In the movie Dil, when a very angry and vengeful Madhu challenges Raja to take on the college boxing champion, Shakti, in the ring, he accepts on one condition: he would get to kiss Madhu publicly. Now, this was the early 90s and 'kissing' in public was the worst thing imaginable, done by only 'bad' people. Not to be outdone, Madhu puts a counter-condition: he would have to kiss her friend, Miss Mimi. The camera shifts focus to show what is in store for Raja, an overweight girl, who is -- no points for guessing -- stuffing her face with food.
Rest of the scene follows Raja trying his best to win the match because, God forbid, he has to kiss the fat girl. Like the characters, even the makers of the movie did not envision a scenario as unbelievable as the hero having to kiss the fat girl. Driven by fear, Raja wins the match, of course.
Years later, when this movie was televised, it only added fuel to the fire to my impressionable mind. When you spend the most part of your childhood trying not to eat your favourite food, or trying not to run along with your friends for fear of being laughed at, when you cut your food intake by half of what your body needs, when all you can think about is how to 'fix' your body, when you can't speak your mind because you believe that if you do, someone will call you 'fat', a scene like that manifests itself into a living horror.
But if you are struggling with body image issues since your adolescence, a scene like this is enough to scar you for life.
Every voice you try to quieten in your head takes a whole new life -- roaring, destructive and all consuming. Now consider this: this film was one of the hundreds of 'popular' Hindi films people like us grew up watching. And when you switched on to television programmes for distraction -- the same template of humour was followed. The 'fat' kid was also always the most stupid and his bungling ways were surefire ways to elicit laughs, the fat woman was either a simpleton or a vicious, conniving creature, the fat man the most uncouth, and a fat person a source of successful humour. Only, being fat is a fact of life for so many of us and yeah, there's just that many jokes, you can take on your body or body-type.
This is burden that is often exclusively yours and at times invisible to the closest of your friends.
And from being an overweight adolescent to an adult who is nowhere close to being thin, India's favourite modes of entertainment -- TV and Bollywood -- have been nothing short of nightmares for me. This is burden that is often exclusively yours and at times invisible to the closest of your friends. Have I laughed along as an adolescent and then as a young adult, at caricatures of fat people on screen? Yes, of course. You don't want to be the spoil-sport, the killjoy, the oh-so-senti-party-pooper.
Dil was 27 years ago. One could argue that sensibilities were different. But one just needs to be a decent human being to see the wrong in this, irrespective of what year it is. If we move from 1990 to 2001, when Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham was released, one would remember that the younger Rohan Raichand was called Laddu. But see, how progressive! At least Rohan is not an overeating, cartoonish character. A couple of years later I sat and watched Sweetu from Kal Ho Na Ho -- who was of course silly and superficial compared to the thin leading lady -- being told by other characters that she should give up her dreams of finding a suitable boy because who would fall in love with a fat person!
But one just needs to be a decent human being to see the wrong in this, irrespective of what year it is.
In fact, let's talk about last year when the putrid Comedy Nights With Kapil was on air. Kiku Sharda would dress up as a woman, who would be called all sorts of name. Why? Because she is a fat woman, of course. In which world this passes for funny escapes me.
Even in a movie that tried to address the issue of fat-shaming like Dum Laga Ke Haisha, it takes a competition, public humiliation and the intervention of some seriously devoted relatives for the fat person to be accepted by the spouse. One would feel overcome by the bittersweet story but would fail to relate to the story of Prem and Sandhya because things like this do not happen. Competitions do not save marriages.
Fat people on TV are always the other -- rejected or at the most, accepted only after a long conflict.
Much as Bollywood tries to address the issue, there will always be an episode on some supremely unfunny show on television that will be waiting to undo everything. Fat people on TV are always the 'other' -- rejected or at the most, accepted only after a long conflict. It is never the norm. In time it probably will but the time is, apparently, not now. And jokes are always made at the expense of the other.
Yeah, yeah, some of you might be thinking, we need to 'take a chill pill' and relax because it's only a joke yaar! Right? Then you're a part of the problem and the reason why fat-shaming is considered 'funny'.