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How Can We Justify The Depiction Of Toxic Masculinity In Films As ‘Art’?

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I still remember this meaningless Ranbir-Anushka-Aishwarya starrer, “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”. People didn’t think much of it. The song “Channa Mereya” topped the charts for a long time; people loved it, so did I. Then, after quite a few months, Karan Johar came out with a “justification” as to why Anushka’s character had to die in the movie. According to him, she had to die because she didn’t reciprocate the love felt by Ranbir’s character; her death was thus poetic justice!

A realization dawned on me that day. In retrospect, it’s something I always knew but never quite pondered upon. How does a filmmaker see the movie he is making? How does he see his characters? What are they to him? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the commercialization of art had undermined the accountability of the artist.

And no, I’m not just talking just about “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” or the very recent and extremely controversial “Kabir Singh“. I’m talking about most of the mainstream movies in all regions/countries, with particular reference to Bollywood.

Since not many people know about “You” starring Penn Badgley and his remarks on the obsessive murderous stalker he plays, I’ll draw your attention to something more familiar. Remember Devdas? The man every guy wants to be because heartbreak is too damn tough to handle?

No, no, I’m not talking about how Bhansali depicted it in 2002, although, that’s the depiction that made every heartbroken man a Devdas, almost overnight. I’m talking about the man who wrote it, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay.

In an interview, he lamented writing it, said that he considered it the worst work of his lifetime, which he wrote under the influence of alcohol and desperately wished that it had never been published. He wished it was never a part of his literary works.

One might just ask him to not be too harsh on himself, had he been alive, but the romanticization of the character leads everyone to see themselves as Devdas. Chattopadhyay, in all probability, saw precisely how this undertone in his novel could be construed and extrapolated by the masses. Hence, the well-founded lament.

Of course, there are many disturbed characters around us; there are tragedies, which find a place in literature and cinema. But that’s not the crux of the problem at all. If an artist makes the right effort when portraying such characters, if the narrative is justified, the subsequent acts of the few viewers who are still emulating it are indeed based on their twisted selves.

But you know what? Forget the audience, forget “people babbling on Facebook”, forget any ‘-ism’. Forget all of that for a moment.

What Is Art?

Art is the representation of the mental state and the perception of the artist, a form of self-expression.

Remember English Literature classes? How we tried to decipher the meaning of the poems from the poets’ point of view? It’s just like that. When we see the art we question the point of view of the artist, we ask whether he validates his grey characters or chides them, we look into the narrative.

Of course, this is lost on many, and this is the reason I think maybe commercialising art to this extent wasn’t a good idea. Not everyone in society appreciates art in its true form. It’s why artists are said to die hungry. If the artists who revolted through art existed today, they would be mocked for being “over-sensitive and dramatic”.

Our generation consists of several “book lovers”. I barely found anyone in the school library or when book fairs came by. But they all turned “book lovers” overnight, proudly showing off their collection of Chetan Bhagat’s books. The man single-handedly managed to turn people—who made fun of bookworms—into “book lovers” by giving them the brazen “real” content they were hungry for.

Thus was born a new faction who started “appreciating art and seeing it for what it is”. They are the ones who dozed off in English Literature classes because studying the perception of the poet was boring. They would instead not think and mock those who do. The fact that whatever nonsense sells as art is being lauded by these people as “viewers of art” is funny, if you think about it.

Art, sadly, is no longer about self-expression. It has been moulded into something for pure entertainment and is otherwise unnecessary.

The truth that art affects its audience is lost on all, including most “artists”. They have forgotten how history shows us that art had been central to every revolution on the planet, be it tiny or massive. Thus, to them, art is for entertainment and those who think of it as something beyond entertainment (be it critics or those who are influenced by it), must be crazy. Such a shame!

But I truly hope true artists will continue to do what they do best. Keep changing the world, one stanza, one stroke, one chapter, one frame, one dialogue at a time. Because we need you now. We need you the most.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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