‘Actor Varun Pruthi’.
Maybe you’ve seen him on your Facebook news feed. Maybe one of your uncles or aunties have shared his viral videos saying, “Eye-opening, salute this young man” or something to that effect. He makes short videos to raise “social awareness” on issues like poverty, molestation, harassment and more.
And he’s absolutely, irrevocably awful.
Pruthi is known for many ‘charitable moments’ such as these:
— varun pruthi (@ActorVarun) December 5, 2016
In 2014, the YouTuber released a similar video of him giving large sums of money to beggars, hawkers, and homeless and elderly people. He often juxtaposes a story of poverty and extreme hardship with the words “never give up”, and it totally invisibilises the systems of power that create social inequalities.
In one exchange with an old woman, Pruthi begins by asking “Do you believe in God?” and ends with “God sent me for you”. Suhel Seth, advisory member of the British Asian Trust (a massive charity organisation) expressed his revulsion for Pruthi’s methods pointed out his clear messiah complex. He says, “You want people to be self sufficient and not to beg […] We must allow people a life of dignity through livelihoods, not hand me downs.”
By giving INR 3,000 to a toy-seller, Pruthi has only stoked his own ego. He likes to treat the symptom not the illness.
But it’s his approach to gender injustice that really had my jaw on the floor. Why is that? Well, gird up your loins, kids, because this isn’t gonna be Pruthi (heh heh).
Let’s review the video with the ungainly title of “This Man kept harassing a Girl in public transport and then watch. Based on a True story” (lol someone give this guy a character limit, please). A young woman gets into an e-rickshaw, along with three other men – Pruthi, the harasser, and one bespectacled extra who only exists in the corner of the frame.
Uncomfortable shoulder grazing:
And of course, the fake-falling-asleep-so-he-can-look-down-your-shirt routine:
Now our socially aware boy Pruthi is just silently observing all of this for a good long while:
Finally, our female lead snaps and gives it off to the harasser:
Her tirade consists of things like “Girls don’t speak up so you think you can do anything”, and “the day we start pointing it out you will not be able to show your face”. The dialogue (written by Pruthi, no doubt) sounds more like a lecture than an organic reaction. And then, our Knight in Shining Armour decides to open his mouth at last:
And only after being confronted by another man does the harasser do this:
Oh, and of course, the only time men should speak up about harassment is to make it very clear that they are not harassers, they’re good guys.
This guy agrees by demonstrating 2.67% of acting skill:
Thanks for the lesson, Pruthi bro!
To make matters worse, our hero turns to the young woman and says:
Duh! Victim-blaming is at the heart of gender equality! How could I forget that the onus of ending harassment is on women!
The video ends and it becomes apparent that the #NotAllMen is strong with this one.
If you’ve noticed how things are getting progressively worse, it’s time for the crown jewel.
Here is a video with the uninspired titled “This Man Forced himself onto a Girl”. It begins with drunken harassment:
Shocked and angry, the young woman screams “Bastard!” as her harassers zip by on the scooter. (Please also note the two individuals on the sidewalk).
The bikers decide to teach her a lesson for reacting.
The two people in the background turn out to be… Hijras.
That’s right. Two cis guys wearing the worst wigs in the world. Throwing myself into a tank of industrial discharge might actually be less terrible than watching this video.
Anyway, they see the girl in trouble and:
The scene is complete with “the clapping” that Hijras do, and it is 100% inappropriate for these cis boys to be doing:
And then who shows up? None other than Varun Pruthi in an even shittier wig, acting as a trans woman:
But if you think this is bad, wait till you see how Varun “Guru Ji” Pruthi tackles the situation.
Yes. He answers sexual assault with sexual assault.
Now, the scenes after this can be pretty triggering. Pruthi advances as though he’s about to sodomise the tied-up harasser. In the end, he only thrusts a stick between the man’s legs without making any actual contact. After he’s successfully rattled up the harasser, he says “Now you realise when rape happens how does it feel.” Pruthi leaves the man tied to the pillar, and the camera then focuses on his tear-streaked face. This is inexplicably followed by the following message:
I’m not sure why this is here, but it seems a bit like exploiting someone’s pain for the sake of the “storyline”. Following this is some classic Pruthi wisdom:
Wow, seriously? Not exactly the kind of social justice I’m used to. In the wake of the violent rape cases in Kathua, Unnao, Jind, Surat, Panipat, and Lalunggaon this year, we would be doing a deep disservice to the victims by advocating rape!
Yet another offensive element of Pruthi’s video is how the trans characters are committing a sexual crime on a cisgender person, reinforcing the myth that hijras are dangerous predators. What was the need for this!?
Pruthi’s politics aren’t just shaky, they’re downright deplorable. At the time of writing this article, the man has 1,870,202 subscribers on YouTube, with 7,012,416 followers on Facebook, and 4,29,653 on Instagram. I shudder to think of what values people are taking away from his ham-handed videos.
There are enough examples of people using social media to create change. #HappyToBleed, a hugely successful online movement spearheaded by a young woman challenged temples that banned menstruating devotees. Amit Khanna’s light-hearted web-series “All About Section 377” brought queer and trans visibility to light.
But Varun Pruthi… well, I feel bad just mentioning his name in this same paragraph.