Regressiveness

28 Comments

Mallika Sherawat recently gave an interview at Cannes. It’s kind of news I guess because, after all, who interviews Mallika nowadays? Well in case you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to do so [video], particularly if you need a good laugh. (And come on, who doesn’t?). Since it is very difficult to remember what she said, after the few minutes you spend laughing or cringing, let me summarize her main thesis—- “India is regressive, I am very progressive” with the subtext being that she is victimized because of her progressiveness. Why does she  claim to be progressive? Because she was the first person to kiss and first person to wear a bikini.

Once you can go beyond her accent, which is as authentic as a Chandila over, and her creative liberties with truth (Devika Rani has kissed on screen in the 30s and Nalini Jayawant wore two pieces in the 50s [pics]), you can get to the core of what she is saying. That somehow kissing and exposing skin is “progressiveness”.

Here is the short retort.

It is NOT.

Let’s forget India for a while and just look at the Hindi film industry, since it fairly accurately captures the way a large part of rolls.

Yes. Hindi films are regressive. They are regressive for many reasons, none of which is as glaring as its treatment of women. This regressiveness is ingrained in the very way most movies are made—directors sit at the feet of big-name male stars, listen to what kind of movies they want to do (“Mujhe ek comedy chahiye ab, aajkal action waise chal nahee raha hai, plus my orthopedic surgeon told me to take it easy for a year”), come up with scripts (originality optional and frankly, looked down upon), the star okays it, the financiers then line up and then, the heroine is chosen, often “recommended” by the male-movie-star.  Even though she is technically also headlining the film, her pay will be a fraction of what the male superhero gets. Why? Because she is a not central to the commercial viability of the movie in any way, (except perhaps her dance steps in the obligatory item-number), her role being to just establish the hero’s machismo. That’s why she has little bargaining power, exchangeable as she is, with minimum fuss, by another warm body.

Given that this is the status quo, choosing to kiss or choosing to show that part of your body which no woman has shown before (assuming for argument’s sake that Mallika was the first person to do this) is hardly progressive. As a matter of fact, it strengthens the established stereotypes regarding the role of women in commercial cinema, namely titillating male audiences.

The reason I deem fit to even blog about the Mallika video is this. Its bad that women have to show skin in order to be in the game. Its even worse when the word “bold” is tagged on to it, as if boldness and progressiveness is measured by square-inch of female skin exposure, no matter how neanderthal the narrative may be.

In Mallika’s defense, this association is not her making. This “mera film bahoot bold hain” is a line as old as the hills, used by countless film-makers to justify the use of “jawaani” in their movies even though their themes even Aurangzeb may consider medieval. And it’s a line whose hypocrisy needs to be called out.

It’s worth mentioning that there have been women in the Hindi film industry, who have tried, with various degrees of success, to not play the stereotype—the Nandita Das-s, the Konkonas and the Vidya Balans. If they say that their careers have suffered because they were “different” and independent, I can buy that.  Just that when the star of “Bach ke rahena re baba“, who feeds into and feeds from the same regressive culture of films without ever making any attempt to do something different, pulls out the martyr card, I find it rather laughable, if not slightly offensive, if only for the way it trivializes those who truly try to be progressive in the extant commercial set-up.

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28 thoughts on “Regressiveness

  1. Why is there no mention about the brilliant “Hiss”, the English, Hindi crossover film? This is nothing but a deliberate attempt to ignore her attempts to globalize herself as the stuff of wet dreams for the goras. What more proof is needed of your male Indian misogyny?

  2. She seems to not understand the meaning of the word regressive. On one hand she claims the industry is regressive for the stuff it makes her do. And on the other hand she is progressive because she does those things anyways. I suppose playing a snake woman in a sleazy b grade movie is pretty progressive.

  3. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but this kind of stories tend to be picked up easily by western media. Oh, look at them horrible Indians. They are so regressive that it took 80 years for them show a girl in a bikini in a movie in the land of slum dogs. Anyone with a search engine and 5 minutes of spare time could have figured that she is BSing her way through it. But they still decided to go with it because that’s what they really want and I think she is well aware of it and is playing to the gallery on that side hoping to land some meaty roles in hollywood like she did in Jackie chan’s myth(All of 2 minutes of screen time in a movie around 2 hrs). It’s a different matter that, it’s unlikely to happen.

  4. I would have accepted it if she were a good actress, but she is horrible……as you said, if someone like vidya balan said this, it would have been understandable……and a bit part in a jackie chan movie doesent make you a superstar

  5. Good post but I don’t think this actress deserves so much attention. The best we can do to these shallow personalities is ignore them. I did watch her movie with Jackie Chan (college days :-)) and belt bad for her. Poor lady was in it for <5 minutes with her role limited to stripping, kissing and titillating. Such women only serve to objectify women-kind.

  6. I think what she meant was that women can’t sunbathe in india without attracting stares.But rain or sun,she wears bikini,imagining her to be sunbathing.

  7. Let me quibble with your statement that “Its bad that women have to show skin in order to be in the game.” – fine, but similar considerations apply to male stars, too. Good looks and some sort of charisma, and not acting skills, is what it takes for men to become heroes in Bollywood. Men who don’t have good looks just don’t stand a chance.

    Or did you have in mind other reasons why showing skin may be bad?

    But I wholeheartedly agree that “Its even worse when the word “bold” is tagged on to it, as if boldness and progressiveness is measured by square-inch of female skin exposure, no matter how neanderthal the narrative may be.” – calling these “bold” is just cheating, manipulating the narrative with despicable dishonesty, at the expense of both the actresses and the unsuspecting viewers.

    • Men with not-so-good looks may not stand a chance for playing the lead roles(exceptions do exist) but people like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rajpal Yadav etc. have created an irreplaceable position for themselves.

      Have you seen heroes from Sandalwood(that’s what the Kannada film industry is called)? :P

      • ” may not stand a chance for playing the lead roles(exceptions do exist) but people like ” :

        And exactly in the same way (talking about the Malayalam film industry; I have too much hatred for bollywood to watch it), women like Sukumari, KPAC Lalita, Aranmula Ponnamma etc. made an irreplaceable position for themselves. There are all sorts of niches, not just as mothers/sisters, were Malayali actresses have found a niche for themselves – one even has female comedians like Bindu Panicker.

        The Kannada and Tamil film industries are a different story – they need some mysterious kind of charisma rather than looks, and it is most likely not an acquired skill.

  8. BTW, looks like you have just given a shot in the arm to those you consider “moral police”. No caveats to preempt that?

  9. Whoever said this even if it happens to be some Mallika still you can’t deny the fact that we are in fact a regressive society.

    • I see that as analogous to saying that the so-called-lower-castes are educationally background, without taking the historical context into account. There are historical reasons why the so-called-lower-castes are educationally backward, and similarly there are historical reasons why there are many regressive sides to the Indian society.

      Those who blame the rest of India for their regressive opinions, with the subtext that they are among the few progressive exceptions, have typically been fortunate enough to be born into a family that afforded them a good education, fortunate enough to get into contact with more enlightened people and milieus etc. All this must be taken into account while slapping the `regressive’ tag onto the “unwashed masses” of the country.

      In fact, calling India regressive with no sense of the historical context is in many ways the modernist analogue of the ugly traditional brahminical arrogance.

  10. i would love to make a movie with mallika , rakhi, vivek, salman & sanjay and tell them to be themselves. would make them cat/dog fight over things and record it and release as movie.

  11. How stunning is Nalini Jaywant in the pictures from Life? Bikini or no bikini, I can see why she made Ashok Kumar’s heart skip a beat …

  12. Not only Mallika Sherawat, now every actress is following the same trend.
    You are correct – Indian movies are regressive now-a-days and not progressive and the main reason for this regressiveness is these new actresses. EVen directors and producers demand bold scenes from them.
    This is just what we see onscreen.
    Rest what happens behind the scenes, nobody knows

  13. Not only Mallika Sherawat, now every actress is following the same trend.
    You are correct – Indian movies are regressive now-a-days and not progressive and the main reason for this regressiveness is these new actresses. Even the directors and producers demand bold scenes from them.
    This is just what we see onscreen.
    Rest what happens behind the scenes, nobody knows and nobody can say about that as thats hidden

  14. Progressiveness is defintely not defined by the amount of skin shown, but by how society reacts to it. By that yardstick India is in the stone age. Just try wearing a knee-length skirt and hailing a rickshaw. The stares you get make you want to go back home.

  15. Oh God, you have to have nerves of steel to finish watching that interview, due to the shallowness that she displays with everything she said. As a guy, i was squirming in my seat listening to how she was trying her best to objectify women. She should be ashamed of herself for having given an interview that portrays the fairer sex in such a bad light

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