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DEEPIKA PADUKONE & THE “IT’S MY CHOICE” VIDEO: MISFIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS!

“Vogue” roped in Homi Adjania & Deepika Padukone for its Vogue Empower video on women’s empowerment in India. A seemingly fantastic mix of editorial, production and marketing choices indeed, which were bound to spur skywards the prospects of all involved. But after 22 million hits on You Tube, strangely, none of them is sure if that happened. So what went wrong?

Vogue India decided to celebrate their 7th anniversary by launching a social awareness initiative, #VogueEmpower, with the aim of drawing attention to women’s empowerment issues which (as per the Vogue website) “touch and impact the lives of both urban and rural women”. As part of the campaign Vogue India planned to include features in the magazine, get its ambassadors to espouse causes, to tie up with Give India to fundraise for various women focused organistations and to finally be a “conduit of change and champion of women’s rights to empowerment of mind, body, thought and action.” The chosen medium were the magazine, social media, multimedia, digital and off line activities with a simple message “It starts with you.”

To reach out to the social media, Vogue made its first video on the theme on the issue of women’s safety, titled Going Home, a film by Vikas Behl, it featured Alia Bhatt and received wide acclaim and was an inferno on the social media.

Emboldened by the response the next video was boldly titled “Its My Choice” and was about a woman’s ability or inability to freely exercise her choices. It’s a slick 2min:35 sec video with a catchy back ground score which had a montage of Deepika Padukone and 98 other women, in various expressions from joy to anger, with Deepika providing the voice over. The art in the video is predominantly black, for greater impact and to also go with the aggressive theme.

The opening lines go along fine when it talks about letting women wear clothes they want to and whether they want to be size zero or 15, because after all these actually are personal choices.Few controversial issues follow such as whether the woman wants to marry or not, whether she wants to have sex before marriage, outside of marriage or not at all, and whether she wants to love temporarily or lust forever, or if she wants to not to love or love a boy or girl- and in all of this Deepika says -it’s her choice. And her (woman’s)choice alone!!! And when adulterous behavior is simplified as a mere matter of mere choice, devoid of sensitivity , then the video would naturally lose appeal.After all havent the men been accused of the same callous attitude?Then how is the same behaviour a sign of empowerment for the fairer sex?Something doesn’t quite click, isn’t it?

The confrontational and “me versus you” undertones become OVERtones when Deepika says “you are my choice, I am not your privilege”. The apparaent trivialisation of the male hardly wins the video support from the “oppressors”, ironically, this is what the video set out to achieve.Instead of thoughtful reflection most men would easily,and damagingly, end up construing that “women’s empowerment = women’s supremacy” !When the reality is just the opposite.

Deepika reveals naivete when she associates empowerment with freedom to return home late and the offensive tone bars the father, brother or partner from even being concerned !The best (or the worst) is saved for the last when Deepika says it’s “her choice”  (alone) whether she wants to have “your” baby or not, and if the male wants it then he is being “cocky” (pun intended?).Now what kind of logic is this??Since when has having a baby been an individual’s choice alone?Isnt it a collective decision?

Finally,Deepika delivers the coup de grace by stating that the women’s songs, order or virtues are essentially a man’s noise, anarchy and sins respectively !Mercifully,the video ends soon after and all that lingers is the scent of controversy.

This Amul ad / topical on the Its My Choice video shows the Amul Girl depicting the montage of Deepika Padukone with open and windblown hair from the video itself. Designed against a black backdrop it is consonance with the black setting in the video too.

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The Tag Line …Its My Choice… is a play on the theme of the #VogueEmpower video.The all yellow “O” is a take on the traditional “bindi” which has been chosen by Vogue as its symbol of women empowered.

The Punch Line … To Use a Butter Knife or to Use My Fingers… is a witty play on the theme of the video while playfully endorsing the inviting and delicious taste of the Amul Butter.

So why did the video not click with the audience?

Vogue went off target right from the start. It chose mostly bourgeois topics to raise awareness. It totally panned to its upwardly mobile clientele and overlooked issues such as equal rights to education, health, support for seeking employment, more representation in public services, work – life balance, dowry, domestic violence, safety and security and respect in public places. So what was covered was essentially the peripherals to the debate.It seems someone at Vogue did his or her studies on women’s empowerment from IIN and goofed it up royally!

Next, the meaning of empowerment is mutual understanding, trust and respect which should lead to equality between the sexes. Whereas the video reduced mutual coexistence between the sexes to the realm of imagination.It alienated its target audience and was rejected across the sexes for being offensive, insensitive, missing the point and portraying an untrue and incomplete dimension of the espoused cause.Instead of a “me and you” approach the video embarked on a “me versus you” trajectory.

The above was exemplified by the controversy over the two most contentious issuse in the video – adultery and child bearing.

The entire agenda got hijacked when the video was seen to endorse adultery – “sex outside of marriage”- as a matter of choice for a woman.The men ofcourse turned around and asked if it was open season for them as well, with no questions asked?Is this what Deepika had in mind when she says “my virtues, your sins”?

The line adopted on the issue bearing a child was another sticking point which exposed the flawed logic and the misplaced sense of empowerment being espoused by Deepika and Co.And here she rings the death knell for the compassion sought to be generated.Women’s empowerment cannot happen without mutual undestanding and factoring in of each others sensitivity.

 As is obvious, the arguments were vacuous and the lines hollow and this undoubtedly damaged the espoused cause substantially.

In the aftermath, the men now, gleefully, demanded that they be not judged when they exercise absolute freedom of choice to love temporarily, lust permannently, to be adulterous and to consider everything about a relationship temporary. This retort and the line of argument by the men not only turned the logic of the video on its head but also exposed its hollowness completely. Seriously, I think Rahul Gandhi did more for women’s empowerment in his disastrous interview with Arnab Goswamy, than this video. At least in his case there wasn’t any hostility associated with the concept! Only hilarity.

The lines on returning home at 4am totally obfuscated the intent behind the video. It was as if the woman was saying that I will do whatever and you, the guy, can neither question (still understandable) nor have the right to be worried. And this in a country where crimes against women are committed on the streets, in the by lanes, homes, neighbourhood, trains, buses, fields, public parks and of all the places – Police Stations! So is being genuinely worried about a woman mutually exclusive with her sense of freedom??? If yes, then for me this is – #VagueEmpower!

The topics spoken about in the video are hardly mirroring rural concerns. Was there any mention of female infanticide (it happens in urban India too) or of the necessity to provide proper ablutions to the women or about the atrocities of the Khap Panchayats? If not then Vogue failed in its stated intent as mentioned in the beginning of the Post.

If it’s about absolute freedom, then let everybody do what they want. Let rapists run riot, let murders be committed, let eve teasing be the norm, let wife beating and marital rape not be cognizable offences, then don’t drag boys to court on charges of rape when they walk out of relationships – as in all these cases it was all about “their” choices and they exercised it. So, whats wrong with it?

Everything.

There is a fine line between freedom of choice and absolute freedom. The latter will lead to chaos and anarchy. Choices have consequences and the ones who make them have to be accountable for it, as these always impact lives of those affected by these choices. Even the universe, which Deepika has alluded to, conforms to rules to maintain order and eschews chaos.

The utter gibberish dished out by Vogue led to numerous spoofs. The best amongst them was the one titled #DogueEmpower, where the cute little canine politely tells us about “his/her” choices. And believe me, the canine’s assertions for exercising “his/ her” choices are far more convincing than those of Deepika Padukone. The video has thus far received over a 100000 hits.

For her part in this charade, Deepika Padukone of course has proven that she is competing with Aliya Bhat for the “new blonde in town” title. She comes across as comfortably dumb, to have not realized the implications of the hollow lines she was parroting. And she can’t seek refuge in the fact that here she was merely in her “on screen” avatar. Doesn’t she add value to her dialogues and roles, in a movie, by sharing inputs with her director? Then we expect her to have exercised her discretion in this case too. Thus she is equally responsible for the fiasco and is also a poor choice as a feminist poster girl.She speaks of the uncaged female spirit and the expanding universe but then in reality does everything that signifies enslavement of a woman’s mind, body and spirit – just to stay on top of in the film industry, which happens to be the most exploitative of the women who are part of it ! Ironical, isnt it?

Padukone’s association with the #VogueEmpower campaign is extremely hypocritical as she is herself endorsing figure slimming cereals and skin lightening creams and perpetuating myths and stereotypes about the way women should be seen rather than want to be seen (choice.. Remember?) So, Deepika, see if you can differentiate between “real” and “fake” feminism!

As for Homi Adjania – “yeh hi hai wrong choice baby”. In the Bollywood flick “Cocktail” he has trashed the freewheeling “snowflake” (girl), in favour of the nice “snowflake” who is the exact antithesis of the “coming-home-at-4am-sex before marriage-sex outside of marriage” type endorsed by him as the poster girl for women’s empowerment. So, Mr Adjania, what do you have to say about this? After all, a director’s work also mirrors his beliefs.And yours appear as hollow as the video you dished out !

The in-congruence of the video also lay in the choice of the 99 women. Though successful in their own right, they are all from privileged backgrounds where they would have hardly ever experienced the denial of a choice. Vogue had hoped to carry out a marketing blitz and cash in on the latest big thing – Indian Feminism. And the fact that the video was a result of a marketing ploy rather than a reflection of the realities of women empowerment explains why it did not resonate even with the mere 30% percent (english speakng) of the population that it targetted.It also suffered due to the poor credibility levels of fashion and life style magazines as they are known to perpetuate trends and stereotypes which are totally against their professed stand on issues such as empowerment !

The video was an utter failure and i really wonder how much #VogueEmpower can do for women’s issues especially when the campaign is floundering and misfiring on all cylinders!

In the end, my heart goes out to Jiten Ram Majhi, who was pilloried when he endorsed the extra marital affair of his son as a consensual relationship. But here , #VogueEmpower wants us to believe that it is a sign of women’s empowerment.If this video would have happened a few months back Majhi could have cited it in his support.

Its never too late though.Makes for good copy and some more juicy controversy !

KASHMIR AND THE DELUGE – A FINE MUDDLE IN A HUGE PUDDLE !

Its early September and Kashmir Valley is in bloom and bustling with tourists.Then it rains for 6 continuous days and soon South Kashmir and the State capital, Srinagar, are submerged under water.With flood waters raging and a dysfunctional State administration the situation became dire and unleashed untold misery on the people, who were left to fend for themselves.

Just prior to the rains, the Pir Panjal Ranges had witnessed heavy snow fall and rapid melting and combined with incessant rains the Jhelum and its tributaries soon brimmed over.Water levels rose steadily and hundreds perished and many thousands remained marooned.

Left to themselves, the local population found its heroes amongst its youth, shikara operators and hundreds others who risked their lives to save others.Make shift rafts, human chains and lines laid across swollen waterways led to the rescue of a huge number of flood victims.At this stage the Indian Army (IA) ,though reeling under the effect of the floods, mobilised more than 250 flood relief columns and went about its job professionally and rescued thousands of people and re-established road and communication links and set up temporary relief camps and dispensaries.The Indian Air Force (IAF) too played its part.

Social media sprung into action and set up numerous links to help those who were stranded in remote areas.Aircel extended its services universally to all mobile users and Indigo airlines joined in as well.NGOs and local youth set up adhoc call centres to provide details of survivors and convey messages from those yet to be recovered.

It was the combined effort of all involved that let to some succour being provided in those harrowing days.

This is when “Peepli Live ” happened.

The media arrived , not at the scene, but in New Delhi and started imagining wild fantasies.Arnab Goswamy shouted and posed questions to which he didnt want answers to.Overnight,it seemed, he had conducted a survey (with the flood waters rising) of every individual in the Valley and arrived at the conclusion (?) that none acknowedged the effort of the IA.

And Barkha Dutt? She went on an aerial survey in a service aircraft and without wetting as much as her little finger assessed all about the situation !

Both these characters and many others like them – self styled (idiots?) custodians of the image of the Security Forces – depicted the people of Kashmir as ungrateful because they had failed to acknowledge the “heroic efforts” of the IA, an institution they reviled, yet were saved by its efforts.Nothing could have been dumber than this and more damaging too!

Did the IA do a favour?No! The institution knows its role and its commitment towards the citizen of the country.It just did its job and sought no reward or recognition.The good work done by the IA was negated by this unwanted media hype.And for old mindsets to change it takes time and not hectoring by the likes of Dutt and Goswamy.

For this yeomen service to the Nation, Barkha and Arnab should permanently travel to the deepest Amazon jungle and cover the “effect of sun light on the menopause of the butterfly” for the rest of their lives.

Interestingly,during the trying times the face of the State administration was Omar Abdullah alone.Where were the others – DC, the Police and the ministers?All had vanished ! They probably thought that if they aren’t around they wouldn’t be blamed at all ! And that after the floods not many would remain to remember it anyway!!!

The Minister for Flood Control didn’t do anything about the measures required while there was time as he thought that his job was to control the flood when it happened and not prevent it !!! (English language !!)

Many blame the CM for not pulling up his colleagues to make them respond during the crisis.But he did “tweet” in his own inimitable style.But could not reach them.So its not their fault, right?After all they are all Cerelac babies and needed to be spoon fed !

The Police too vanished and it seems they have decided to sacrifice themselves to reslove the financial crisis in the State.After this “no show” the Police in the State is now ready to be disbanded and the money thus saved could go towards flood relief !

The Amul ad/ topical on the Kashmir floods depicts a flooded Jhelum and the IA personnel assisting in evacuation of the local population by wading in the raging waters.The Amul Girl is one amongst those being rescued. The strip is showcasing the relief and rescue efforts of the IA but could have done a better job by depicting the efforts of the locals too.

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The Tag Line.Mission Koshishmir..is a play on a hindi movie title “Mission Kashmir” and the hindi word “koshish” which means “to try” and on the name of the Kashmir State.It accentuates upon the mission of the IA to rescue as many people from the floods as possible.

The Punch LineSpread the Word…talks about spreading the word regarding the people still stranded and to be rescued as also subtly endorses the Amul butter.

When Omar Abdullah had been passed on the baton by his father Faroque Abdullah,a lot was expected from the young Chief Minister.With the largesse of lineage to back him he had the mandate to go beyond the normal discourse and stereotype in Kashmiri politics.But he largely failed to control the local “satraps” and in all was a damp squibThis hurt the people of Kashmir when they needed his leadership the most.A previous Amul ad strip on Omar Abdullah had captured the hopes that his elevation in politics had raised.

abdullah omar amul

The Amul ad shows caricatures representing the father son duo on a shikara (a traditional boat used in Kashmir) with Faroque Abdullah having a reassuring arm over Omar’s shoulder and seemingly presenting him to the people as the new face of the state leadership.The tag line and the Punch line are a take on Omar Abdullah’s name and his elevation to the post of Chief Minister.The Amul Girl is shown rowing the Shikara in the Dal Lake, in traditional Kashmiri attire.

In the final analysis, what emerges is that similar floods have hit Srinagar in 1902 and 1959 as well and the lessons were there for all to pay heed to.Yet the deluge was a direct consequence of the neglect of flood control infrastructure and exploitation of wetlands.Flood-monitoring systems are on all rivers in the country with the exception of J&K as the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) has handed over all of Kashmir’s rivers to Pakistan – but given them no concomitant management rights. Besides, there is no room for storage on Jhelum and limited storage on Chenab.

In 2010 the State government had predicted a massive flood within 5 years and recommended preventive measures.Nothing was done about it.Time is up and there’s no guarantee this wont happen next year as well.Its winters in the Valley and no infrastructure can come up before next summer.So lets just keep our fingers crossed.

For the people of Kashmir – see through the media smokescreen.There was genuine effort from the IA and the entire Nation stood by you and felt your pain.

OMG! DEEPIKA PADUKONE & THE “DIRTY TIMES”!

When a leading daily decided to “showcase” the cleavage of actress Deepika Padukone ,it had no idea of the furore about to unfold.Spurred by a spirited counter attack by the actress herself,celebrities & netizens tore into the reputation of the Times of India (TOI).

On 14 September 2014, TOI Entertainment tweeted a link to a web photo gallery with the caption: “OMG: Deepika Padukone’s cleavage show.” The clips shows Deepika wearing a low cut dress designed by Anaita Shroff Adajania for the trailer launch of Chennai Express in 2013

Padukone responded by tweeting -“YES! I Am a Woman. I have breasts AND a cleavage! You got a problem!!??”.

Within no time Deepika was hailed as a crusader.Her reaction was re tweeted more than 7,000 times & #IStandWithDeepikaPadukone started trending.

The newspaper has since tried to backtrack telling her the tweet was intended as a “compliment” !

Padukone came up with her Point of View,titled -My issue is objectification of a real person!In this the actress essentially arguing that the media & the society in general should differentiate between the “REEL” world, depicted by the characters she portrays & the “REAL” world wherein she is woman & deserves to be treated with respect & not objectified by showcasing parts of her body for the sake of head lines & leveraging the power of “influence to proliferate recessive thought”.

TOI came up with its defence wherein it accepted the actresses’ “reel versus real argument” but accused her of hypocrisy especially since she has been photographed “flaunting her body off screen” in “real” life.

Not accepting the faux pas & facing the heat from rivals (who have themselves indulged in similar “objectification”), TOI put forth a vacuous argument & justified its actions by disregarding the actresses’ reservations & confirming the notion that they totally ignored the fact that Deepika is a woman first & an actress later & she needs to be respected.

Media houses need to survive & sometimes they adopt reprehensible tactics (News of the World is a case in point) & justifying their scrupulousness by laying the blame on the society, that they present what is likely to be read or watched more!

Bollywood too is under the scanner for constantly raising the bar for indecency & vulgarity & relying on raunchy “item numbers”, in the name of artistic expression & that “the script demanded it”. Though Bollywood as an entity rallied around Deepika but it continues to perpetuate the very actions which are leading to the increasing objectification of women.

Shakespeare never needed a rape or an intimate scene or an “item number” to progress his script, yet he is known as the greatest playwright ever. Food for thought?

The women in Bollywood too need to stand up against being depicted as “Pinky hai paise walon ki”, or as ” Main to tanduri murgi hoon yaar,Gatkale saiyan alcohol se ” or inviting the hero with ” Aabroo ke silaayi khulegi, Sharm ka bhi lifafa phatega ,Kaddu katega to sab mein batega”.And please stop taking pride in being “item girls”..for an item is essentially an object!!!

Sadly, Deepika, you fumbled when Barkha Dutt asked if you would take the issue of objectification of women in films to its logical end? Your answer was the same banal “if the script demands”….

This is getting too serious!

I have realised that there are some who willingly get exposed & dont mind getting ripped of all dignity as well.And remain thick skinned enough to repeat their ridiculous acts.

Some of the “guests”  on Arnab Goswami’s News Hour are the chief culprits.

Peerzada from Pakistan, is a classic. Almost gullitioned each time that he appears on the show, yet in his exposure lies publicity & may be financial interests.After all “muft mein koi itni beizzati kyon karwayega”..okay i am not game for it !

Next – the spokespersons of political parties.

Rahul Gandhi tears an ordnance in public & gets kudos from his media team!!! Sakshi Maharaj rant about Love Jehad & their party spokesperson defends it by invoking everything under the sun & still doesn’t sound convincing! Stout defence can after all get them in the political fray itself!

Ajit Singh shamelessly tries to blackmail the government into letting him be a regularised “squatter” in a bungalow, by unleashing hordes of “distressed farmers” on New Delhi & its water supply. Exposed totally!! But appears next instant as the “lokpriya kisan neta”! And the closest that Ajit Singh has been to the word ” farmer” is when he orders the Farmhouse Pizza from Dominoes!

Kapil Sibal stated that there was zero loss to the exchequer in the 2G scam when the CAG pegged it at Rupees 1lakh 76 thousand crores!You see in a hurry to make brownie points ,Sibal saw 176 on one page & a pageful of zeroes on the other..and showcased his inteligence!!Then he wanted to be re-elected in 2014!!!

The nation & the crocodiles demand an answer for the secret of the thick skin on these stalwarts!!!!

Coming to the Amul ad/ topical on Deepika Padukone.It depicts a caricature of the actress wearing a similar gown as the one which generated the controversy.A bit of the cleavage too is shown to draw parallels.The Amul girl is the likely assistant while reporters are obscenely vying for odd angles to take sneak pics of the actress.

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The Tag Line…Newspaperazzi…is an apt take on newspapers crossing the line & including tabloid & paperazzi content in the name of news.Thus the inglorious correlation of serious reporting with that of the paperazzi kind!

The Punch Line…Star Power…is inspired by the power of a star to stand for a cause & rally massive support.It also draws a parallel with the Amul butter being a star product with the power to pull customers!

Lastly, Deepika..Shah Rukh Khan..Hrithik Roshan..do take up cudgels against excessive violence, vulgarity & obscenity in films because most confuse the “reel for the real”!

And unlike all papers which reported the incident – I am not tagging this as the “Deepika Padukone cleavage row” .I don’t need publicity at the cost of a woman!