Everyone seems to be feeling the heat these days, particularly those who have been in the eye of the storm. Not that the harsh Delhi summer makes it any easier. The pollution in the city and the heated debates in Parliament and on news channels leave us feeling worse. Extreme weather and extreme measures are totally unwelcome and this is what Vijay Mallya does not seem to realise. To sit in the posh “Ladywalk” mansion and talk of never returning to face the jury and the Enforcement Directorate is an amazing feat which must be lauded. Not only does Mallya look stupid, he is something we should have banished to London long ago especially since he refuses to address the question of how he is going to return the money he owes to the banks, choosing to speak of his ethics and moral standards instead. To speak of ethics, there are two issues that come to my mind. Firstly, the political circus around the Augusta Westland chopper scam and its alleged beneficiaries and the recent spat between two leading actors of the Indian film fraternity, which, by the way, has nothing fraternal about it. Kangana Ranaut and Hrithik Roshan and now the spellbound Adhyayan Suman, who recently joined the bitter fight, seemed to have occupied news space for over a fortnight. This forces me to read about the issue every day and may be write as well.

Adhyayan Suman and his parents have blatantly stated that Ranaut believes and practises black magic, a means she used to hegemonise Shekhar Suman’s son. She is accused of using “tools” such as supari (betel nut) and even her menstrual blood, apart from having a priest come in and cast her spell on him. Firstly, this picture of the wicked Ranaut and her witchcraft is a means that men have used from time immemorial to label women and denounce them. This is disgusting and speaks of how some people from the so-called “fraternity” treat their leading ladies as there has been absolute silence regarding this issue. Not one actress has had the guts to speak for her and yet actresses regularly refer to themselves as “good friends”, who belong to a fraternity. Secondly, even if she engages in witchcraft, it needs to be understood that this has always been performed with the assistance or the central role of men. Yet it is women who are identified as witches. It is a worth remembering that all the so called “godmen” in this country are primarily men and only recently have women realised the dividends this professions pays in terms of material benefits and influence. Thirdly, to label her as a whore and a witch is the best thing to do especially since she refuses to bow down and remains defiant. As a society, we are yet to come to terms with defiance on the part of women.  This episode is also a stark reminder that women in dominant roles are still vulnerable, and that success does not come to them easily. Their success boils down to the spells, sexual exploits and witchcraft they engage in, which pays huge dividends. In this particular episode too, nobody is discussing the issue at hand, rather everyone has been quick to suggest that “Hrithik is honest”, which basically is a decent way to cast aspersions on Ranaut’s character. In reality, this has nothing to do with feminism, rather it is a denial of human dignity and privacy that we keep harping about these days.

What does Adhyayan Suman want to do with the details he has laid bare? That is a question only he can answer, but what is clear that the media too seems to be having a good time in this slugfest. Such is the hypocrisy of some media organisations that only recently have they realised that Ranaut is a rare soul, who needs to be celebrated and discussed.

Lastly, labelling has played a crucial role in this entire spat between Ranaut and Roshan. Firstly, their alleged relationship has been loosely called an “affair”. Secondly, Ranaut has been described as someone prone to hallucinations and someone who has been diagnosed with the Asperger syndrome. In short, all efforts have been made to describe Ranaut as mentally unstable and incapable of understanding things, reminding us of the depiction of Meenakshi as the unstable woman in the Rishi Kapoor and Meenakshi starrer Damini.

This entire episode has saddened some of us primarily because actresses in India continue to be denied the success they have achieved and despite the recent surge in women centric cinema, their position remains pretty much the same. They are made to realise that they should learn to play second fiddle to their male counterparts or else they will be damned as witches and whores. Moreover, despite the demand that people, particularly celebrities, open up regarding their emotional pressures and illnesses, there is still some stigma attached to it and we are not yet ready to accept people who we consider unfit.

This brings us to the sad aspect of the position of women in India which the recent brutal gang-rape of a Dalit law student in election bound Kerala shows. Why are we surprised? Has society not been labelling and harassing women time and again? We will never know what went through the young Pratyusha Banerjee’s mind while contemplating killing herself. What we know is, she knew that she would be treated unfairly for falling pregnant without marriage or the label would she acquire if her then boyfriend deserted her. If this is how things are, we still cannot expect any respite from the skewed sex ratio in this country.


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