Thursday, April 13, 2017

'Anaarkali of Aarah' is a giant leap for Bollywood

A look at 'Anaarkali of Aarah' through the gender lens 

Anaarkali of Aarah is a song of retribution and a classic revenge story, Bollywood masala style, and yet it is so real that you feel you are part of her every decision. Maybe it's just me, but rather than watch something like Bat'man' and Super'man' fight it out in incredible VFX, give me Anaarkali's fight for her dignity and bodily autonomy any day.

Anaarkali of Aarah, through the story of sexual harassment of an entertainment dancer, makes you curious to dissect the psyche of men who perpetrate such assault. What are we as a society enabling by encouraging use of a female body dancing suggestively as a source of entertainment? Same logic goes for item songs, strip clubs, dance bars. The movie resonates with real life more than we could imagine. Do yourself a favour and google a certain music company in Haryana (hint: it's named after a bird) and watch a fully clad performer gyrate to regional song about a 'solid' anatomy. The channel has millions of followers— in fact, my friend's barber showed him a downloaded video while shaving him, and said, "Ye dekho mast cheej". The videos have awestruck men staring at the performer, who by the way, brings a man in the capacity of a bodyguard (like the character of Swara Bhaskar’s manager in Anaarkali, played by Pankaj Tripathi). Some would argue that the position of power Anaarkali holds over the crowd as she performs, is empowering in itself, yet the nagging feeling that this isn't right in the first place, just does not go away.
The movie’s premise of harassment endured by entertainment dancers is eerily reminiscent of the woman shot dead on stage in Punjab while entertaining a group of drunk men at a wedding. There has been no word in the media on what retribution the perpetrators faced. In fact all headlines read "girl shot dead/dancer shot dead/pregnant girl shot dead" and hardly any headline mentions who shot her (note the prevalent use of ‘girl’ to describe a full grown woman). The theme with all crimes related to women is the same, "Girl raped/girl molested/girl murdered" with more focus on the profile of the victim and her personal life, rather than the accused. Consider this- "Drunk man kills a wedding performer on camera", "Rifle firing by men at weddings claims another life", “Violence by men on the rise”. Oh wait, let's not say too much, we may trigger another #NotAllMen outrage.
The movie also explores the stigma that comes with being branded a sex worker in this country. It's apparent that being branded a sex worker (whether you are one or not) makes you a second class citizen immediately, a citizen who has no recourse with the authorities or sympathy from society, and whose self respect suffers a great deal. This brings about a technical question as well about the laws of our land. Sex work (I hate the word prostitution) is legal in India and yet many women and men are arrested and harassed on this charge. For the sex workers this is double jeopardy because if they are scared of the authorities, who protects them?
Anaarkali uses the system to her advantage to exact revenge on her own terms. The climax of the film has the audience spellbound, internally cheering for Anaarkali. The movie makes you root for a woman who is not a pious, quintessential abla naari, and that I think is great progress in itself where Bollywood is concerned.
The writer is Programme Manager, Population First and the review was published in DNA India on April 5 2017.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil: Is modern Bollywood representing us well?

Karan Johar’s rendering of ‘unrequited love’ in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil speaks of anything but love. Systematic stalking and emotional abuse are not love. Trying to kiss your platonic friend when she’s clearly uncomfortable, and then resorting to domestic violence, is not love. Yes, breaking vases is also domestic violence. The characters stumble in and out of toxic relationships, and the audience is supposed to feel sorry for them and root for a happy ending.

Let’s take a look at all the characters without their glossy Bollywood faces. Alizeh is portrayed as a modern woman who makes split second judgement, assessing (even before meeting her) that Ayan’s girlfriend would only be with him for money. Feeding the golddigger stereotype is not doing us any good as a nation that consumes Punjabi rap about girls ‘selling their affections’- so to speak- on a daily basis. Also, in an era of strong women who want to stand up against not just physical but emotional abuse, Alizeh’s initial choices are hardly a beacon of hope for women suffering silently in their homes. But we have to give her due credit for extricating herself from one toxic relationship at least, which was her marriage. No such luck with ridding herself of Ayan though, whose re-entry is juxtaposed with the entry of cancer.

When it comes to Ayan, his caustic behaviour toward the people in his life has been excused by various write-ups and reviews by calling him a ‘Man-child’, but this just sounds like another version of “boys will be boys”. This excuse-culture needs to be stopped. People must be held accountable for their deeds and bear the consequences. To give Ayan a happy reconciliation with his ‘friend’, is an assurance that no matter how badly you behave you will be rewarded for persistence that borders on stalking and harassment. The lowest point of the movie occurred in the thankfully deleted ‘Evening in Paris’ song, when Ayan grabs a random stranger’s hand. Instead of calling out his groping and sexual assault, she playfully caresses his cheek. What does this convey? That it is okay to be sexually harassed when a ‘hero’ is doing it? The second problem in this blink-and-miss moment is the stereotyping of ‘firang’ females as ‘loose’ women who would not mind being groped.

Saba, played by the ethereal Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, breaks through the cacophony as a sole voice of reason when she dumps Ayan, on being used as shiny trophy to show off to his true lady love, Alizeh. Saba’s ex-husband played by Shahrukh Khan is very eloquent, and yet invades his ex wife’s personal space time and again. Do any women, even the happily divorced ones, want their exes to breathe down their necks in public? What are Bollywood movies subliminally planting in the consciousness of the populace? It is high time mainstream filmmakers woke up to the subtle hints in their movies that help develop a culture of abuse.

This review is by Ishmeet Nagpal who is a programme co-ordinator for Laadli -A Population First Initiative

Friday, December 9, 2016

16 Days of Activism | Entry 7

Nishtha Vashishta 

You tell me not to wear
The Saree
You are ashamed you see me in? It’s taught me to walk
With dignity, with poise Unapologetic 
You tell me the red bindi Is for women alone?
It’s anger worn with pride For the world to see 
You tell me I am lost? I know
That I have
Just found myself.

(As part of 16 days of activism, we invited entries on Life of Sexual Minorities. We will be showcasing more in the days to come. Watch this space)

16 Days of Activism | Entry 6

I Did Ask You Nicely 
Sudeep Pagedar 

I have nothing more to say –
at least not to you 
Would you kindly let me go? 
you will call my parents! wait,
how old 
do you think I am? 
Been around for a while now, not new to this place 
you don’t like me? I don’t need you to. 
Sir – I use this term very lightly –
if who I am offends, 
you need only close your eyes. 
will you please let me go? 
“Justice is Blind”?
I knew you’d say that!
but in my mind,
justice is blinded
a hot poker pushed through unbelieving eyes 
the blindfold is appropriate – you should wear one too, but I can see
you already are 
Now listen. 
I am not Kejri or Anna, there will be no dharna But when I tire of
this detention, 
I only hope you remember: I did ask you nicely. 
End Note: These are the words of an unnamed individual. Gender, age, religion unknown. Someone who is tired of oppression, and speaks with a politeness born of exhaustion. However, this is also the point at which we realise that this person’s resolve has not diminished, and from this point on, it can only keep getting stronger. It is, at worst, an idealist’s dream, and at best, a nightmare for an oppressive entity! 

(As part of 16 days of activism, we invited entries on Life of Sexual Minorities. We will be showcasing more in the days to come. Watch this space)

16 Days of Activism | Entry 5

by Richa Shivangi Gupta

You slither
On freshly slaughtered
Smearing the crimson
Of life
On your numbing scales

You slither
As your coarse
Skin rasps against their
Tangerine, healing 

You slip
And hasten your
Pace when canopies
Of forbearance let the
Yellowed sun enter
Your darkness

You twine
Through the depths 
Of faultless green leaves
Who got caught in the
Wild wild wind
And were orphaned
For good

You fancy
Of flying above
The cobalt blue you
Touch in the lake you

You coil 
Into burrows
Of repression when
Children dressed in shades
Of violet, knock at your
Unwelcoming door looking
For the love you
Looted from their cradle

(As part of 16 days of activism, we invited entries on Life of Sexual Minorities. We will be showcasing more in the days to come. Watch this space)

16 Days of Activism | Entry 4

By Harnidh Kaur

I burnt my hand today, and my
mother clutched it, careful not
to touch my melting skin, eyes
wild with fear and borrowed
pain, as she mumbled about
how my happiness left me
open to hurt- my smiles just
evoked fear in her, because
the way my skin slipped off
my flesh was a sign of how
fragile I was in my construction,
how easy it would be to break
me in half, easy to bite off bits
till I'm left lying like a moth eaten
blanket, shivering under myself,
craving warmth but afraid of
being singed again- maybe that's
why I refuse to let my skin nestle
next to yours, that's why I refuse
to let our curves meet, preferring
to press against straight lines
that feel lukewarm at best, and
terrifying at least, this is why
I cannot allow myself to be
consumed by your softness, or
give myself some space to breathe-
what if the burns you leave on
me leave ugly scars that tell of
how I burned, of how I revelled in
your flames and watched them
consume all I had ever known?
what if I never find myself again
without that heat? What if the
passions that bloomed in as you
held my palm against your
breast all that I could ever need?
What if I was only kindling, and
would be left to ash? What if
these 'what if's are all I was
ever truly meant to have?

(As part of 16 days of activism, we invited entries on Life of Sexual Minorities. We will be showcasing more in the days to come. Watch this space)

16 Days of Activism - Entry 3

Asexuality for Dummies
By Indian Aces

Setting: A regular pub. A girl is sitting at the bar alone, munching on cheese sticks, looking at people casually. She is asexual, a sexual minority so unheard of, that even the LGBT community doesn’t talk about it. During the course of the poem, we try to bust a number of myths that usually surround the topic of asexuality.
A heteronormative boy, largely unaware of such minorities, approaches...
Boy: Hi,
I noticed,

you were checking me out dancing.
Girl: Sorry,
You’re good,
But I was just glancing.
Boy: So I
just wonder,

you waiting for someone here?
G: Nah,
I’m solo,
for a chat, I’d lend an ear.
B: A pretty girl, like you,
with a charmer like me...
G: Haha,
we’d make
quite a pair, I agree!
B: So, where,
do you think,

is this night going to take us?
*The cake slice she had ordered appears, taking all her attention*
(It’s an inside joke within the global asexual community that we prefer cake to sex)
B: Umm, so I
was wondering,

where’s tonight taking us?
G: Don’t know about you,
but I’ll be catching a bus.
B: Let’s change those plans,
I’d love to be that cake.
G: While,
I’m flattered,
What’s the point you’re trying to make?
B: See,
look at us,

the time couldn’t be more right, I feel,
we could
really utilize this night.
G: *coughs* Ahm Well no,
I’m not sleeping with any men.
B: Oh sorry,
I usually

Easily spot a lesbian!
G: mm no,
I don’t
swing either way to be true.
B: Umm,
not homo?

then what exactly are you?
G: There’s more
beyond that spectrum,
ever heard of the term ‘ace’?
B: You mean,
A sexuality,

apart from straights and gays?
G: Well,
we have zero

sexuality, not even a trace, On this
hetero-homo scale,
we can’t really be placed.
B: Oh god,
A millennial,

trying to be a special snowflake.
G: I saw,
that coming,

I’ll go enjoy my cake >.>
B: Woah!
I’m sorry,
Didn’t mean to offend you maam, I’d love,
to learn more
if you believe that I can?

G: Like you,
Can be attracted

to genders one or many,
the asexuals,

we just aren’t to any.
B: So then,
you mean,

like having no libido?
G: mm well,
Some infact

have drawers full of dildos!
B: Okay,
But no,

I guess I’m confused much, You mean,
Some fap
And some like to be touched? Wait,
what’s even
the real difference then? I mean how,
Are they not like average women?
G: Ok,
I’ll tell you
how I feel about food. Say,
I see a pizza,
that looks real good, I drool
And I feel
an urge to go get a slice,
My twin,
she doesn’t,
though she eats to survive.
B: Okay,
I get that

That example, it’s simple, but does
that really,
translate even to people?
G: Yes, like, when you
come across an attractive person, do you
feel an urge
to do something with them?
B: Hmm,
there’s lust.
So that don’t happen to aces? They won’t,
ever even,
you know, suck faces?
G: Right!
no attraction,

and it’s a spectrum on its own, The behavior’s,
On a separate scale,
some are repulsed, but some bone.

B: Ah,
but you aces,

so you don’t do relationships?

G: Some don’t,
some do,
we can still be romantics!
B: Aha!
I believe
I’ve a friend he’s just like that!
G: I guess
you should

(As part of 16 days of activism, we invited entries on Life of Sexual Minorities. We will be showcasing more in the days to come. Watch this space)