On September 5 last year, Amitabh Bachchan uploaded a video on Facebook where he was seen reading an 'open letter' that he'd written to his grand-daughters Navya Navelli and Aradhya.
The letter read something like this:
"Both of you may be a Nanda or a Bachchan, but you are also girls...women! And because you are women people will force their thinking, their boundaries on you.They will tell you how to dress, how to behave, who you can meet and where you can go. Don't live in the shadows of people's judgment. Make your own choices."
Bachchan further wrote:
"Don't let anyone make you believe that the length of your skirt is a measure of your character. This may be a difficult, difficult world to be a woman. But I believe that it is women like you that will change that. It may not be easy, setting your own boundaries, making your own choices, rising above people 's judgment. But YOU !...you can set an example for women everywhere."
While a lot of media outlets immediately lauded him for taking a staunchly feminist stand, it was only a couple of days later that one understood the actual purpose of the very public letter. Bachchan's Pink, a movie about female empowerment, was due for release 10 days later.
While many found it as a publicity gimmick for the film (which it was), if feminism is being promoted by some of India's most influential names, for whatever reasons, it can't hurt. The message still stands, though it loses its sheen as it's orchestrated and not, say, as sincere as one would like it to be.
Cut to the Priyanka Chopra dress controversy. When India's latest crossover sensation met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Berlin recently, the attention of a set of people on social media was on the length of her skirt and how she should have 'dressed more appropriately' to meet the Prime Minister.
Now, when Amitabh Bachchan was asked about his view on this, what'd you expect him to say? At least show some consistency of thought and maybe reinstate the lines from his own letter?
"Don't let anyone make you believe that the length of your skirt is a measure of your character."
This is a very powerful line which he'd presumably written himself. But no. What did Bachchan do? He dismissed the question by saying, "I am neither the PM nor Priyanka Chopra. How can I answer then?"
Because his next film isn't about women empowerment so I suppose it doesn't make any 'commercial sense' for Bachchan to champion the cause. It's inconvenient, too. What can he really gain by taking on the massive troll brigade that believes a woman should be 'appropriately dressed' in front of Modi?
His reluctance to stand up for targetted social media attack on Chopra only goes on to reveal his pseudo feminist side, which comes out in the open, through carefully shot home videos, only when there's box-office merit in it.
It's hypocritical of him to keep harping on about women empowerment and beti padhao campaigns when he finds it so difficult to utter two sentences on how deeply sexist it is to attack Chopra for the choice of her wardrobe. What's the point of championing causes when they cannot go beyond selective lip-service and when he fails in any practical demonstration of his supposed belief-system?
It's one thing to broadly speak about how 'deeply you' feel for the cause. But if that doesn't translate in using your celebrity to defend a peer, then it's literally worth nothing beyond a shallow PR exercise to create a 'progressive image.' It's telling of the duplicity of thought and the fact that these are causes he supports for effect and not something that he actually believes in.
You may argue that "what if he doesn't want to?" Now, that argument would hold water if he had not tried to brand himself as someone who genuinely cares. If he has portrayed himself as someone who wants his daughters and grand-daughters to challenge staid notions perpetuated by our patriarchal society, he's somewhere accountable to live up to that image. When an actress from his fraternity is attacked and he chooses to look the other way, he is very much complicit in encouraging the same mindset he was trying to challenge when Pink released in theatres.
While most of Bollywood maintained a stoic silence over the controversy (as they do when there's a political tint to an issue, any issue), a more measured comment came from Varun Dhawan.
When asked about it, he said, "She is someone we all should be proud of in our country...she is making our country proud abroad. All this is very stupid and social media trolling is not something that needs to become a national issue."
That's all it took, Mr. Bachchan.
You are neither X nor Y in a lot of other scenarios but one look at your Twitter feed, and it's filled with a lot of gyaan on a whole number of things that are of no real consequence. Fair, it's your time and your timeline and you can choose to do whatever you wish to with it.
Nobody expects Bollywood to stand up for a cause or give an opinion on their own. But when a question that's relevant to the news comes your way, the least you can do is to uphold a worldview which you were passionately championing only months ago.
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