Shweta & Anjali - the case of hope and despair!, Anjali, Shweta Monon


Objectification of women in our movies is a norm, not an exception. We make our women do all sorts of things onscreen – either to please the quintessential male hero or to please, so to say, the (male) audience with whatever cute, sexy outfit is deemed appropriate for the purpose. For the same reason, you won’t be surprised when you read reviews about how someone looked ‘hot’ in a particular movie or in a film event. We are so grown to treating women as sexual objects we also remain oblivious even when someone crosses the thin line of voyeuristic contentment to reach over offensive behavior. After all, movies are dictated by your and my social behavior and it is only natural that one manifests into another and vice versa.

But hey, it is the women who willingly let themselves objectified, you say. I couldn’t agree more. But I digress. This is not a rant about how abysmally women are portrayed in our movies. On the other hand, it is about how that portrayal in movies appears to give freedom to some to indulge in offensive behavior – sexually and otherwise in public towards them. Two incidents that happened recently put these issues on the pedestal and perhaps also reiterate how consistently appalling our history towards treating women is.

Malayalam actor Shweta Menon, who attended the President's Trophy Boat Race a few days ago, was harassed by a politician following which she lodged a complaint against him for offensive behavior. The insult and behavior of the politician were so demeaning that she left the event and it snowballed into a huge controversy fuelled by the media in Kerala. Shweta retracted her complaint apparently satisfied with the politician’s apology but the internet is rife with arguments that she was forced to owing to the immense pressure. The incident is a shining example of how being in the public eye can put women in a vulnerable situation.

In Shweta’s case, she has already been receiving both scathing abuse and praise in public domain for letting the acclaimed director Blessy use the real life footage of her own child birth for the film. This has sparked numerous discussions about how what is considered sacred – motherhood – can be exposed.

In a somewhat related incident, Jaguar Thangam’s foul remarks aimed at Anjali in a recent public event that he would bring her ‘tied up’ to the sets of Oorsutri Puranam can make any straight thinking person cringe. Strangely that hasn’t caused anybody else cringe. The incident seemed to have gone largely unreported but the unsavory effect of it lingers. The moral polices among us do not relent. And the lack of strong voices against them only fuels the fire.

In all this, it is hard to take pride of the fact that there is inclusivity in the harassment women endure in all quarters of the society – from a common woman to a movie star. Being a movie star - with fame and even access to power in political circles sometimes - cannot insulate a woman’s situation and her vulnerability to be demoralized. That perhaps, only increases her chances at that.

 In a recent film event Jaya Bachchan who accompanied her daughter in law Aishwarya Rai on the red carpet snapped at photographers when they called out to Rai asking her to pose with her mom-in-law. ‘Aiswarya, Aishwarya,’ they seemed to have yelled. Jaya promptly chastised them with ‘What do you mean ‘Aishwarya’? She’s your school friend?’ Her concerns might have been misplaced and she might have reacted in an oversensitive manner but it is not hard to believe where that springs from. The need to reclaim your (in this case, her daughter in law’s) honor in public, just because you are a woman. Or because you are a movie star, who is also a woman.

Shweta and Anjali will move on with their lives, putting this grotty truth of defenselessness behind. If luck favors them, they might not even face such situations in the future. But these incidents pose larger questions predominant of them which - If this is what popular movie stars endure, what of common women? Is there any hope at all for them?Gender equality in India is among the worst in the world according to a UN study, which is reverberating in the international media. May be our movies can do their bit – by portraying real women in them instead of glamorized versions of pseudo-dream girls. Or worse, glorifying them as goddesses. For god’s sake, there has to be a middle ground.

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