I speak too soon?

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  9. "I think we are a progressive nation. I disagree that we are a regressive nation. We are all sitting here and talking about educating the girl child, taking our country forward."

    Are you serious? Do you read the news? Please note that we only 'talk' about educating the girl child. The next time, before making such a sweeping patriotic statement against a failing government and corrupt police system - do a little research on how many people (in your locality) have 'girl childs' working for them. And how many of them have considered educating them. Let's start small and see how pathetic we all are.

    Sherawat had a ridiculous accent - thats true. But what she's saying is also very true. As a woman, you cannot do as you please, and say what you want in this country without being judged and slammed.

    And if you have nothing to hide then maybe your comments should not be under moderation.

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  10. Kirang:

    Yup. You are pretty much saying what I've written. So, agree. Not sure about 'being like' anyone. Prefer individuality.

    ---
    F&F:

    Your comment was sensible & took the argument further. Do you have to spoil it with these one-liners?

    Btw, the person had commented about you on one of the the posts. I did not publish it. So, you see, the standards apply to all.

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  11. Anon:

    Next time before posting a comment, read carefully. Very carefully. Unless you like coming across as a fool, and anonymity affords you the ability to take that risk.

    I did not write that bit. I quoted Priyanka Chopra with a prefixed comment. It says so in as many words...you understand quotes, words etc, don't you?

    Here it is again:

    {Think about how a woman from Haryana, without the ubiquitous godfather, made it. It is pathetic that Priyanka Chopra has decided to oppose her by stating:

    "I think we are a progressive nation. I disagree that we are a regressive nation. We are all sitting here and talking about educating the girl child, taking our country forward. I think it`s a misrepresentation of what our great nation is on the world platform…When it comes to Mallika`s statements, .. I don`t think it`s fair."


    Besides, the whole piece is standing up for Mallika's pov.

    PS: If you read the note for comment moderation, you might care to read it in full. This is my blog and I can choose to run it the way I wish. I have nothing to hide in what I express. It does not mean it is open to abuse. I hope you understand this at least.

    I suppose I ought to ask what you are so afraid of that you seek anonymity. THIS amounts to hiding. Get it?

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  12. FV

    I would like to believe that is the case with each of my comments. It is entirely sensible within the frame I provide it with and it does extend the discussion, though usually not the same argument.

    The 'one liner' was meant to be in interest of brevity, though I too am a narcissist like most others, as far as commenting goes! :)

    Btw narcissists are also bestowed with rather thick hides..! Perhaps to withstand the severe poison-tipped lashings. :)

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  13. Here are two comments from educated men:

    "Mallika Sherawat calls Indian men regressive, not realising that's precisely why they ogle and pay huge sums to watch someone like her."

    “Mallika Sherawat says India is regressive & depressing.She’s right – How else do you explain this country tolerating her for so long.”

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  14. FV,

    You are assuming their 'educated' status based on the fact that they have an internet connection and can type in English.

    You must think again. :)

    Corollary: People (men!) who are digitally illiterate and do not know English can also be amazingly sensitive and enlightened.

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  15. I think we are a fairly regressive progressive society. We are complicated like this only.
    She is not that far off but who knows what her intent is? Publicity for self or social concern? I suspect the former.

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  16. Hi Subroto:

    There are so many ways for people to get publicity. Had a serious artiste made similar comments it would be assumed it is social concern, when very many celebs had expressed outrage over the status of women only after the media hypes it. That is my gripe.

    Mallika's clothes are enough to grab eyeballs. Besides, she has spoken out on similar issues before she went to LA.

    ...

    F&F:

    I know those men. And I do not take everyone with an Internet connection seriously!

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