Charms of the others..

The women on one of my whatsapp groups ( Schoolmates) are united in Crush-cum-lust for the hunky stars from South. Prabhas, Rana, Ram Charan, Suriya and the other muscular gents with beautiful eyes grace the group DP several times. It is perhaps the only thing I relate to with the members, but that is another post. This fandom is largely thanks to the fact that for some years now, Hindi movie channels are awash with dubbed movies from South. The realization for ‘Non-Madrasis’ that Bollywood is not synonymous with ‘ Indian cinema’, nor can claim any superiority when it comes to music, technical aspects, story-telling, acting- has never been more evident with so much primetime focus every day. In recent years, there has been a mass awakening of sorts to the killer looks and rustic charms of the South heroes. To me this appeal has been immortalised in popular imagination with the image of the drool worthy Prabhas of sweet smile and beautiful eyes, in wet dhoti carrying Shivlinga on his sculpted shoulders ( which is a erotically charged association, come to think of it.)

The women in my group always wonder why aren’t these sexy men coming in a mainstream Hindi movie. Would they ever make it big in the Bollywood. Which role would suit them. Instinctively and with my experience in media- the answer is no.

For decades, Bollywood has had female superstars who were not from the Hindi speaking areas. Bengali and Marathi stars from Sharmila to Nutan to Madhuri. In recent years, quite a few women from European/ American countries have entered the industry. Katrina Kaif being the most successful of this lot. ( She also reportedly couldn’t speak Hindi for years ).

But for the purpose of this article, lets stick to the women from hardcore ‘Non- Hindi’ areas, i.e. South. Vaijayantimala, Hema Malini, Rekha, Shridevi, Jaya Prada are some of the most successful ones of the lot. Some of them like Shridevi, was a superstar in Tamil/ Telugu before she arrived in Bollywood and couldn’t speak Hindi for a long time despite of ruling the roost. Deepika and Aishwarya have come from international modelling backgrounds and while they have South Indian background/ last names, they are perhaps closer to Hindi speaking urban metros than the women of 80s and 90s. Overall, we can safely say that the success of a female star has not been hindered by their linguistic background/ heritage ever in Bollywood.

On the contrast, I can’t think of a single male star who has made it big despite of not being from typical ‘Hindi’ background. It is usually, Punjabis and North Indian men who are mainstream successes. The Southern mega-stars like Kamal Hassan, Nagarjuna, Chirnjeevi, Rajnikanth have been, at the most, recognizable faces for Hindi moviegoers. That’s about it. ( Again, can you think of any male star from any other industry making it big here? Nope. Even Uttam Kumar couldn’t make a dent. International models like Milind Soman haven’t been able to make it like their female counterparts could) If you take all the mainstream stars, their last names/ linguistic heritage has been uniformly Hindi/ Punjabi.

And then in the last 2 decades, the Tamil/ Telugu industry have seen Non-south women making it big. Tamannah, Kajal Aggarwal, Tapsee, Nagma and a dozen more women have been on the top. But again, you don’t see any non-South men making it big there. ( Interestingly, several non-South men have made it big as Villains – which is another post )

So, to conclude- While women can transcend linguistic boundaries while onscreen, men can’t when it comes to mainstream film industries.

My theory is that this is because mainstream industries tell stories about the men and thus require authenticity from men portraying these main characters. Women are seen as transient. It is expected that they adapt to ( largely male) systems which they go into. So be it their marital home, or the movie industry whose language they can’t speak- they are forgiven, nay, welcomed, as long as they adapt to their new homes and stay happy in status quo.

It would be easy to reduce it to simplistic statement that since women are not expected to essay demanding roles in mainstream cinema, and that they function cosmetically within the movies- it doesn’t matter where they come from. ( As long as they more-or-less are racially acceptable. Because you don’t see a woman from Arunachal Pradesh or China in Hindi movies, but women from Europe/ South America are welcome). But then how to explain Shridevi who was called a female Amitabh Bachchan? Or Hema-Malini the superstar? Or Rekha? No-one can challenge that these women and their stardom was based on their proven capacity to carry their movies on their shoulders to box-office success. Or that several times they essayed roles which were breakthrough for the times – being more important than the male ones. While a Tamannah could be explained away as the Telugu industry’s obsession over fair skin tone – how can you explain Nagma or Kajal Aggarwal?

Individually each of them can be explained. Some for their beauty, some for their dancing skills, some for their fair skin, some for their acting. But this theory falls apart when compared to male counterparts. Kamal Hassan doesn’t lack acting prowess. Rana can give any Bollywood star a run for their money in looks/ Machoness territory. And so on.

Another practical explanation could be the heredity. Many if not all today’s male stars have had benefits of their filmy families. Their fathers or uncles provide them with launch pads, sustain their initial career, they are helped by their seniors and friends in the industry. Women generally don’t have this benefit and where they do- they reap the advantages. ( The Hassan sisters, Sonakshi Sinha, The Kapoor sisters and so on.)

But again, why can’t established stars with national appeal move in industries? While the directors/ music directors/ editors/ DOPs can- why haven’t we seen any example of a successful male star moving from one industry to another with success? In fact when they do, they have to do so in secondary roles. ( Nobody will believe that Akshay Kumar will be equal to Rajnikanth in their upcoming movie together, will they?)

So coming back to the ‘authenticity’ theory. Men are expected to be ‘authentically’ representing the ‘roots’. You can’t have a non-Telugu guy representing the angst of Telugus in a Telugu movie. A woman is always expected to ‘adjust’ to the space she moves in. She is expected to forget her ‘maternal’ home and ‘ fit in’ with her new home. She can move in, while the man has to be ‘born’ in and ‘represent’ it. Her role could be bigger and better than the man’s occasionally. But the fact that she is accepted in that role, as a ‘native’ despite of her ‘other’ness is due to our collective acceptance of her ‘non-centrality’ to the representativeness of the culture.

Thoughts? Anti-theses? Arguments?

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Work – Family Balance

If you are a woman, it doesn’t matter what you do for a living. You could be a commissioner of police or a CEO of a Billion Dollar corporate a la Indra Nooyi. There is only one question the humanity has for you.

How do you manage your family with high pressure job?

Needless to say, a man in power is never asked the same question, because it is assumed, and correctly so, that there would be a supportive woman who would take care of his family. Sorry, ‘her’ family. Because while the family might carry a man’s name, it is the responsibility of a woman to look after it and take a step back when it comes to her career/ individual growth.

What is surprising is that many people would like to believe that in todays ‘post-feminist’ world, (a.k.a where equality is totally achieved and we don’t need feminism ya all), it is a ‘choice’ that women make.

Right.

It is hardly a choice when opted for by overwhelming majority of one gender. It is hardly a choice when that same gender has been conditioned for centuries to focus on her role as a mother/ wife/ nurturer. And when the same conditioning continues even today in mainstream cultural dialogue.

Choice requires multiple options. Economic, structural, social, cultural, medical.. the list goes on. And in our society, majority of women just don’t have them.

Even women who have some structural advantages, find it difficult to act on them due to cultural pressure to be the primary nurturer and Gajar Ka Halwa maker of the family.

If you state this fairly obvious fact, you would be bombarded with angry responses, even from women. About how ‘it is her choice’ to stay home and look after her kids. Or that they happen to ‘ like’ to be there when their kids grow. Or that they are against the crass materialism and inhuman work-pressure. Or that their husbands just happen to earn more than they do and it makes sense for them to quit the job rather than their husbands. And how dare you challenge their legitimate ‘choice’?

Majority of these responses refuse to take into account the overwhelming cultural conditioning, economic factors and inherent sexism in our notions of parenting.

While feminism is about wide range of choices for women, no individual choice can exist in vacuum.

The decision to stay at home with kids or reject the pressure to be ‘powerful’ would be actually be a true choice when a significant number of men also ‘have’ to take that option, thus rendering it gender-neutral. It would be a true choice when women and men have similar options and similar parenting roles. It would be a true choice when there are no ‘mommy-tracks’ or gender wage gap. It would be a true choice when women choosing not to have kids are not looked down upon as aliens. It would be a true choice when rather than phony lip-service, mothers are actually compensated for the tremendous work they do by birthing the child.

Until then, whether we like to admit it or not, it is hardly a ‘choice’ women make in a ‘blissful post-patriachal vacuum.’

So this comes as a fresh breath when a powerful man decides to make the ‘choice’ to stay home to spend more quality time with his kids and blogs about the unfair expectation of women to worry about ‘family-work’ balance, while men never get asked about the same. Powerful men making this choice and recognising that this choice doesn’t exist in ideological vacuum, gives it legitimacy in our world full of dated notions of masculine identity and power.

It also reemphasises that kids have ‘parents’ and not just ‘mothers’.

It acknowledges that fathers also care about their kids and can sacrifice their careers for their kids.

Millions of women have to take this option every day. We definitely need more dads making this choice and being aware of the gendering of this concept. It would not only ease the pressure on women but also bring a healthier and balanced notions of parenting in our society.

Boss….

Oh I am sure you have already seen and ranted on this ad. It is actually so bad ( one who got what product is being advertised will get a gift of Manchurian Masala), that it is surprising for it to have hit so many nerves.

Perhaps its pseudo-realstic- pretentious progressivism-gone-horribly- wrong is the reason for the mass rants against it. And perhaps the fact that we are smarter in spotting sexism these days.

This is why I am going to link it and proceed to rant about it myself:):)

After years of ‘woman is the CEO/boss of the house’ useless-pat-on-the back trope, we get a ridiculously sexist ad that shows a female boss telling her subordinate-at-workplace husband to stay back to do extra work at office, and then proceeding to go home and cook him a delicious meal and seductively asking him to come back to enjoy the said food.

Lest you think this lady is somewhat cuckoo in her head- because didn’t she ask him to stay back herself? Short term memory a. la. Aamir Khan in Ghajini? Or someone with a split personality like Aparichit? ( Hey, these popular Indian movies are totally accurate in depiction of any mental disorder, OK? Don’t be so snooty).

Noo… you realise she is a good Indian wife, who makes it up to her subordinate-at -work husband by cooking for him. After all, aren’t we all Indian women supposed to do that? Get good grades, earn well, look pretty in short hair and go on to cook perfect meals for our husbands?

Note ladies, that she softly says ‘sorry guys, you will have to just do it’ when her team complains about the timelines. Those of you whose boss said sorry to you, before asking you to stay back after-hours, please stop reading the post now.

OK, now for the rest of the 99% of the mortals who have continued reading this post- note that she looks slightly abashed- especially when she sees the disappointment on her team’s face and even asks her teammate ‘how is it going’, with a kind and considerate tone( we don’t know he is her husband yet.) Because if you want people to like a woman, especially a woman in power, you have to show her ‘soft’ side,lest people call her a bitch.

She looks tranquil in the car. Soft. Pondering. Soft. Sensitive. Soft.

And then she launches into WIFE MODE by asking her husband ‘Rohit’ ( the 21st century default Indian male name that replaced the erstwhile ‘Rahul’ of the 1990s) about what would he like to eat tonight. Because the moment a woman gets a free moment after a gruelling day at work, she likes to think about her husband’s dinner. It is totally natural. All of you, who after a long workday DON’T sprawl on sofa watching your favourite TV show over food cooked by someone else, or at least fantasize about it, please stop reading this post now.

OK, I see 99% of my readers are still reading.

Voila, she twists her hair in a pony at home, ponders about the contents of the fridge philosophically and rustles up a decidedly Udupi looking Chinese meal.

Then Rohit – the same team mate forced to stay back for work gets a call from ‘Wife.’ He sardonically replies ‘ Aaj late hoga. Boss ne bahut jam diya hai.’ ( Biiiiitch!!!)

Wife, who turns out to the said boss( Creative minds!! fantastic idea!!! whatta genius conceptualisation), sends him the video of the meal she lovingly prepared for him.

NOW, NOW, NOW WE GET THE PRODUCT which paid for this ad.

Those who DIDN’T think that the ad was for electrical kitchen appliance or a new brand of Indo-Chinese sauce, please stop reading this post.

OK, now for the rest of the 99% mortals still reading this post. The wife whispers seductively on the phone, ‘Boss ko bolo wife ne ghar bulaya hai’.

Then, the airtel tune starts and you realise that this piece of shit was actually an ad for 3 G connection. You sit quietly contemplating thousands of years of human evolution and how you always hated that Airtel tune and how right you were to pick up Vodafone. (Because how can this brain-dead ‘modern couple’ even compete with a cute pug?)

For all of you who DIDN’T think this woman is quite scary with her short-term memory loss and split personality and Udupi meal, a round of applause. Maybe you haven’t been watching instructive movies like Ghajini and Aparichit.

And a moral of the story for the remaining 99% of mere mortals. Here goes. Quite unintentionally , the ad makers have hit on the exact disorder that our society suffers from. That women are expected to have two distinct personalities: Modern professional woman outside and traditional wife/ mother/ daughter at home. They need to have a short term memory. Wipe out the BOSS identity as soon as you leave office and slip into WIFE identity.

You can be a boss with a corner office, have short hair, wear Sonia Gandhiesque sarees, ride in a chauffeur driven car, earn more money than your husband. But you have to slip into the ideal Indian wife mode as soon as you are in private sphere.

Otherwise, the balance of power just might tilt and patriarchy will shake. SCARY THOUGHT!!!

The ad stupidly celebrates the schizophrenia of our patriarchal society and I won’t even link the garden variety dumb excuses of ‘ WOMEN LIKE TO COOK FOR THEIR HUSBANDS SO WHAT IS WRONG IN SHOWING THE REALITY WHAAAAAA WHAAAA’ thrown by the ad makers and supporters of this ad alike.

But the good news is, that the ad has ruffled many feathers. And people are debating the ad, which has opened up a dialogue about the double shift many Indian women are ‘forced to do’ ( unlike ‘choose to do’ according to defenders of this ad). This is good news that ads like these don’t get a free pass for being covertly sexist. A debate on this ad is especially welcome because,

Because it pretends to be realistic unlike hundreds of ads that show sparkling women talking about detergent or their kids schoolbag as if it was some life-or-death issue.

Because it pretends to be progressive by showing a lady boss and goes on to justify the prevalent sexism in the society by perpetuating the worst and most dangerous stereotypes about women.

Because showing short-haired-lady-boss doesn’t make you a progressive.

Because it refuses to show a powerful woman who doesn’t look guilty in front of her subordinates for doing her job.

Because it reflects the pseudo-equal modern Indian marriage that women are calling out for what it is- a pseudo equal relationship built on age old stereotypes.

Because it champions the ultimate status of modern Indian man as ‘ boss in marriage’ and brushes his insecurities about the rising power of women.

And ALSO because it comes across as advertising CHINGS UDUPI SCHEZWAN CHAUPATI SAUCE and not a 3G CONNECTION.

There.

Father’s Day

Today is Father’s day. Hurrah. Get that electric shaver for your dad pronto if you love him TRULY DEEPLY REALLY.

Father’s day simply doesn’t pack the punch reserved for Mother’s Day. It is to be expected of patriarchal cultures where motherhood is put on pedestal, but very little real powers are vested in mothers. It is not very different from having a WOMAN’s DAY in a male chauvinistic society. After all, patriarchy is defined as ‘system of society or government by fathers or elder males of the community’.

This research report is not a highly insightful, but an interesting read about Asian Fatherhood. Nothing in it will surprise an average, middle class Indian.

Indian middle class fathers in their thirties and late twenties are different from their own fathers. They want to be part of their kids’ lives in more intimate manner. The heavily gendered parenting roles are still firmly in place though, majority of fathers believe that women are naturally more suitable for childcare. The parenting duties might not be as strictly drawn as for earlier generations- but in essence they are the same. Father is an authority figure while mother has a more nurturing and administrative role.

I had read a paper about how having a kid increases and sometimes introduces traditional gender roles in American couple, who might not have had a very gendered relationship before the arrival of child. There was a comparison with the Swedish parenthood and as usual, the Swedes came out with flying, gender-neutral colours. It would be interesting to probe the gender dynamics in modern Indian parenting further. I suspect marriages turn more gendered after the arrival of the child in India.

Notions of middle class fatherhood have changed since Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan simmered at each other with angsty father-son conflict. Or since Simran was whisked off to India by her baritone India loving dad as soon as he learns that she is in love with someone. These days we see fairly diverse popular representations of fathers in media-signalling the change. We do see pally, intimate and gender bending fathers, be it in ads or in movies. Though there is still a huge gap in what is expected from a mother and a father. On screen fathers are more likely to worry about buying an insurance and mothers about their child’s nutrition.

I live in an area hugely popular with young parents- thanks to five top-notch schools and gated communities. In my housing society, I have seen one father who regularly walks the child, feeds her dinner as she pounces around after dogs and cheers her during evening skating sessions. He works from home. Other than him, be it picking up kids from school bus, skating sessions, stroller walks or other public events are managed by young mothers. My friends with kids tell me that it is mothers who are active parents even at upmarket schools. In my extended family, there is no doubt who is the primarily responsible for the child. It is almost always the mother.

Does this mean that fathers love their children less than mothers do?

It would be stupid and erroneous and sexist to say that. Having a child changes the life for a man and the love he feels for his child can not be underestimated just because he lives in and is shaped by a patriarchal society. Gender roles do define parenthood, just like they do virtually every aspect of society. That doesn’t mean that fathers’ love for the child is in any way inferior or less important for the child.

Not that it was in earlier generations. Expressions and social norms aside, a father, almost always loves his child more than anything else in the world.

My father is batty about kids and used to dance and sing as he fed us. Even today he is a master entertainer for small kids with his fantastic stories. Because my mother is an inhumanly efficient workaholic- she almost always has done what traditionally fathers were expected to do. From repairs to finance to driving to taking major decisions in family. My father, a hopelessly inefficient academic took a backseat. My mother always bended stereotype of a small town, middle-class woman. And my father is remarkable that he was never jealous, insecure or worried about his wife. It is not that he has no fault- but whatever gripe we have with him as as a ‘person’, not for his gender. We have always idolised our mother, but as far as love and commitment goes- my father was/is no way less than her.

One doesn’t need a day to celebrate love between kids and parents. It is one of the strongest bonds one would ever have. No electric shaver needed. Love, care, understanding and joy of being with family is all it takes for father to feel loved and honoured.

Condomania- Do the Rex

I am sure I am about million years late on this one, but here goes the best India ad about sex I have ever seen.

It is not just because of Ranveer- on whom I have developed a special crush since RamLeela. I like me these overacting , slightly dumbish, cute boy toy heroes – and he is the freshest and the best of the category since Salman rode that cycle dressed in snug ganjee.

I really liked the ad because the mood and the tone is not that of ‘sex is a game and men are hunting writhing women’, which is normal for these silly deo and condom ads. Neither is it laughably steamy like your typical KS branding. Come on, why does the couple on the packet branding have sex on rough rocks is beyond me- can’t they just do it on the beach? More comfortable.

Do the Rex is a joyous, fun and energetic celebration of sex- without guilt, fake orgasmic faces and objectification. It is silly enough not to take itself too seriously- and treats sex as an enjoyable excercise. It is like good food ads- you feel good about yourself and you want to experience it impulsively.

Do watch the ad. And Do the Rex..

Shudhdha Desi BROmance…

You have seen them many times.

Usually at places of natural beauty. Hill stations, beaches, jungles, plateaus, waterfalls, even sanctuaries.

A group of young and not so young males. Moving in a group, always in a group, they are usually found screeching, screaming, moving fast, wrestling with each other playfully.

Their habitat is India, but they can be found in foreign places when they migrate there temporarily.

They sing popular tunes loudly and thrust their hips aggressively at mountains or sea. They crash beer bottles on grassy plateaus and play raas-leela dressed in their underwear in waterfalls. They sit in their expensive cars or bikes and blast music as they glare at fellow women travellers. They tease birds and animals in protected sanctuaries in ‘wild’ abandon.

I am talking about young, male, Indian homo sapiens who are frequently found in touristy places in India, and occasionally abroad. They hail from various corners and all socio-economic classes.

I have grouped together the various habits of this group and am calling them ‘Shudhdha Desi Bromance’.

If you have observed them long enough and closely, and you have no choice but to, if you ever travel in India, maybe you will agree with me. Following is what they ‘feel’ when they behave in a certain way in public.

Thrusting their collective crotch at awesome natural marvel, like a mountain is MACHO…I will graze this f**ng piece of rock with my bare arms… grrrr…grrr…

Scaring off animals in forrests IS EVOLVED. I can’t stand the fact that I am shit scared and that’s why I am scaring off that squirrel.. if a tiger was here, I would have done the same…but where is the Tiger?? I came so far to this forrest to see tiger… all I see is some trees and birds and animals I don’t even recognise!! I demand to see the tiger. I demand value for money… grrr..grrrr…

Walking slowly on beaches and glaring at every women not dressed in saree IS BEING SANCTIMONIOUS. What else do these chicks expect us red blooded males to do if they wear things like this? Grr..grrrr…

Insulting villagers, local people, or poor people IS BEING SAUVE CITY SLICKERS. What do these ganwar people know? I have paid them, now I have every right to insult and mock them. In English too!! Grrr.grrr…

Talking loudly in confined places like museums, monuments, performance areas IS MY RIGHT. What? You don’t care what I think about how AWESOME Chennai Express is as you watch this stupid Kathakali performance??? Fuc**you ..grrr… grrrr…

Singing Antakshari loudly till late night, in the middle of a quiet hillside resort IS FUN AND COOL. Why are you losers sitting quietly and gazing at the stars? Have some drinks and unleash your vocal cords…grrr..grrrr..

Breaking beer bottles/littering IS MY TERRITORY. Here I mark my territory by making it impossible for anyone to walk here. Grr…grrr..

Giggling compulsively at nude art, and making other people cringe IS SO FUNNY. Power of being in a group… now nobody can ignore my sorry little ass… grrr….grrr…

Of course there are a lot of other habits this particular species have. When they grow middle-aged, they are fond of leaving their wives and kids home, and venture out for a manly trip. They always stay together and stare at women together and drink together and insult locals together.

Sometimes you see some who are from the same family or move with their families. The ladies are usually seen a bit far from sea/ mountain/ valley, sitting coyly in a chai shop or a pub
or on safe spot on beach, cautious, in case a small wave licked their dainty ankle and killed them or something. They are also minding the wee childrens as their men bathe and frolic and come back thumping each other to their beer in collective testosterone competition.

Sometimes they take the ladies in the sea and the ladies shriek and the men hold them proudly. It is obvious that the sissy Arabian sea can do shitall to these women when such gallant protectors are there.

Ladies usually smile indulgently at their boy children who shout and scream and pick flowers and throw stones at animals and run wildly in restaurants. These boys you see, are soon going to join the tribe of the Bromancers.

Because Bromancers, my friends, is a ubiquitous and all-pervasive tribe. No barrier of class/ education/ locality/ age. Bromancers make sure that their macho selves are imprinted firmly on your mind and your experiences no matter where you go. Bromancers are here to stay… unless..

Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish the elusive tiger comes out and eats them. The visual drama girl in me imagines how they would shriek as they get washed underwater from the mighty waterfall. Or how would their gleeful faces look if one wrong step took them to meet the ground in the valley. The filmy in me would like to see a spectacle of them being slowly picked by swarms of birds or bees or small animals they have been teasing and carried forth as a monthly ration.

Till then, one just has to tell them to behave themselves as much as one can – without fear or embarrassment. I have realized that there are so many people who are thoroughly annoyed by these bromancers that you usually have a crowd telling them to shut up and move out as soon as you open your mouth.