Saturday, September 27, 2014

Deepika dared to challenge the norm

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It began with an innocuous, angry tweet two weeks ago, but the storm in the coffee mug simply refuses to die down. Claims and counter-claims have kept the debate brewing for much too long. In what was otherwise nothing more than a case of 'common' web content practice, the internet arm of a major media company put up a post showing Deepika's cleavage from a much older event with a screaming headline. Without doubt, it was done with the express desire to grab eyeballs: the 'item' had no news worthiness since it was more than a year old image. But in a domain where the pressure to 'increase' your viewership is so high and where the unofficial belief is that unless it is hard news, a bit of sensationalism is quite okay, this shouldn't have been a problem at all.

The truth is that for most part it would have gone unheeded had it not been for Deepika's tweet. It is, after all, not the first time a female actor has been 'commodified' thus. The difference being that in the past, nobody really had the gumption to stand-up and say: enough is enough.

That is where the Deepika trouble began.
While much energy has been spent in debating the legitimacy of the case, it also brings to light another issue: the confrontation between media (or at least a section of it) and Bollywood. We do not have too many instances of Bollywood biggies locking horns with big and powerful media houses. However, there have been instances in the past where the two have crossed swords. Here are a few famous examples:

Big B and 15-year-media hiatus
Back in the 70s, when the only superstar of the day, Rajesh Khanna was on his way out and Amitabh Bachchan was on the cusp of superstardom, the latter is said to have had a major fracas with a Mumbai-based gossip magazine. Such was the animosity between the two that they ended up boycotting each other... for the next 15 years! Here's how it all happened. In 1975, when Amitabh Bachchan's stars were on the ascend, the magazine invited him to a public function. Big B decided to skip it and instead, it is said, visited Dilip Kumar to discuss what could be done to handle what Bollywood saw as 'yellow' journalism. Infuriated at the slight by a rising star, the magazine is said to have imposed a ban on the actor. It was decided that Bachchan would henceforth never be interviewed by the magazine, and even his images wouldn't ever be published.
Soon, it came to light that a few other magazines too decided to blank him out. It was a popular, but unsubstantiated, claim that given the Big B's proximity to the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi, he had a role to play in muzzling the voice of the media during the infamous days of Emergency.
Infuriated at the accusation, Bachchan also reportedly imposed a self 'ban' and refused to speak to media.
It was another matter that once his stars started to shine the brightest, famous French critic and one of the founders of the French New Wave Henri Truffaut mockingly coin the term 'one-man-industry' and the media lapped him up with open arms.

Papparazzi, Dharmendra and Devyani Chaubal
Back in the 70s, things were very different from what they are now. In one reported case, Dharmendra's two sons, Sunny and Bobby Deol, reportedly thrashed a woman journalist, Devyani Chaubal, for writing what they claimed was an unsubstantiated report on their father. This is how it panned out.

Dharmendra, as we all know, had a long and protracted romance with Hema Malini, whom he eventually married. But Garam Dharam was a married man with a wife and four kids. The romance meant that gossip factories worked overtime and the duo was constantly under scrutiny, much to the angst of their families, the lady in question and the actor himself.
In this case, Sunny and Bobby are said to have trailed Chaubal for writing something they didn't like. During the course of a party, attended by Chaubal and the Deol siblings, there was an argument and things went completely out of control. Chaubal reportedly left the venue in a huff. Not the ones to take things lying down, the two brothers waylaid her soon and thrashed her for showing their father in 'bad' light.
Who Devyani? Well, if you've seen Vidya Balan's Dirty Picture, you'll remember the character Anju Mahendroo plays. The journalist's character is loosely based on Devyani Chaubal.

Aamir Khan, Ajay Devgn and the awards
Aamir Khan and Ajay Devgn have for long boycotted every single media awards. While the popular perception is that most of these nominations and awards are 'fixed' the two haven't come out and spelt out their reasons why they've decided to skip the award nights.

Controversy 'kid' Salman Khan and photojournalists
A couple of days back Salman Khan, Bollywood's very own enfant terrible, ran into a rough patch with film photographers. During the launch of a song Devil from his film, Kick, his bouncers reportedly got tough with some photographers gathered there. This led to section of Mumbai photojournalists' fraternity issuing a ban on him. Haider girl Shraddha Kapoor too had a run-in with photographers recently at promotional event which lead to photographers boycotting her too.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Why Deepika versus Bombay Times may not be a real war at all

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If I were a gambling man (which I am not), I would offer odds of 10:1 that the controversy between the Bombay Times and Deepika Padukone is a fix, and both Bombay Times and Padukone will emerge winners and all the voyeurs of the drama, the twitterati, the columnists and the bloggers are just mugs in the game.

If you re-read the previous paragraph, you would notice that I've said Bombay Times twice and made no mention of The Times of India.

Deepika Padukone. AFP.Deepika Padukone. AFP.
That's the first inference that leads me to say that it's a fix, the fact that the battle is playing out in Bombay Times and not in the main paper, The Times of India. If this was indeed war, the so-called defence that we saw this morning would have played out in the main paper and not in the supplement. When Bennett, Coleman and Company wants to make a statement on an issue that concerns a position, it's up there on the front page, or, at the least, on a right hand nation page. The IRS stories play out there, as do the BARC or TAM stories. Why is this one in a supplement? While the story is about an actor, and, logically deserves to be in BT, the issue that is currently being aired (I hesitate to say debated) is (ostensibly) a far more important one: how media needs to cover and comment on women. 

The second pointer to my belief that it is a fix is the fact that, in the red corner, ladies and gentlemen, we have Deepika Padukone and in the blue corner, we have Priya Gupta.

Deepika Padukone Vs Priya Gupta? That's not a battle of equals. That's hardly Fischer vs Spassky or Ali Vs Frazier. Hell, it's not even George Telegraph Vs Howrah Union.

If this were a real battle, we'd see some heavy lifters in the blue corner: The suits from the BCCL stable, the spokespersons who step in on industry issues, such as Ravi Dhariwal. If BCCL decided to maintain their church and state position, we'd see the editor of The Times of India pulling on his gloves.

The third provocation is BCCL's ambitions and interest in Bollywood. Can BCCL afford to piss off the actor community, even as they have yielded ground to Wizcraft on the IIFA Awards and are playing catch up? If a body of actors stands up for Deepika and refuses access to the BCCL stable of newspapers and magazines, refuses to appear at BCCL events, refuses to engage with BCCL radio stations and TV channels, it's a loss of no mean proportions - and that causes my cynicism and scepticism to increase.

I'll believe it's a real battle if we see a spokesperson from the management side making a statement on the issue. I'll believe it's a real battle if the story is discussed in the main paper tomorrow. And if it is a real battle, let's strap ourselves in for a long, bloody war, with all of Bollywood and feminists in one corner and the entire bouquet of BCCL products in the other. 

That's when I'll believe it.

Till then, I'll say well done, Bombay Times and Deepika, and well done, MediaNet. All of you have got great bang for the buck.

Dear TOI, its 2014: Slut-shaming Deepika Padukone over her cleavage is so passe

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First of all, thank you Bombay Times. For showing us, with a big, red, educative circle on Deepika Padukone's body and on your much-coveted-by-Bollywood frontpage, which part of a woman's body qualifies to be called 'cleavage'.

The said cleavage, I reckon, is possibly also feeling quite privileged since you chose to address it as the 'famous cleavage' in a bold red font.

It's a rather sad reminder for the sisterhood of repressed cleavages that they have no control over you breathing down their length or gasping at them with the orgasmic finesse of a sixteen-year-old watching his first porn film. Because in case no one told you so, 'OMG, Deepika's cleavage show' sounds pretty much like that.

The very close second parallel to your reaction comes in the way of an insect-unfriendly human's response to a cockroach under the sofa on a lizard dangerously close to the window curtain - 'OMG! Cockroach/lizard/unpleasant-looking moth'.

But since I have deep faith in your literary aesthetics, I am sure you meant that sentence to be an expression of ... umm, appreciation? After all, like our editor Sandip Roy pointed out, you, like many other portals, have pioneered wardrobe malfunctions as a veritable subject for film journalists to closely track and follow. Here's evidence a photo post gloriously titled 'Hotties' peek-a-boo moments'.

Now that we have this very necessary acknowledgement out of our way, let's look at the crux of the whole TOI vs Deepika Padukone issue.

While most people have been very vocal over whether or not Deepika was right to call out TOI for its 'sleazy' tweet,  this intellectual war over what qualifies as objectification and what should rather be regarded as a woman's personal freedom, overlooks the biggest issue. That is The Times of India's lousy language. It would be completely hypocritical to say that men, or even women for that matter, have never gawked at any cleavage.

However, what separates most of us from street-side louts is how we manoeuvre that gaze. Did we climb on the roof of the nearest building with a microphone, point at a person and howl, 'OMG, look, cleavage'? Because that's exactly what TOI did.

And what's more, the paper never for minute, thought about apologising for the sheer ludicrousness of its language.

In fact, managing editor of Bombay Times, Priya Gupta rolled up her sleeves and vehemently countered all the bad press that TOI received with the stellar defence that, "Yes, the headline could have been better. But the world of online is very different from that of newspapers. It is chaotic and cluttered - and sensational headlines are far from uncommon." Unfortunately, the other bunch of people who frequently resort to this they-did-it-too defence are street harassers.

Even websites like Yahoo have sections dedicated to the implications of a slit on a actor's sleeve, so TOI must have thought it was perfectly alright to do the same, never mind, if it's wrong or right. By that logic, most humans should consider hitting, cursing and running over each other perfectly legitimate behaviour, because, hey, other people do it too.

And The Times of India didn't just stop at that. They printed another six pictures on the front page, where Deepika is seen wearing various tops with deep necklines, and asked what they clearly thought was a poignant question: "Deepika, we accept your reel vs real argument, but what about all the times, and there have been many, when you have flaunted your body off screen - while dancing on stage, posing for magazine covers, or doing photo ops at movie promotional functions? What 'role' do you play there?"

Consider the writer, TOI's managing editor's choice of words here: "you have flaunted your body off-screen". Though she quickly assumes moral high ground and says that TOI has no problem with her 'showing off her' body, the fact that she uses the words 'flaunts' and 'shows off' in her sentences to address Padukone's wardrobe, instantly makes it evident that the writer is not making a statement, she is hurling an accusation. Where the actor is the 'cause' behind the 'effect' that was evident in the TOI tweet. It is a time tested, primitive defence, enthusiastically endorsed by the patriarchal frame-work of our society: slut-shame a woman to silence her.

In fact, the paper doesn't just stop at pointing an accusing, disapproving finger at her clothes, it even refers to her career to suggest that she better pipe down on the outrage drama. While making an argument on the objectification of male bodies, they refer to a completely unrelated piece of information about her career.

The article says the actor 'began her career as a 'calendar girl' for a liquor brand'. Remember the stereotype of vamps in the sixties and seventies - the woman who drank, who wore bold clothes and who danced in bars? With that one reference, put slyly in the beginning of a sentence which pontificates on a completely unrelated issue, the TOI 'point of view' immediately asks its readers to judge Deepika through a similar, archaic prism of morality.

Let's simplify the message for you: "Look this is woman who was a calendar girl for a liquor brand. She wears skimpy clothes. Then she wants us to refer to her and her body parts with dignity. How absolutely audacious is that?"

]The Bombay Times page one. The Bombay Times page one. What The Times of India did, in their petulant desire to score a point over Deepika Padukone, will not really affect the actor.

By resorting to every trick in the book employed by the upholders of patriarchal conventions - pointing at clothes, pointing at career choices and then villanising them to put women in their place - they just used the powerful front page of a widely circulated supplement to kick the women's movement in the gut.

Given that the paper reaches a cross section of people and lakhs of them at that, the paper just legitimised that old excuse our country falls back on to defend harassment - one that says 'she asked for it'.

We hope the paper realises that while patting themselves on their back, they also patted the backs of an entire clan of creeps who would think nothing of pointing their mobile phones down a woman's cleavage in a crowded bus, or an empty bus stand.

After all, like they claim, they are the most circulated English daily in India.

The Bombay Times page one.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

TOI attacks Deepika again- labels her "Fair weather friend"

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Relationships are fragile and ever-evolving, and some people just can't have enough of it. At times, you stick and hold on to your beloved, whereas most of the relations tend to lose it all. Here's a list of celebs defining their past/forgotten love. As per the sources, Deepika Padukone once dated former Nihar Pandya before reaching at the peak of her career. Strange love!
As per the sources, Aishwarya Rai met a guy called Rajeev Mulchandani at the onset of her career as a model. And something brewed up?

"Dear Deepika, our point of view..." TOI lambasts Deepika's hypocrisy

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Over the past few days, there's been a flood of tweets and stories in other media in support of Deepika Padukone's response to a video and tweet posted in the online entertainment section of TOI. 

As one of the largest media houses in the world with interests in print, TV, radio and online, we approach each medium differently, as do our audiences. There isn't a one-fits-all formula for either distributing or consuming content across various media.

On Friday, Deepika wrote on FB: "A character may demand that I be clothed from head to toe or be completely naked, and it will be my choice as an actor whether or not I take either. Understand that this is a ROLE and not REAL, and it is my job to portray whatever character I choose to play convincingly.''

Deepika, we accept your reel vs real argument, but what about all the times, and there have been many, when you have flaunted your body off screen — while dancing on stage, posing for magazine covers, or doing photo ops at movie promotional functions? What 'role' do you play there? So why the hypocrisy? What's equally hypocritical is that several media outlets have freely displayed Deepika's cleavage even as they sounded all outraged on her behalf. Surely they could have reported the story without those pictures?

Yes, the headline could have been better. But the world of online is very different from that of newspapers. It is chaotic and cluttered — and sensational headlines are far from uncommon.

We have always campaigned against the moral police. We believe there's no shame in Deepika showing off her body, but does she now want us to first check with her as to which pictures of her — taken at public events — we can or cannot publish? Are we going to have a parallel censor board for pictures of film stars taken off screen but in plain sight of the world, as Deepika's was? It's not as if the pictures were shot with hidden cameras, or that someone sneaked into her home, invaded her privacy, and took those pictures without her knowledge/permission.

Deepika, who began her career as a 'calendar girl' for a liquor brand, has written, ''Yes we marvel, envy and drool over a male actors 8pack abs in a film, but do we zoom in on the mans 'crotch' when he makes a public appearance and make that 'cheap headlines'??!!'' Deepika, just for the record, we do not zoom into a woman's vagina or show her nipples. As a newspaper, we take every care to ensure that we pixelate them if they show up in a picture, but your cleavage is as sexy as Shah Rukh Khan's '8-pack' abs. Given the nature of the online media worldwide, there could well have been a story headlined, "OMG...Shah Rukh's 8-pack sexy abs!!!" You've also written, ''Everyone is entitled to an opinion. I have little interest to take this further as it might get more attention than it deserves and might be further misconstrued and twisted to sell more undeserved headlines.'' Despite having made your point on Twitter, you have chosen to re-tweet every message and given as many interviews as you could. This has obviously been great publicity for you, timed perfectly with the release of your new film. The video's been on YouTube for a year, why object now?
As for our friends in the media, we wonder if they'll henceforth stop carrying pictures of cleavages, including Deepika's.

Was Deepika's hypocrisy for publicity?

Pictures of Deepika that she got shot voluntarily in real life

For a magazine photoshoot


For magazine photoshoot

For a photoshoot

SLAM: Deepika Padukone and Shah Rukh Khan

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Deepika Padukone and Shah Rukh Khan
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Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Boman Irani, Sonu Sood, Vivaan Shah and Yo Yo Honey Singh during the biggest Bollywood extravaganza SLAM! 
Farah Khan, Deepika Padukone, Malaika Arora Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Boman Irani, Sonu Sood and Vivaan Shah
Deepika Padukone and Shah Rukh Khan


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