When Bollywood celebrity Deepika Padukone created a buzz on social media with her Vogue empowerment video My Choice, she got bouquets and brickbats in equal measure. “The video spoke about women’s right to live freely. Among other things, it also endorsed her right to have sex outside marriage. This did not go down well with a lot of men,” says Ankur Poddar, aspiring filmmaker and founder of Brat House Films. Seeing the possibility of telling an alternative story, Poddar uploaded a video titled My Choice — Male Version. Clocking more than 3.5 million views, the video went viral in less than 24 hours. “The reaction was unexpected. A lot of men and women lauded the video for showing how men, if they had sex outside marriage citing ‘My Choice’, would get beaten up in the process by their respective spouses. I wasn’t trying to undermine the Vogue women empowerment video when I made it. At the end of the day, it was a spoof and the first parody to come out at that time.”
For Shwetabh Gangwar, head writer at YouTube channel Mensutra, making a video on ‘the new trend of Indian girls publicly shaming men on Facebook’ was a matter of sheer necessity. It all happened when Jasleen Kaur, a college student, posted details of an alleged eve-teasing incident on her wall. Urging her friends to share it widely, Kaur instigated the public shaming of the alleged eve-teaser. “I was in favour of her standing up to her eve-teaser but I could not stand the post she had put up on her wall. Not only did it violate laws by indulging in defaming, it also violates Facebook’s policies on harassment,” says Gangwar. In less than an hour, Gangwar, made a video in retaliation to Kaur and all those women who indulge in shaming men on social media. “I am not against feminism. But I have had personal experience of women playing the ‘woman card’ to their advantage. These girls are mostly unaware of the consequences of their actions and have no clue about feminism. For example, once a woman who messaged me on Facebook told me about her argument over the fare with an auto driver. Narrating this incident to me, she told me how she felt like ‘Nirbhaya’ because of the argument. Doesn’t that sound preposterous?” asks Gangwar.
Just like Poddar’s My Choice: Male version, Gangwar’s take on the Jasleen Kaur incident became an instant hit with plenty of men and women. “I do not stand for male rights activism and I think men have enough rights. But it can be a natural outcome of loopholes within the newly amended laws,” says Gangwar.
Poddar agrees. “When my video became a hit, many viewers slut shamed Deepika Padukone for supporting sex outside marriage. I corrected them and told them she was only endorsing a brand there. That said, I think there should be a limit to feminism. The point of feminism should be to reach out to all those women who are still struggling for rights and not use it as an advantage for women who are already privileged.”
In a couple of recent interviews, Bollywood celebrites Priyanka and Parineeti Chopra distanced themselves from being ‘feminists’. Apparently, these ‘actively vocal’ women worried that the term would alienate men—including their co-actors and fans— and maintained that they were mere actors in the film industry.
What these instances suggest is a complete lack of understanding of feminism. While it is true that there are chinks in the armour of the modern Indian woman, one cannot ignore the obvious. Most Indian women are still working their way towards gaining basic rights, including the right to move freely, without the intervention of a male. Given that we still have a long way to go when it comes to equal rights for women both on and off screen and have failed to engage with feminist movements, the new-found anxieties and insecurities of the urban male seem to be exaggerated.