When the Girl Cried Wolf

Several years ago, when Meher Ramesh’s Kantri came out, there were a bunch of people who took to the streets saying that the film portrayed people who belonged to the scheduled caste and scheduled tribes cheaply. The film had the hero, Jr. NTR, live in a slum while his profession was a street goon who did anything for money. The ‘offensive part’ came in because his slum had a Dr. B.R. Ambedkar statue in it. So the people who were rallying for taking this scene out said that:

  1. It was an insult to Dr. Amedkar, and
  2. The director was generalizing that people who belonged to ‘lower castes’ (whatever that means) would be uneducated rowdies who did cheap and illegal work for money.

Frankly, I am crazy about cinema and its every tiny detail but if it wasn’t for this retaliation all over the news, I wouldn’t even have noticed the Dr. Ambedkar statue in the slums while I watched the film in the theater. It was that inconspicuous and irrelevant.

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Now I see a lot of people writing articles and uploading videos where they mention their disgust over the Rape of Avantika in Rajamouli’s latest venture, Baahubali. When I did watch this particular scene where Shivudu applies black khol and red lipstick on Avantika and disrobes her dull and earth colored clothes to cloth her in bright red ones, I exclaimed to my friend, “Why is he raping the poor woman. He’s probably taken true inspiration from his Guru, Raghavendra Rao, to portray his sense of romance,” and continued to watch the rest of the film.

The point I am trying to make is, yes, no doubt, this scene is offensive to women. And no, I am not going to use ‘Well, most Indian or Telugu films have always been like this, so why crib about it now or you calling it sexist is not going to make a difference to film making.’

What I am trying to say is; you are educated, you have it in your power to make a choice. A choice to have an opinion or a choice to decide what you want to watch or read for entertainment.

If you really found Baahubali, or the Avantika scene in particular very sexist, if you felt that she was being raped, why did you sit through and watch that scene and the rest of the movie? Why didn’t you leave the theater then and there, when you were disgusted? If you did that, then I would see your point and applaud you for your principles, and if you didn’t and continued to watch the rape only to walk out of the theater and make a video or blog about it, I’m going to call you a hypocrite. Because, you see, in my opinion, you are not a feminist; you are just nit-picking. And let me also say, I completely understand your anguish, but it clearly lacks sincerity.

Allow me to nit-pick as well. Why were only the lead men with great bodies in Baahubali shown half naked? Is it because they were sporting the 6-pack? Are men who do not have a sexy and muscular body not worth seeing half naked at all? Is this why we didn’t get to see a shirtless or armor-less Kattappa? Why was Bijjaladeva’s upper body always covered in a silk shawl? Was it because of his handicap? Why are we cheaply discriminating between men who do not have toned bodies or are handicapped? Why are we being six-packists?

You see what I’m trying to say? I’m in no way saying that the way women are portrayed in our movies is justified. Time and again, women have been objectified in every film industry. And that is not right. But things are changing for us and we should acknowledge that. Stop the spite. For an Avantika that was shown, there was a Shivagami too. And to me and most women who watched this film, Shivagami is who we chose to carry out in our head when we walked out after watching the film.  The director’s intent when he made Baahubali was not to educate uncouth, illiterates on how to de-robe a female soldier. Do not expect every movie you watch to have a message that benefits society. That’s not why most people make movies, because if that was their goal, they would be philanthropists instead. If all you want is a message oriented thing, go and sit in a Human Values lecture.

Irrespective of whether women are shown in a certain way or not, crimes against women continue to happen. Such acts are essentially not happening because someone saw a film somewhere and is inspired by it. People always, always, and ALWAYS have a choice in what they do. The kind of films they watch, the kind of books they read. When I was a teenager, I read Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline and this book disturbed me for a few weeks. There is this particular shady character in the book that takes women, and strips them completely naked and ties a red ribbon around their neck, rapes them, videotapes the episode and then kills the women. After I had completed this book, I looked at every male stranger with suspicion and tried to peep into their pocket to see if they had a red ribbon hidden somewhere. Of course, I grew up and realized not all men are serial killers, and that if I come across a book that disgusting, I must stop reading it. I hope people who are writing such spiteful blogs or making such videos while donning fake feminism realize that they have this option. It is in your hands whether you want to encourage a certain film or not, you are not being dragged and tied up to a chair to watch something.

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This issue isn’t just about Baahubali for that matter. Telugu film industry, just like any other film industry in the country, is and will continue to be regressive towards women, as long as we allow them to be.

Samantha will continue to tweet about a regressive poster from Nenokkadine, where the heroine is crawling behind the hero like his watchdog while she continues to allow a Naga Chaitanya to kiss her feet in Ye Maaya Chesave. Because, for her the former is male chauvinism while the latter is Gautham Menon’s tasteful romance, but to me, it is about equality of both genders and her’s is plain hypocrisy. So if you are displeased with this kind of misogyny, go watch a Malayalam film with a good storyline. From what I have seen in them, Nazariya playing a bride in Bangalore Days is dressed more elegantly and realistically than the way Samantha is skimpily dressed while she is not only being held captive but is simply the bride, Nithya Menon’s aide in the song ‘Super Machi’ from S/O Sathyamurthy.

I was recently watching this Telugu talk show, Open Heart with RK. Normally, I do not watch such crappy shows, but I was on a ‘Telugu film directors’ high and was watching RK interview Rajamouli. Here’s how it went.

RK: So are you sleeping with anyone other than your wife. Like any heroines?

Rajamouli: (smiles) No, I am very loyal to my wife.

RK couldn’t shut up after that

RK: 100% sure, no affairs?

Rajamouli: (still smiling) Yes, 100%

RK the dork: Haha, really, ok… (gives a disgusting smirk that amounts to, yeah, right, you think I believe you, to which Rajamouli says nothing)

Personally, I found the way RK put forth his question very indecent. One, Rajamouli is not going to tell you on national TV if he’s sleeping around with someone other than his wife, and two, you do not smirk so cheaply while asking such a question. I turned the TV off because I couldn’t watch any further.

When my mom was visiting me last year, I had to buy the Indian channels package so she could watch her daily serials and shows she religiously followed on TV. There was this particular channel; I believe Maa TV, that continuously had scrolls about a new talk show by the Telugu comedian, Ali, called Ali Talkies. Now I like Ali as a comedian and was a little excited to watch this show hoping for some good comedy. This show called actors and actresses promoting their upcoming films and Ali, unabashedly, made vulgar jokes about a lot of things. About his co-anchor’s clothes. About how she looked sexier in western clothes as opposed to when she wore a saree. He made more crass comments about the actress who was on the show to promote her film by asking her if the reason behind her steamy chemistry with JD Chakravarthy in the film was because she had “lap-chik” with him off screen. I turned the TV off and never watched that show again.

Some people do not care to play an Avantika on-screen. Let them be. Another actress, Rambha, said to a Telugu director who is known was throwing fruits and flowers on a woman’s midriff and calling it romance, “Gurugaru, you did not throw any fruits on me in this film.” She said this on national TV, when she came on a show called Soundarya Lahari, with a really sad face and pouty lips. Let these people be. We are the ones who have the choice to watch this kind of shit or boycott it.

While there are these people, there are also actresses like Kangana Ranaut who declined a 2 crore offer to star in a fairness ad commercial because of her principles. Let us look at the brighter side of the story.

When a woman in our country is raped and is lying naked on the street, some people choose not to help her while some people choose come forward and rush her to the nearest hospital. When a bunch of vagabonds are eve teasing a girl walking on the street, they are not doing it solely because they watched Kundan Shankar torment Zoya to accept his love in Raanjhanaa. And if a guy does go forward and help the girl who is being teased, he didn’t do it solely because he watched Balu punch to pulp, a bunch of eve teasers who were troubling Bujji in Tholiprema.

When I recently watched the trailer of the upcoming Telugu movie, Rudramadevi, I decided that I’m not going to watch it. For me, Rudramadevi has been one of the bravest warriors from South India. But if Gunaskehar decides to portray such a bold and fearless woman as someone who wears a diamond studded bra and silk pajamas while she’s dancing to a melody, under a waterfall and romancing her lover by letting him adorn her with jungle flowers, I’m not going to watch it. Because the essence of her commendable biography that deserves respect has been taken away by a lousy director. I’m not going to be one of those people who go to the theater, watch it and crib about how insulting it is to warrior princesses and to women, in general. And keep in mind, if thousands of people did that, a film won’t do well, collect all the money it does, break all box office records, and the director would be forced to look into his crappy screenplay.

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Our country is changing. Our mindset is changing. It is going to take decades to bring about the change we would love to see, but it has already begun. But first things first, not all of our men are stupid enough to be influenced by what they see on TV, watch at the theater or read at home. Let us give them that credit. They deserve it. Let us stop hiding under the mask of fake-feminism. Let us learn to take offense rightly. Let us stop taking pretentious offense, irrespective of whether something is important and trivial under the garb of sisterhood.

Let us stop crying Wolf every now and then, ever so often, at fiction or reel life because when the Wolf really comes in real life, nobody would be willing to believe us or hear us out.

Baahubali – The Enigma

“India does not need a 250 crore budget movie at this time.”

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This is how I have felt every time I caught a glimpse of any news related to Baahubali over the last couple of years. I have incessantly argued with people who have told me that I must consider entertainment as entertainment and nothing beyond that. But in my opinion, Baahubali – the biggest movie ever made in the history of our country, is not what our country needs right now. If someone had 250 crores, why would they invest the money in something as frivolous as an epic war film. Think about all the progression that could have taken place had this massive budget been put to good use. Progress! That’s what the country needs right now. We have so many other pressing problems. Besides isn’t more than half of the money invested in the film black money? It is being said that the lead actor, Prabhas, will take home about 20 crores for this film. Will Prabhas ever pay all the right kinds of taxes on his earnings?

Apparently, the movie hired a few thousand people over the past two years. That means, as many as 2000 – 5000 thousand junior artists and technicians earned their daily bread and butter because they were on the Baahubali team. That’s pretty close to having a private job, similar to the MNC kind, without the benefits of course.

It is believed that around 20 acres of land in the Ramoji Film City was employed for the sole purpose of growing corn. And what was this massive corn crop grown for? To shoot a few scenes in a movie. There are hundreds of thousands of farmers with or without their own land, with or without water resources to water their land, with or without the means to work and manage their cultivation activities, and here, is this crazy team using extensive plots of land for aesthetic movie scenes. What happens to the entire crop after the shoot? If there is such fertile land, capable of growing tons of corn, is show casing the crop in a movie its best use?  

The movie is made by a common man who is only 9 films old. A man who started his career by directing mindless daily serials that had oodles of family drama in them and went on to dare and put Indian cinema out there on the world podium. A man passionate about cinema, a man who dared to dream big. A man who had the guts to show to the fanatic Telugu audience that the director is the true hero in any film.

The movie is directed by a man who hasn’t made one thing that is not a revenge story. Big protagonists, bigger and ugly antagonists. His heroines almost always have no role in the movie expect when they wear skimpy clothes and run around ancient forts begging their heroes to do ‘censor board approved’ stuff to them. It is said that the man is stunted when it comes to having an original vision and oftentimes plagiarizes from the West. Be it from Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, Our Hospitality or Cockroach. The man always chooses his cousin to deliver the music for his films and the cousin composes the kind of music that makes your hair stand on its end, well, at least until you realize that the tune was lifted from some German album. Also the hero or the villain is eternally and intentionally better clad when compared to the heroine; even when she is a princess and he is a mere soldier because the true sense of power obviously lies in the men. Which is why the tons of money and time are spent on how the men look, and in designing a new and ghastly weapon for them to hold in order to make them look like demi-gods. 

They said that the movie ticket would cost us $20. That, to me, is ridiculous. Telugu movie tickets are overpriced to begin with, especially when you compare them to tickets for a Hollywood or Bollywood movie. The tickets are priced based on the lead actor so you could pay anywhere between $12 to 16$ to watch a Telugu movie. But $20, huh!?! Well, at least Thank God, that’s what I am going to have to pay. The tickets are $25 in some cities in California and $28 in some places in Virginia. Of course, they are going to charge that much. What would be a better way to recover all those crores they invested into this film?

I went and watched Baahubali – The Beginning on Saturday, last week. I woke up on Sunday morning with a movie hangover and so, I watched another epic war film, 300, to get over this one.

India does not need a 250 crore budget movie right now. If I ever had 250 crores to spend, I wouldn’t invest the money in a movie.

This morning, I went online and spent another $20 and got myself a ticket for the evening show. I guess I haven’t gotten enough of Shivagami and Kattappa.

And S.S. Rajamouli, of course!