An Entire Spectrum of Insensitivity – From Sweta to Parineeti


Before I editorialise what I am about to, let me first laud a verse penned by Sweta Basu Prasad, which she says she did on the fifth night of her stay at a remand home – I take the liberty to reproduce ‘The Cliff’ as it is called, here:

Click here for Mumbai Mirror’s cover story (Nov 4, 2014) on Sweta Basu Prasad – her side of the story

Thunderstruck, all alone, I stand here at the edge of the cliff
 I crawled the dense forest to get here, 
 The tribes and wild and strays
 They say 'jump, jump from the cliff.'
 As I look down, naked, cold and trembling,
 The ferocious sea I see with its mouth open
 It's ready to swallow me.
 The noises are unbearable, the place so dark. 
 As I decided to jump in the sea I saw the North Star.
 I remembered how it shone above my blessed home
 where singing, hugging, and laughter awaited me
 I said, 'Wait, I want to go home'.
 The voices murmured, 'End the journey.'
 'Jump! Jump you ugly thing.'
 I smiled to them and pitied them, 
 They don't know I have wings.

Sweta is a child actor, a National Award winner, and most importantly, a girl who, when arrested under the charged of prostitution (sub judice) in a much-publicized ‘sting’ operation and put in a remand home for two months, got busy teaching other children and youngsters living under similar circumstances but having seen less privilege, education, and certainly no fame. Fame, is probably, what Sweta has seen both sides of now: her story drew every type of reaction from the society – pity to sympathy to disapproval to a strong feeling of solidarity – noted TV actress Sakshi Tanwar wrote a beautiful letter on Sweta’s plight ‘My On-screen daughter’, Sakshi Tanwar’s act of courage in speaking out for Sweta Basu Prasad. Let her case be what it is, let the law take its own course, one thing is certain: in the sheer noise and mayhem of her world, Sweta’s verse shows she is still the master of her talents, her mind, and most of all, her dignity. Her poise, the absolute absence of rancor in her narrative of her story stands testimony to her strength – it tells us she has wings, and jump, she will not off the cliff.

On the other end of the very same spectrum – and 24 hours after Sweta’s version hitting the news-stands, comes a star’s (okay, a rising star’s) lame apology and explanation: “Did not mean to offend; it was the show’s creative team that asked us to do it”. Yes, the Parineeti Chopra who had a young journalist (male) schooled at a press conference on the subject of menstruation, the same young woman who has spoken out time and again about gender inequality and bias, was facing flak for playing a “prank” on a reality TV show contestant that entailed her accusing him of touching her inappropriately.

Of course, the Bigg Boss, Salman Khan, was in on it all and for all his Bhai-dom (on the screen and off it), allowed it, not without carrying on with the playacting for a while. The social media went viral with reservations about the prank’s trivializing impact on an issue that is rampant in India – that of sexual harassment. Not only that, Parineeti’s Kill Dill co-star Ranveer Singh who had made a big show of support during the Deepika Padukone “cleavage” controversy, talking about dignity and respect, stood aside during the “prank”. This behaviour somehow gives credence to the cynicism expressed by many over the Deepika controversy with the idea that it wasn’t because the pictures were taken and published that DP was furious, it was that she was not being paid for it. If that sounds distasteful, so is the media voyuerism that I think DP rightfully made an issue about. Alas! words are words, money is money. And promoting a film, well that overrides all concerns about the impact of the exercise beyond the circle of influence of the Box Office.

Well, it heartens me to know that Parineeti and her KD team sent pizzas to the Bigg Boss House and that she wants us to take the issue lightly. We know that her hands were tied, her stardom and her film’s success was at stake, that she was in no condition whatsoever to resist the creative assault of the big idea given her to enact. After all, she’s an actress and her job is to act. I do not understand why is she being called upon to defend herself, though. The questions as well as the disgust should be directed towards the production house and the creative team involved.

In the cynical frame of my mind, Freddie Mercury’s immortal words come flooding in (not a fan of his music anyway): “I am a musical prostitute, my dear”.

By the way, the word prostitute has the following meanings:

1) One who solicits and accepts payment for sex acts.

2) One who sells one’s abilities, talent, or name for an unworthy purpose.
What makes it so easy for us to blame just the women. This is as much as question as it is not. What price this moral grandstanding?

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