The Naked. And the Damning.

Can all 'aesthetic' nudity qualify as art? That would end up as exploitative, for well-toned people at the beaches might be seen as human installations.

The tendency to see aestheticism and vulgarity as the only options often forces the choices to a limited way of seeing. Assuming this poster for the upcoming film 'PK' is aesthetic, how is it art?

The actor Aamir Khan refers to it as "key art" and adds:

"When you (audience) will watch the film then only you will be able to understand the idea behind (the poster). But I would just like to say that the kind of filmmaker, the kind of writer Rajkumar is, he always tries to present the things, his thinking, in a unique way and that's why I am his huge fan."

Key art is that which unlocks the message or the story. It is another matter that the bared will do the baring. What we see in this example is the petty hierarchy where a superstar can get away with intent, even as he might — inadvertently or as natural instinct — appeal to the senses. Similar bare-bodied actors possessing less fame are dismissed as catering to the lascivious. There is also the issue of male nudity taking the story forward as opposed to female nudity, which is often seen as the story or the stopgap.

Predictably, somebody has filed a case against the actor and filmmakers for promoting nudity and vulgarity. One might be tempted to point out that with the actor standing at the railway tracks an immediate connection can be drawn with slum dwellers relieving themselves, a sight that many of us have witnessed while travelling in Mumbai's local trains. That too is a 'key' to the story of lives rendered less by poverty and lack of basic facilities.

The reason I bring this up is because the actor and the director do lean towards what is termed meaningful cinema. It usually means films that have some message.

If one is to deconstruct it, then let us split the image. The top half looks like a man on a mission, ready to fight evil, his eyes firmly on the target, the expression reminiscent of the actor's own 'Ghajini'. In the lower half we see the rail track curving into nowhere, a barren landscape stretching into nowhere, and the old stereo held strategically. They all convey a sense of loss, loneliness and fear of, dare I say, impotency? One might surmise then that it is about a disturbed man or a split personality conquering demons by becoming somebody else. We will know, and the fact that there is such a buzz around the film now proves that the gimmick has worked. Khan said it is not a publicity stunt. Of course, it is. You might call it marketing strategy, but it will still be the same.

Now think about how we'd see it without the prompt about it being key art. I do not find it aesthetic. It does not mean it is vulgar, it only means that it is unappealing. My issue is not with the poster, but how it is read. Leave the memes aside — hilarious though some are (the boombox replaced with a crate of tomatoes whose prices have touched a new high; Shahrukh Khan a rival superstar from the film 'My name is Khan' holding his toolbox that says, "Can fix anything"; a skirt/saree added) — and see this reaction to the protests, "As though women will lose their senses and cause havoc."

This can be flipped and used against women. The negative in the sentence is an assertion of possibility. So, were a woman to be unclothed it is possible for men to lose their senses etc.? Such subliminal messages can be dangerous.

On a different note, the insistence on nakedness taking a story forward denudes the bare body, painted or sculpted, of being art for itself.


A digression here:

During a debate on atrocities on women and children the TDP member M Murli Mohan made the remark. "...to uphold the tradition of our Indian culture, I would earnestly appeal to all my sisters, daughters and girls to dress dignifiedly."

The media/social media has gone berserk, repeating what several women MPs wanted expunged. The operative word became "decency" and straw liberals came out in droves without once thinking about the fact that decency is not something wrong. Parents and teachers expect it.

The minister, obviously, is misogynistic. He equated it with exploitation of women on a public platform. But what about the response from Shobha Oza that such comments encourage culprits of rape, and that rather than advising women they should advise men?

Are culprits reading such comments or seeking out advice for the criminal acts they wish to indulge in? Indeed, ministers should advise men on conduct and attitude at an early stage. This might include asking them to dress decently, which many in fact are told to.

The level of superficial discourse ignores reality in order to appear brave and gutsy, and ends up giving undue importance to those who ought to be ignored, for there is an increasing tendency to string together such quotes without any attempt to address the issues.

It is quite likely that some of those who object to the minister's statement are also likely to protest against posters such as the 'PK' one on grounds of, you guessed it, decency.

© Farzana Versey