How Deepika Padukone”s Letter Is A Revelation That We Need To Change Our Backward And Sexist Mindset

Posted on September 25, 2014 in Media, Sexism And Patriarchy, Taboos

By Veda Nadendla:

I have chosen to remain mum about the incident which provoked Deepika Padukone to the extent that she had to release a letter of proclamation. If it hasn’t already been said enough, that matter is done and dusted. Moving on, this letter which was released on her Facebook page, with access to millions of readers and fans, had no intent of retaliation, but of speaking the truth. Deepika was being brutally honest about her thoughts, and she has tactfully butchered the very idea of diplomacy in this letter which bequeaths the need for common sense, respect and solidarity.

Deepika Padukone

My admiration for her rebuttal has little to do with my feministic leanings and more with the dire need in India for civility. Padukone in her letter stated the much needed call for action on rampant sexism in media portrayals of women in the film industry. It is completely acceptable for Ranbir Kapoor to drop his towel in Saawariya and walk around in butt clenching briefs in Bachnaa Ae Haseeno; we applaud and swoon at John Abraham for undoing his pants in Main Tera Hero; but when we watch Vidya Balan enchant us in The Dirty Picture, we judge her character and motive? Walking out of Finding Fanny last weekend, my friend says “I can’t believe Deepika would expose like that. Did you see her, just lying there in her bra?” I was a little taken aback that a young progressive female mind would say something so judgemental. “Understand that this is a ROLE and not REAL” says Deepika in her letter.

Across India, we thrive for entertainment, and movies are food to our vibrant souls. Not only do we love watching, but we do a fantastic job of being critics, as is expected of us. But more often than not, we blur the lines between criticism and judgement. We pay to watch movies which have content that we don’t approve of, and then negatively stereotype the people who made the monumental effort of transforming themselves into someone else just to see their audience (us) happy. Being an audience entrusts us with the responsibility of bring objective, which is something that many of us fail at, despicably and repeatedly. To add to that disappointment, our country boasts of its vast media industry, entrusted with responsible reportage, yet engaging in what has transformed into disrespectful pot shots and finger-pointing.

Deepika Padukone is but one woman in a line of scores of others who have been objectified and degraded for a role they have played in a movie, for showing too much skin or for being too promiscuous. Why is promiscuity on screen only a judgement on the woman’s character off screen, when even a man has taken equal part? Why do we not call him “loose character” for playing a gunda, balaatkaari, roadside Romeo, villain or simply the uber hot, half-naked hero? Nothing gives us the right to limit individuals of their right to their own body and actions.

You need not go into the privacy of her home to disrespect and disregard her; you merely encircle and point at her assets as if you discovered their existence and that’ll do the job. Deepika’s letter is a revelation that we as an audience need to change our backward and sexist mindset about the women we publicly idolize and secretly defame. Great effort is taken in perfecting a role to the point of complete belief in the character. Judge the character, but don’t judge the performer, because for him or her, it is profession and not who they are in real life.

Mainstream media has glorified the blatant judgement and objectification of both men and women in the Indian Film Industry in the name of tabloid journalism. This mainstream media stands completely validated by our backward mentalities. I only pray that this debacle has been an eye opener, and that it will lead to shifting loyalties. Now, if you consider yourself not in the category of the people mentioned in the above paragraphs, feel free to excuse yourself from guilt and outrage. For the rest, well, here’s Deepika’s letter- jaago darshak jaago!

My Point of View…

There is only ONE sign that a woman wants to have sex and that is that she says “YES”.

The reason I write the above line is because we all know that in India we are so desperately trying to make a change in the way sections of our society think in order to move towards a happier world devoid of inequality, rape, fear and pain.

I am not naive about my own profession; it is one that requires lots of demanding things of me. 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.

What my concern is and I am stating it clearly so it is not misconstrued or confused with Shahrukh’s 8-pack or any other woman’s or man’s anatomy. I have spoken out against an ideology that such regressive tactics are still being employed to draw a reader’s attention at a time when we are striving for women’s equality and empowerment. In a time where women should be applauded for making headway in a male-dominated society, we blur the lines between REEL and REAL life and dilute all our efforts by making a one-year old back sliding piece of news a headline. Digging out an old article and headlining it “OMG: Deepika’s Cleavage Show!” to attract readers is using the power of influence to proliferate recessive thought.

When an actresses inner wear decides to do a “peek-a-boo”, she most definitely did not step out with the intention to do so. So instead of zooming in, circling it and pointing arrows at it, why don’t we give her some ‘respect’ and let it go instead of making it ‘headlines’!? Are we not human? Yes we marvel, envy and drool over a male actors 8pack abs in a film, but do we zoom in on the man’s ‘crotch’ when he makes a public appearance and make that ‘cheap headlines’??!!

I have no issue celebrating my body and I have never shied away from anything on-screen to portray a character. In fact my next character portrayed is a bar dancer (sorry Farah for the spoiler!) who titillates men as a means to support her livelihood. My issue is you propagating the objectification of a REAL person, and not a character being played. Sure, dissect my characters if you wish-if it is of so much interest then discuss the character’s cup size and leg length if it is relevant to making the role convincing. All I am asking for is respect as a woman off-screen.

It is not about breasts, penises, or any other body part being reported. It is a matter of context and how out-of-context the reportage is just to sell a headline. And more so during a time in dire need of an attitude shift towards women.

For me this topic ends here. 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.

Having said that, please may we show love, dignity and respect to each other.

Live well, laugh often and love much.

Deepika Padukone