|Mallika at Cannes and with Obama. PR?|
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.”
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