Buffoonery over boobs

The newspaper's 'Dear Deepika' article sought to justify the publication's body objectification

OMG! The Old Lady of Boribunder has Boob envy! Well, if you can be sexist, misogynist, misanthropist, egotist, chauvinist, you may as well add ageist, in the Deepika Padukone-Times of India cleavage controversy. The Old Lady of BB was certainly throwing a high-octane fit of a Super Madam, after all, it was one of her Baby Dolls who had the gall and foolhardiness to lash out at her, and that too, in pubic? Oops, public!

What had she done so wrong, sniffed the Dowager, that had so riled one of her pet cupcakes to kick her sclerotic knees? Just because the buffoony jocks in her media company had decided to have some fun and frolic by zooming in on that fabulous cranny, they are now calling her Crabby Granny?

Mind you, the chimps at ToI Ent have been a great success in grabbing eyeballs (mercifully not any other) with their marketing skills, making the cash registers ring, so what’s the fuss about a regular raw show? The fellas even snarkily tweeted, “It’s a compliment! You look so great that we want to make sure everyone knew! :)” but damn, it had to be deleted after the furore over the chauvinism of the tweet.

And, so, the legendary Old Marm, smarting and inflamed by the stink and ruckus that the cleavage created, resorted to what’s next best in her armour — spite, revenge and a full-on counter blow. A contemptible article was splashed on the front of the Bombay Times, wavering between faux pragmatism, scorn, mockery and even more sexism.

The actress is given a lecture on the chaotic and cluttered online world where sensational headlines are far from uncommon, berated her for her hypocrisy for flaunting her body at photo-shoots, dance shows and movie promos; and, spat out saying it’s a bit rich all this ridiculous modesty coming from someone who started her career as a calendar girl! For the benefit of idiots who still didn’t get it, Bombay Times added a series of pictures of Padukone at the end of the article, which could be titled, “Six More Revealing Cleavages for Nerds”.

Frankly, it’s the ridiculous intrusion of bad taste in public life that is most annoying and bothersome, which the Dowager must be blamed foremost. First, the ToI created Page 3, a cover-up version of the tabloids of the West, but it had all the custom features of objectification and sexism — a parade of It-girls, It-boys and It-bags; celebrityhood and merchandising, star power and party schmoozing; pumped up virility and forced glamour. After unleashing it a decade ago, ToI has now become part of the elaborate, fantasy, dumbed down world.

What else can explain this schizoid ToI world where it asked its corporate brand manager, now National Editor of Supplements including Bombay Times, to write the ridiculous retort to Padukone? Priya Gupta sounded like a vagina ideologue when she lectured Deepika on modesty, nudity, hypocrisy, and how the newspaper “does not zoom into a woman’s vagina or show her nipples. As a newspaper, we take every care to ensure that we pixelate them if they show up in a picture…” Really, how did public discourse come to this low level? When did people defend themselves with this kind of purple prose?

ToI, in a moment of great detachment, shook itself of all responsibility when it said the online world is very different from that of newspapers, where sensationalism is not uncommon. Could breasts have become sensational news, even in the virtual world, if ToI had put the same rigour, veracity, objectivity that they swear to practice in their newspapers? The difference is clear to see — Deepika’s public presence in Cavalli or Abu Jani would just be what it is — first her personality, then the Dress, but never a body part.

The Dear Deepika… letter’s insistence that her cleavage is as sexy as Shah Rukh Khan’s “8-pack” abs does not bring gender equality or fairness, but pushes the stereotyping of body objectification as the trump card of glamour and magnetism. Is the ToI so stupid to believe that Bombay Times should now be a vast crotch shot? Worse, it does nothing for an enlightened discourse on cultural discomforts about nudity and charisma or about media and modernism.

If ToI had not been peeved and resentful about Deepika and the media’s reaction about the shock shaming cleavage, it could have had a spirited public dialogue on whether women and men should be judged solely by their bodies, of rippling abs and smooth cleavages, the deification of the body or its naked manipulation, of liberation and emancipation, about achievements, success and hard work charisma.

But you see, Glam Girls are meant to be nice and quiet, not mouthy and combative, so it was a shocked ToI that was rudely jerked to give an explanation. The accusations against the organisation were fast and furious — ToI was hauled for blaming Deepika for asking for it, focusing on her cleavage and shaming her for it, forcing her to give explanations about the choices she makes, accusing her of seeking cheap publicity, it couldn’t have got worse than this.

On the other side, people have questioned the roles Bollywood female leads like Deepika play that reinforce the regressive female ideal, the submissive woman who never challenges the cultural norm of dominant patriarchy, forever obedient and never breaking taboos or conventions.

While the rest of the media had a gutsy and gritty dialogue about the ideas of liberty and personal choice, and what should dictate media content and ethics; animated and lively debates on female body parts and the male gaze; bare boobs and shiny abs; whether women are shaggable or virtuous, the self-acclaimed market leader of media houses lost its chance to make a brand statement, of being really chic and groovy.

The writer is editor
She lives in New Delhi

Next Story