I have always adored Deepika Padukone. A beautiful star who actually knows how to act is uncommon in Bollywood. From a timid actress promoting Om Shanti Om in the shadow of Shah Rukh Khan to the bold woman holding her own in the media and beyond, she has come a long way. She stands out as a woman of grit, integrity, and self-confidence.
Recently, she spoke out both in print and on TV about a phase in life in which she suffered from depression. With her pots of money, beauty to die for, success and fame, many people were in disbelief. She must be doing this for publicity, they said. I disagree. Deepika doesn't need publicity to make people watch her movie. I take it as she said it - it was about awareness.
Now she's back in the news for her role in Vogue India's controversial My Choice ad. I have watched the film several times. Made in black and white, with just Deepika's voice and gentle music, I found its message to be powerful and emphatic. Good work Deepika, good job team, good job Vogue India.
I am well aware that I am in the minority. The video has received major criticism, which can be read across social media. The manifold reasons cited include: the video is weird - flying hair and unhooked bras do not fit in with a message of woman empowerment; statements that it's a woman's choice to have sex outside of marriage propagate female chauvinism rather than gender equality; the video speaks only to privileged women who anyway have all the choices they want; and so on. The video is receiving a thorough bashing.
Amongst all this, I sympathise with Deepika. At least she speaks up about important issues, whether it's for publicity or not. If anything, she may lose fans because she has spoken about depression and sexual choice.
" I believe that this video does actually fail on several counts if viewed from the lens of feminism or gender equality alone. Where it does succeed is in its message about standing up for your own rights ..."
I believe that this video does actually fail on several counts if viewed from the lens of feminism or gender equality alone. Where it does succeed is in its message about standing up for your own rights -- a human being's fundamental rights.
Talking about the vast majority of the female population, will women begin making their own choices? Will unhooking their bra give them equal rights in the society? Will sex outside the marriage give them the dignity they deserve?
The answer is no. Many people in this country, both men and women, have deeply engrained ideas about gender roles. They are the ones who strongly believe that women are born to follow certain rules set by the society, and take up a set of responsibilities including bearing babies. They are born to be quiet, to be submissive, to be tread upon. They have to live for others. They are groomed to have no self-respect, no self-love, no self-compassion, and, above all, no identity. And they live with it. And die without it.
Then there are people who do not need further awakening. They exercise their right to choose on a daily basis.
" Yet, there is a chance, however slim, that some people who watch this video will get inspired. Who start thinking that maybe they do have a choice."
Those who do need to know that there is such a thing as choice do not have the means to watch the video, or are not allowed to. They are not even allowed to pick their own spouse or when they will have children. For this sizeable chunk of the population, the video means nothing. It may as well not exist.
Yet, there is a chance, however slim, that some people who watch this video will get inspired. Who start thinking that maybe they do have a choice. A woman may realise that she is a human being. Like all other human beings, she can have emotions and feelings. Like all human beings, she can have her own choices. She can feel happy, satisfied, content or joyous. She can feel hungry, exhausted, bored or exasperated. She can feel pain and pleasure, love and hatred, respect and contempt.
She can have dreams and objectives for her own life. She can nurture her ambitions, be it writing, flying, building, driving or raising a child. She can disobey and defy the rules of society if that is what she thinks is right. She can think, she can talk and she can have her opinions. She can be identified rather than being objectified.
If at all she wants to live life by her own choices rather than those of her family or society, she has to stand up for herself and love herself. She has to fight the world, for the world will definitely try to come in her way. This is not going to be easy, but it will definitely be more pleasurable than living life on puppet strings. Placards and slogans will not help, videos and talk shows will not help, others talking for you will not help. It is you who can do it for yourself.