What #TimesUp India Is Making Me Realise About Myself

Last week India’s #MeToo / #TimesUp movement rose (again), sparked off by Mahima Kukreja’s outing of standup comic Ustav Chakrobarty sending unsolicited dickpics and badgering underage girls for nudes. It set off a chain reaction examining the complicit parties, the enablers and patterns of predators. Thread:

Since then it has spread to other performance spaces, to advertising, to media, to journalism, to publishing and more. All these alongside Bollywood’s own filth outing with Tanushree Datta’s allegations against Nana Patekar. And across the ocean, the US is grappling with the same issue over a man named Brett Kavanaugh. Sharing this video here as the only positive note of this story: 

On one hand, I am so glad that these stories are finally finding their voices. I cannot even begin to comprehend the trauma of carrying these toxic secrets for so long and there are so many, so many of them. Every morning I’m waking up in fear over which man I’ve known, read, watched, applauded, appreciated, spoken to, smiled at will be outed as the next sexual predator. We are in so much pain.

It’s forcing a mirror to all of society and not just its toxic males. A few men I know have been outed at predators. Did I know? Did I suspect? Was that action that I shrugged off, actually an indication of something more sinister? Should I have laughed at that joke? Should I have warned this person? I introduced these people; what if one person took that as a trust guarantee and do I carry some responsibility if anything happened? What am I missing in the world and about the people around me, today?

So many of the stories I’m hearing have not even made it out yet because the victims fear that they are too young/unimportant/powerless and that their predators are too famous/rich/powerful. I am grappling with recognising that the victim of an assault or harassment can build an unreal sense of the perpetrator’s power while trying not to invalidate their feelings. How can you say “I believe you” and “No, that’s not true” at the same time?

Then there was the outing of someone I knew slightly and hadn’t really liked (though not because I had an encounter of this kind with him). He was outed by someone who in the past, has enabled my own abuser despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The question that hung over me was ‘Should I support someone who did not support me?’. It was a time of personal reckoning, figuring out who I wanted to be. I’d thought these aspects of my character would be set and figured out by this time in my life. Clearly, character is a lifelong process of testing. I passed. I don’t know that I feel good about it. Is feeling like I was denied justice, a better feeling to live with than guilt and vindication?

This same person, along with a lot of other people also put out a call asking to be told if they were friends with an abuser. It made me really angry at first. And then I realised, people don’t know what they’re asking for, when they ask for that door to be opened. When the sheer magnitude of this truth hits them, many recoil and their reaction is to assume they get to judge whether they should take action or not. No, I say. The minute you ask for the truth, you are asking for the victim’s trust. And the minute you bring judgement in, you are violating that trust. Complete trust in return for total lack of judgement is the deal. Here’s my thread on this matter:

Having said this, I’m realising that maybe I invite confessions and sharing from people just by talking about these issues. Over a decade ago, when I wrote this post about child abuse, it provoked a volley of reactions that I did not expect and did not know how to handle. I considered quitting blogging. A friend told me that I had stood for something and that mattered to the people who were sharing with me and that I had a responsibility towards them. I interpreted that to mean I’d have to be a space of listening (since I’m not qualified in any other way to advise, heal, police or protect). If you read the above post, please also read this as the conclusion of that. I am rethinking this now.

I asked a close friend (a survivor and an activist) for advice. This person asked me how many people who were spilling their truths onto me and expecting me to rescue them, showed up for me back in 2012? I could argue that some of them were too young, some too married (like this is an illness that renders one incapable of logical and just thought towards unmarried people), some not strong enough (as if strength is a talent some are born with and which becomes public property to exploit). My answer was…NOBODY. I have tried hard not to become cynical about people since then and I’ll admit I often slip up. I cannot forget that I live in a world that enables and applauds my abusers for the same things that they attack and condemn me for experiencing. It is so hard to feel empathy for enablers, even harder than feeling it for the perpetrators.

And finally, I am realising how easy it is going to be vomit, to dump, to offload resentment and rage. Neither of these are logical or fair-minded. They just are — powerful and unstoppable. I’m trying hard not to talk about my own experiences partly because I do not want to co-opt the narratives of the people speaking up for the first time and partly because it might become a case of Chinese whispers with people blaming my perps for things they did not do as part of the pervasive ‘Men are trash’ feeling. As justified as that feels, I know I cannot live with those feelings. I just can’t.

Mercifully a friend who’s been away from all this rescued me in a single conversation last evening by asking me to remember to retain my capacity for joy. That’s all. We each have to live with the consequences of our actions, our emotions and our words. What’s most important in the long, long run of life? I choose joy.

Stay safe. Stay sane. Stay you.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

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I Don’t Celebrate Halloween, Can I Leave?

I thought about him yesterday. Not the angry, violent, horrible monster that the later times have made me need to remember of him, but the early times. I had to. He’s the source material for my romantic imagination. And my imagination is the only thing that rescues me from the quagmire of emotions.

I am trying to remember how love used to be, how I used to love. I have a better understanding of the second, including the ways in which my unbounded affections become toxic for some people. This is the reality of it. It’s limiting to think of myself as bad or weak or love as a poisonous thing in total. Some things suit some people and they cause others to erupt in blisters or choke or turn into monsters. Who knows that better than an allergy-sufferer?

“I don’t think he ever actually liked me,”

I told a friend last week. Incredulous, he asked me, then why was he with you? I think (I reasoned as I spoke) that I fit a picture of what he thought he wanted – slightly older and dark skinned to annoy his family, bantery enough to feel like he was an intelligent guy, pedigreed to suit the Kolkata intellectual aesthetic and as a last consideration, packaged adequately well to not terribly annoy any lingering physical consideration. I scan myself mentally the way Hollywood films show men scanning women – body, background and messy human traits to be managed.

Some times this helps, being able to put myself inside what I think of, as that cruel, unforgiving, utterly unempathetic, uncaring eye of the person I loved. It helps me re-establish him as that person in my head.

But other days like yesterday, it’s harder. I must admit that most people do not look that deeply into another person, even people they claim to love. Men, least of all, given their boundless capacity for self-absorption and erasure of women. Men, especially in their twenties are not even required (by fashionable politics or by experiences with women like me) to think that much about why they chase who they chase.

Maybe there is some romance in that uncaring, naive, selfish, superficial glance. These adjectives are all things I’ve associated with romance, any way. Which completes my circle of thought, then. Do I want this? Did I ever? No.

Companionship seems to be a different thing but I keep getting pushed into the romance bazaar to look for it. I was looking for some cooling balm and I’m in a place hawking Halloween masks. That is a problem with the world and I have to find a way to get out of the wrong store. It is time to leave the monsters behind.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

AgentsOfIshq: ‘You Should Wear Maroon For Your Skin’ And Other Advice I’ve Ignored As A Non-Fair Woman

AgentsOfIshq carried my story about being a dark skinned person in a country that worships the pale! And I also got to show off my lipart skills. I’m really thrilled to see my name and story appear alongside the brave, witty others on this site that I’ve admired for a long time. Now go read!!

The AgentsOfIshq story is here:

You Should Wear Maroon For Your Skin” and Other Advice I’ve Ignored as a Non-Fair Woman

and here’s one version from my drafts:

I love beauty jaunts. This is where I revel in having a body and a whole industry devoted to painting it. Recommended remedy for PMS, hard break-ups and bad days, in general. I started in the late 90s, freshly into adolescence and in possession of hard-won permission to paint my face. Naturally, I paid close attention to the leading authority on my body – the rest of the world.

My first lipstick was the only shade everyone told me was “appropriate” for me – maroon. This is the colour I call India’s apologetic vanity. Lipstick reminds people that women have mouths (which can speak) and presumably most people don’t want to know that. So we are permitted one dark colour “for special occasions” that’s barely going to show in the evenings – when it’s deemed appropriate anyway. Women of every age are huddled under this concession colour. A paler shade may just about pass for someone fairer, but only so long as its not ‘too loud’. Because even with our lips, women are not supposed to scream.

ue work shirt entered the room before I did, with whispers and later, anonymous notes left on my table. Try maroon, I was told, or navy blue or brown because they’ll suit you. My fashion choices became a negotiation with a melanin scale that didn’t have room for me.

I began pushing the boundaries first with brightness of colour, and then the colours themselves. One day a parrot green blouse with no makeup, another day black nail polish with regular jeans. Brighter reds became more acceptable in the 2000s and accessible to me. As an adult, I had more control over my dressing, albeit subject to social censure. I played my dressing like it was a game– how much could l get away with it while still staying within obvious boundaries?

A bead necklace as a belt? A multi-coloured scarf around my handbag? And always, always bright colours. Always playing hide-and-seek with navy blue, black and brown. It gave me a lot of confidence. It frequently surprised (and occasionally angered) people.

By my late twenties, I had expanded my distinctive palette to makeup. Gloss, glitter, fuchsia lips, icy-blue eyelids – I was screaming colour. It has never stopped disturbing people, friends and strangers alike. I came to be known as the Crazy Dresser. Yet, what struck me was that no one minded fairer-skinned people wearing these things. As metrosexuality descended into our ranks, the men leading the charge were all pale-skinned. I often felt like the sole flag-bearer for visible brownness. Other shoppers would stare with open hostility as I reached for the sparkle section, while striking up great camaraderie with similarly fair-hued strangers. The salespeople would try to push me towards the skin creams counter, promising to “cure this awful tan” and always, “You should wear maroon for your skin.”

I’ve realised that the shaming system needs one important ally to work – your own self. Shame had no currency if I refused to buy into it. So what looked good to me, became what looked good on me. My need to rebel faded and I was able to embrace colours and styles simply because I liked them. There are no browns in my cupboard (I have so much on my own skin). But fluorescent green? Sunshine yellow? Hot pink? Hello Picasso! Every one of these shades finds a welcome spot on my personal shade card.

Last year I happily adopted the bold lipstick trend. Blue, did you say? Move over Rihanna, I see you your bold colour and raise you funky designs. My Crazy Dresser self surfaces on my lips in the form of stripes, polka dots, filigree work, even comicbook art. Give me black and white and I’ll turn that into a chessboard on my lips. Or a yin-yang symbol. My lips don’t hide or even whisper. They roar.

Recently I bought a gold lipstick, hoping to try a ‘bejeweled mouth’ look. To my surprise, the lipstick wouldn’t show at all on my skin, no matter how hard I swiped. I realised the shade was the exact same hue as the colour of my skin. I know now that colours don’t ‘look weird’ on my skin the way the fashion industry describes. It’s really, really hard to overshadow gold. And I have a natural supply of it all over my body. All bodies are works of art and mine just happens to be framed in gold. Beauty jaunts are public parades for my royal skin. Are you coming to watch?

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

The Heads Or Tails Of Digital Dating

I switched dating apps. No, this time it wasn’t because awful people drove me away. It’s because Tinder kept demanding my phone number and wouldn’t let me login without it. I’ve never indulged corporations that think they can hold me to ransom, especially when I have a choice. So my reasons are purely business/ethics based, not personal.

I think there’s something about a newer interface that makes it possible for me to carry in a new approach. It’s like being in a new room so even if the people in it are likely to be no different from the ones in the room you were last in, you can approach them with a fresh outlook. And perhaps people do use the other apps a little differently – a little more effort in building bios, a little less of entitlement in their first messages.

I received the following opening message from one person:

“You were my boss at so-and-so company.”

At first, I couldn’t place him. He was referring to my first time as a manager, where I inherited a large team of rapidly moving people. Then I deducted a decade, added some gawkiness, removed experience-based confidence and tacked on an eager-to-please smile onto his pictures. And there he was. It’s a lovely thing to be able to remember people’s origins and then realise how far they’ve come. Then I remembered that this was on a dating app and it got weird.

I connected with someone else, deciding to meet for a coffee a little later. I suppose I was wondering if it would be like my one 8-hour-look-where-did-the-time-fly date. It wasn’t. For starters, I mistook someone else standing outside the restaurant for this person. Is it just my generation that finds that “Hi, ABC?”, “No, sorry” interaction awkward? The mistaken person didn’t appear ruffled or even judgemental. He just went back to staring at his phone and I briefly debated asking if he’d like to be said person instead. Then I pulled my manners and age together and walked in. It wasn’t a bad conversation, though a tad reserved. It made me think of how much harder this whole thing must be for people who aren’t naturally extroverted or vivacious. We chatted for about an hour after which he had a work thing. And no, that probably wasn’t an excuse to get away since he messaged a few times after that.

There have been a few irritants. I’m rapidly realising that the kind of men who demand ‘interesting conversations, not if u typ lyk dis’ are also the likeliest to be inadequate conversationalists themselves, with the extent of their loquaciousness being “LOL, gimme your number I wanna Whatsapp”. True story. We demand from the world what we do not posses or do not feel like trying for and where is this truer than in how most men treat women?

I am liking that there’s been nary a ripple in my emotional balance from these last couple of months of dating experiences. There is the occasional ‘Sigh, it would be nice to have somebody’ but I get over that pretty quickly. I’m working on the idea that not every relationship will turn into the damaged nightmare I was in last time and it’s taking. But I’m afraid it will stop being fun. I know now that making an effort with dressing up my body and my mind will always help in keeping my life exciting and fun. But I doubt most men (or people for that matter) have the inclination or capacity to do that. And when other people aren’t as committed to a life of joy, it doesn’t take long for your own to sink. This kind of casual dating lets me get away before other people’s lack of alignment with my own way of life sabotages mine.

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Days like this. PC: @professor.shonku

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I saw this thread on Twitter this morning…

…talking about how a lot of people who don’t enjoy dating apps are just choosing to just not date. I guess I’m headed in the same direction.

Eventually I’m realising love, joy, sparkle, romance, chemistry whatchamacallit are matters of complete chance. You can’t predict who, when or what. The laws of probability tell me that there’s some value in maximising my encounters with other people but there’s no real guarantee. Too long of the left-right swipe business and it can really dampen one’s good humour. People manage to find what they want without doing any of these things. And others don’t, even if they’ve done all the maximising they can think of. And I suppose that’s okay.

Heads or Tails, it’s just a coin flip anyway.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Arre: My Tinder Bio – Not Here To Mother 20-Somethings

Arre ran one of my stories this week and I’m thrilled. It’s about my experiences as an ‘older’ woman on the dating apps, primarily Tinder. A very young friend told me how nice it was to see older humans not dissing the idea of online dating. I couldn’t stop laughing when I told him that my generation was the one that invented the concept of falling in love online. These were actually lines in my original draft of the article, that got dropped during edits:

“Speaking of dickpics, these didn’t shock me as much as my millennial friends thought they would. After all, the internet is basically my younger sibling (being that I was 16 the year VSNL made internet connection, an ‘it’ accessory). My generation had its first romantic exchange through a glass screen, hallelujah chatrooms! We invented (discovered?) so this was the inevitable future.”

Anyway, I’m really happy with the way my story shaped up. Writers tend to shape our own world view with what we write. And it’s put me into a very good frame of mind to have worked on a piece that is about carrying away experience, not cynicism from life.

Show me some love and read the article, people! It’s up here and it’s called:

My Tinder Bio: Not Here To Mother 20-Somethings

 

 

Ocean’s 8 — Feminist Or Not?

The Ocean franchise is what I like to think of as Smooth Masculine (but still very masculine) — a format popularized by the early James Bonds. They’re stylish and suave. They actually talk, even intimidate, with words rather than their fists. In itself, this digresses from the usual toxic masculine image of an overmuscled, underarticulate (only they call it ‘brooding’) male. Hey, they even show the main leads crying. The Ocean series is also about male bonding, another digression from the antisocial guy, his social ineptitude glamorized as ‘lone wolf’.

Now we have an all-woman spin on the Smooth Masculine. Is that enough to make it feminist?

Let’s start with the plot. The Ocean’s trilogy was respectively about robbing a supersafe, racing to steal a Faberge egg and breaking a casino. Admittedly the first is also about Danny Ocean showing up his rival in love in a schoolboyish fashion but that is a joke underlining the slickness of the operation. All three movies are about cracking a joke at the expense of some guy who eventually lands on his butt. Every plot is a game with an emphasis on fun and some snazzy lines thrown in. The Ocean trilogy isbuilt on the foundation of Danny Ocean and Rusty’s read-your-mind camaraderie and infused with inside joke humour.

And now let’s take a look at what the girls get. There are just 8 women which made me hope there was going to be a line about 8 women being able to do the job of 11 men or about the wage difference. Nope.

Are they having fun? I’m a woman and I’d be hard-pressed to call what they’re doing fun. Shopping, wearing pretty clothes and ogling a shiny necklace — nope, assuming that’s what women bond over is pretty sexist. Which brings us to the object of the plot. Danny’s boys took on casinos and museums, the money and objects themselves of scant interest. It was the thrill of adventure that drove those plotlines. In comparison Debbie’s girls string along listlessly with motivations as flimsy as money, to chase the most clichéd object in the history of women’s desires — jewelry. So far Ocean’s 8 is already lagging behind than the three male dominated movies on story.

Speaking of listless, the movie boasts a starcast even glitzier than the original Ocean trilogy. But only Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchette have any kind of meat in their roles (and even then, I’d call this a low-fat chicken broth compared to the prime ribs that George Clooney and Brad Pitt got). We know the women were partners earlier and that they team up on this. But beyond that, the two characters are pretty much interchangeable as pissed-off (and entitled) white women through the story. Ocean’s 8’s female characters also have worse roles than their male counterparts in the preceding trilogy.

Speaking of white women, much has been made about Anne Hathaway’s self-referential humour but no, it wasn’t that interesting. Neither was her abrupt about-face at the end of the movie. A hot filmstar joins a bunch of crooks because she wants friends? Sounds flimsy. Helena Bonham Carter is (yet another) wasted talent in the film. It takes no mean talent to act like you’re a bad actor and that’s the extent of her prowess on display in the film.

Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter in Ocean’s 8

Rihanna, the queen of inclusivity and the MET ball, shows up in a grungy avatar as the genius geek. But her tech wizardry extends to making the apartment’s lights flicker on and off and hacking into the museum’s security cameras. This does not impress anyone who grew up among teenagers hacking into government systems. What’s more, her ‘wizardry’ has to be supplemented by lame things like angling cameras to blind spots. This is accomplished by tricking a sad-faced old man with a bogus site about puppies (culled from his Facebook feed). Women and technology = Facebook stalking + clueless old people? Compare this to with the hologram of Ocean’s Twelve and the magnetron of Ocean’s Thirteen. This feels like a comment on women’s supposed ineptitude with technology. Or maybe, just lazy writing. Count one for Ocean’s 8’s misogynist subtext.

Mindy Kaling in Ocean’s 8

Mindy Kaling, another POC star is introduced inside a shop that looks like a parody of Bollywood — flimsy fabrics, garish designs and an atrocious Hindi accent, arguing with a similarly parodic mother (slightly less atrocious accent). Her only contribution to the heist is to blend in with the kitchen wash staff and then break the necklace up, in the toilet. I imagine she’s supposed to be the girls’ version of Virgil-and-Turk but she doesn’t have any of the lines or even the situations to add comedic timing. As an Indian, I can’t help feeling she’s this movie’s version of Anil Kapoor in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol — The token brown fool. Add whitewashing & racism to Ocean’s 8‘s troublesome nature.

There is another token Asian who is a pickpocket but as with Rihanna, her part in the heist has to do with a lot of convenient coincidences and other people acting in stupid ways. I thought she might have been a replacement for The Amazing Yen but no, he shows up in a throwback to every dance-through-laser-beams sequence ever (including Toulour in Ocean’s Twelve). Could the makers really not find a female acrobat/contortionist? Even the snazzy action sequences of Ocean’s Eleven’s lift climb are missing.

Rihanna in Ocean’s 8

Okay, so may be the last three points are more about racial inequality than feminism. Maybe not. Feminism like any ideology, is evolving. This movie may have been impressive in the 90s when a film with no brand-name male stars would have been inconceivable. But 2018’s feminism is intersectional. These glaring instances of tokenism run alongside casual racism — in one scene, Cate Blanchette tells a full-mouth chewing Sandra Bullock (when did Debbie Ocean become Gracie Hart?) “I don’t speak Ukaranian”.

Sarah Paulson, arguably a smaller star than Rihanna, still gets a bigger role showcasing the soccer mom/illegal goods fence. This is probably the least cardboard character but is exploited for very little nuance or humour.

No one in this movie is suave or smooth. Perhaps that’s a feminist statement about women not needing to be these things (but I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel for salvation here). I won’t bother going into the utterly unnecessary nasty ex subplot. Then, I want to know, where’s the movie?

I didn’t get the great lines that made the Ocean’s trilogy such a delight to watch. I didn’t see any fantastic female bonding. I missed the cool gadget wizardry and tech tricks. I didn’t spot any fun action scenes. And I sure as well didn’t enjoy watching talented women grimacing their way through such hackneyed, restricting roles. Even the necklace wasn’t that pretty.

So let’s do a feminism round-up.

Intersectional? Not. If this movie were based on an actual story, it would probably involve whitewashing.

Aspirational female characters? Nope. Every character is replaceable, barely propping the other up or surviving because men slipped up. Add incorrect messages about ‘feminism = male-bashing’.

Breaking stereotypes? Uh, no. I’m looking at you, jewelry chasers, Indian-with-marriage-obsessed-mom, vindictive exes, dumb bimbette who ‘just wants friends’, splashing about on luxury & beauty goods regardless of logic or danger.

Entertaining? No and since this is a film, that is the prime purpose. A story that gives talented actors so little room to entertain, does them (and the audience) grave disservice.

All in all, I think it’s clear that Ocean’s 8 is not only a bad movie, it’s also actively anti-feminist. What else would you call setting up so many talented women in a film that shows women and these actors so poorly?

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

I Know It’s Pride Month But I Hate Strangelove | GaysiFamily

(I originally wrote this post on 13 June. But a certain prominent feminist website showed interest in publishing it, held it in queue and then decided that it was ‘too harsh’ and unsuitable for Pride Month. I don’t think I should talk down to the LGBTQIA community and letting this problematic film pass because it waved the rainbow flag, feels like just that.)

I reviewed the Netflix Original film ‘Alex Strangelove’ and Gaysi agreed to run the post. I haven’t written for this lovely site in a long time so it’s great to have my piece up there again. It’s also testimony to their inclusivity that they neither chose to question my sexuality nor edit my piece down for ‘harshness’.

This post has been read by two gay people, one bisexual person and one feminist all ratifying that there was nothing problematic with this opinion. If you are an ally, please be very mindful of what thoughts you entertain or support, in the name of the rainbow cause. Movies like ‘Alex Strangelove’ amplify some very problematic ideas, all while gaining the social credibility of doing something for Pride Month. As always, I’m happy to hear your thoughts – here or on the Gaysi site.

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Updated on 29 June 2018: This story was first published on Gaysifamily on 25 June 2018.

Alex Truelove (yes, that’s his real name, haha, look how post-hipster we are) is a sweet, nerdy boy reclaiming those hitherto derogatory labels. June being Pride Month, millennial-catering businesses are awash with ‘look-how-inclusive-we-are’ rainbowness. Let’s call gayvertising, shall we? Highly promoted on Netflix Originals, is a teen flick called Alex Strangelove. You get the gist of the story from its promos and the description text but for the purists who manage to button-mash quicker than Netflix forces promos on them, here’s your spoiler alert.

Alex Truelove (yes, that’s his real name, haha, look how post-hipster we are) is a sweet, nerdy boy reclaiming those hitherto derogatory labels. He’s good-looking enough to be at the top of the American high school hierarchy (or so other teen movies would have us believe) but he isn’t up there. He’s also class president and has a beautiful girlfriend who shares his penchant for obscure animal factoids. He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to have sex with said girlfriend, regardless of peer pressure. Yay for sensitive men and down with toxic masculinity.

Then the couple decides in true teen style to ‘just do it’ (even if that is a 20-year-old reference) and set a date and venue. Only in the week before, Alex meets a charming gay boy and suddenly we have the plot of the movie.

What didn’t work about this movie?

Literally everything from here onwards. Just what about Alex makes him this attractive to members of all sexes? Let’s assume that teenage minds of every sex are wired to make bad choices. So we have a ‘regular’ teenage boy who is suddenly the object of everyone’s affections. What does he do? First he goes along with gay boy’s obvious flirtation and is a real dick to his needing-support-during-mom’s-cancer girlfriend. Then he weasels his way back into girlfriend’s good graces but also returns to the gay boy to jump his bones, then gay shames/blames him. He then runs back to the girlfriend to cheat on her (yes, it’s called that even if it happened inside your own mind especially when you’re still inside her, jerk-face). He is an utter asshole, literally while they’re both still naked. If this isn’t enough, he also later cheats on both people with a random stranger (female by the way, not that it matters when you’re cheating) at a party and the best friend (remember sage dude?) gets beaten up for it.

And what’s the end result? Shitfaced Alex is rescued in his drunken glory by the long-suffering girlfriend while best friend gets his ego and black eye massaged from the girl he’s been stalking for years. Boy, the makers of this film really hate women, don’t they?

Oh but wait, it ain’t over. Humiliated girlfriend and shamed gay boy get together to try again to give Alex the life he wants. Who does this and why should they? Alex takes every single inch he’s given and more with the kind of entitlement that makes him completely unlikeable. After the girlfriend graciously sets him up with the gay boy, he chickens out ‘because people are watching’. When the gay boy walks away in disgust, he chases him, suddenly sure that he is gay.

Inadequate Sexuality Labels

For a film that supposedly challenges heteronormativity, this one reinforces some highly toxic stereotypes about sexuality. Alex’s reticence towards sex is set up in a don’t-virgin-shame message but ends up reinforcing the notion that if a man isn’t a ravenous for sex, he is gay.

Who are these sage best friends who shame him for not rushing into sex (a la The Big Bang Theory) but are also wonderfully conversant with the gender-fluid, pansexual, polyamorous attitudes of their generation? Speaking of polyamory and pansexuality, the writers of the movie don’t know that these are two different things, as has been pointed out by several irate people. And in this sexually self-aware world, how come no one so much as hints at bisexuality, bicuriosity or good old sexual ambivalence?

Alex is a teenager, a time in his life for sexual experimentation. ‘Man crush’ is given lip service with no depth or dimension added. The fact that Alex has been in a straight relationship for over a year suggests that he has been attracted to women too. The flimsy plot suggests that the gay liaison may just have been a one-off reaction to a fear of sex. Alex’s actions also seem to suggest that bisexual people are just entitled enough to want everything, even at the cost of other people’s feelings.

There’s nothing to indicate that Alex lives in a homophobic world. Even his toxic male best friend (who stalks women, virgin-shames and sends unsolicited nudes) knows about sexual liberatedness. Homophobia is assigned one terrible scene towards the end of the film. Even this latter is more about school bullying and at best, a flimsy excuse for Alex’s need to please. It does grave disservice to the harassment and harm meted out to queer people all over the world. And it definitely does not address the fact that Alex hasn’t been attracted to men before this or that he clearly has felt attraction for women too.

Alex Problematic

Not once is Alex’s terrible treatment of everyone else called out. Instead the film turns queerness and sexual ambiguity into an excuse for bad behaviour, no responsibility and zero consequences for hurting other people. I’d say this is typical old, white Hollywood at its worst, turning out a weak, self-absorbed white male protagonist with everyone else around serving as props in his entitled journey.

Instead of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, they have (also) a Manic Pixie Dream Gay. It doesn’t seem like the makers of Alex Strangelove actually like gay people very much or they’d be more sensitive to how the gay boy as well as a prime ally of queer people (straight women) are treated within the story. If you take pride in sexual freedom and in allying with the rainbow cause, give this one a skip.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

6 Bollywood Characters You Didn’t Know Were Feminist | FeminismInIndia

My first post for Feminism in India is up here and it’s about two of my favorite topics – badass women and Bollywood! Read the full story here: ‘6 Bollywood Characters You Didn’t Know Were Feminist

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Update: 29 Jun 2018 – Here’s the full post now.

If Friday begins with the box office clanging in anticipation, Saturday full of tweet-opinions, by Sunday, the analyses have begun on a film’s politics – whether it’s a spy in Karachi or wedding shenanigans in Delhi. Is this feminist or not, we ask as we analyse how much screen time each actress had, what she spoke about and what she did. Can on-screen feminism go beyond the samajh-sudharak, the abla naari turned Kali maa and the speech spouting devi? Let’s meet some of the subtler on-screen feminists.

1. Saare Niyam Tod Do! – The Subversive Feminist

Manju (Rekha) in Khoobsurat (1980)

When a 1980 film titled Khoobsurat graced the big screen, a fresh-faced Rekha frowned from the poster. As Manju, she staked out a place in her sister’s marital home, breaking rules and making jokes (also a broken rule). She played bridge, started a kavi samelan, danced kathak, organised a musical production and snapped into action during a health crisis. In a time when a playback singer wouldn’t sing ‘bold’ songs, Manju made subversive both sexy and sanskari as she entreated us all to ‘Saare niyam tod do’ (Break all the rules).

2. Hawa Hawai – The Fearless Feminist

Seema (Sridevi) in Mr. India (1987)

She was a crime journalist, running sting operations on a national terror threat. She didn’t like children and was vocal about it. And she ruled the screen in a children’s movie. Sridevi as Seema in Mr. India may have been its real hero, since she didn’t need either a backstory, hero worship from the oppressed masses or an invisibility gadget to battle the forces of terrorism. That’s feminism sitting right under our noses, just next to the Calendar, khaana lao jokes.

3. The Tangewali Rides First – The Independent Feminist

Hema Malini as Basanti in Sholay (1975)

One of Bollywood’s biggest blockbusters had the testosterone-ridden plotline of prisoners, gunmen, mutilated cops and murder. Sholay also had a taangewali. We laughed at her talkativeness and marveled at her beauty, but did you notice that Basanti single-handedly managed the only public transport through the dacoit-infested roads to Ramgadh and Belapur? Some heroes use their fists, some wield the reins of a horse. As Basanti, Hema Malini’s opening spiel even referenced the matter of consent: “Yeh Basanti ka tanga hain, kissi zameendar ki bekaari thodi hain ki marzi na marzi, karna hi pade!” (This is Basanti’s tanga, not bonded labour. You get to choose whether you want to or not.)

4. Life Is My Favourite Game – The Responsible Feminist

Geet (Kareena Kapoor) in Jab We Met (2007)

In a country that kills in the name of honour and associates rape with victim-shaming, the pursuit of love is a distant dream for many women. Kareena Kapoor’s Geet in ‘Jab We Met’ tided over sanctioned harassment (“Akeli ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hain”), the family patriarch and even geography in her quest for Mr. Right.

She managed to have adventures, befriend a heartbroken Shahid Kapoor and ride through the mountains. When she was jilted, she took a job to work through her grief rather than run back to her family or to another man. She said, “Kal ko main kissi ko blame nahin karna chahti hoon, ki ji tumhari wajah se meri life kharab ho gayi. Meri life jo bhi hogi, mujhe pata hoga ki meri wajah se hain.” (I don’t want to have to blame somebody else for any of my problems in the future. Whatever my life brings, will be because I chose it.) Feminism was always about taking back the control of our lives and Geet’s refusal to be a victim is just that.

5. The Show woman Must Go On – The Ambitious Feminist

Geeta (Hema Malini) in Seeta aur Geeta (1972) and Manju (Sridevi) in Chaalbaaz (1989)

‘Twins with opposite personalities’ was a popular Bollywood trope. With female twins, it was a way to show two different ways that a woman could be appealing – the demure lass but also the firebrand. Hema Malini’s Geeta climbed the tightrope and the social ladder to nicer clothes, a richer boyfriend and a better life in the 1972 Seeta aur Geeta. Geeta was a hero to the oppressed, while breaking the formula of man-rescues-woman. The 1989 update, Chaalbaaz, had Sridevi depict an even more unapologetic Manju climbing her way to ‘Superstar Manju Micheal Jacksoni’ while taking on thugs, abusive relatives, a gaslighting buddy and a besotted rich boy in her stride. Geeta or Manju – nothing says feminist like a dreamer working her way up.

6. Taal Se Taal Na Milaye – The Intersectional Feminist

Mansi (Aishwarya Rai) in Taal (1999)

1970s and 80s Bollywood was full of gaon ki goris to whom terrible things happened. They were kidnapped by criminals and rescued by heroes. They were duped by smooth charmers who redeemed themselves before God or a moralizing hero. Occasionally, as the hero’s sister, they’d be raped by the villain and commit suicide or be killed so as to give the hero a quest of vengeance.

We met Aishwarya Rai’s Mansi in the traditional introduction of this very girl – through the hero’s eyes as he spied on her dancing in the rain and undressing. Bailed out by a rich papa, love and familial friendships developed. Eventually, as the story goes, the khandani daulat (family wealth) got in the way. Manasi’s family of folk singers was humiliated by the hero’s industrialist family, adding class prejudices to their ladkewale supremacy complex. But unlike the lachaar aurat (helpless woman) of yore, Mansi dared to voice what doesn’t get said even in 2018 – “Tumhare papa ki izzat, izzat hain aur mere baba ki koi izzat hi nahin?(You talk about disrespect to your father but you disrespect mine?)

Mansi would go on to push back on her producer’s bullying, while steadily climbing in her career. She’d eventually accept two different proposals but always while prioritizing herself, her family and her career first. Taal was a story of one woman transcending gender repression as well as class barriers, proving Manasi was Bollywood’s intersectional feminist.

Did you notice any other instances of feminists in Bollywood that I missed?

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Lust Stories: Wham, Bam And A Thankless Ma’am

This weekend saw the Netflix Originals premier of ‘Lust Stories‘ – a format repeat from the 2013 anthology ‘Bombay Talkies’, with the same four directors, each contributing one story. Let me pause a minute to CRINGE at that name so you can understand why I was expecting something along on the lines of the sleazy Hate Story franchise. Happily, it wasn’t all that bad. None of the stories are titled so I’ll refer to each one by its respective director.

Anurag Kashyap‘s tale was a moody character sketch of a woman just like most of his films. I disliked her then I related to her and finally I accepted her – echoing my experience of every Kashyap film I’ve seen. This story assumed female lust and agency as a fact. If we embrace those, then this is the most nuanced depiction of a woman and her desires since the arthouse period of Rekha, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi films. The introspection-by-4th-wall-breaking was really annoying but it added a certain relatable flavour to the central character, making her a human being with her irritating quirks, rather than an ephemeral nymph/predatory cougar. She is both and she’s more. I had a ‘Shabd‘ flashback but given that Kashyap took forward the sexual politics of the situation and gave it a woman’s voice, I think this movie stands as the best of the Lust Stories.

Zoya Akhtar‘s story was a lot like her tale in Bombay Talkies – a simplistic, privileged view of middle class India that still charmed because it stopped short of preaching. Just short. This story was less about female lust and rather labored the point of women being sex objects for men. It didn’t say anything we haven’t heard before and served as a neat filler sandwiched between two intense (and good) stories. I do want to clap for Bhumi Pednekar’s performance in this film. I counted exactly one dialogue by her in the whole story(“Saale nange”). All the rest is lingering gazes, a trembling hand, a stuck breath and it is everything that is good in this film.

Dibakar Banerjee‘s film was my favorite in the lot because of the character nuance. The story explored male vulnerability and fragility with sensitivity. But female lust was the subtext of this movie rather than its central point. This is a story about male emotions rising around and (partly) manipulated by the female object. The Wikipedia page of the film only describes Lust Stories as being about lust. But given that the promos only feature the female characters, one is led to assume that they are about female lust – wherein this one doesn’t fulfill the brief. Manisha Koirala as this seniormost actor (even if a faded one) in this entire anthology rocked even her straitjacketed part, moving from a Waheedaesque Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna nymph to a throwback to her Akele Hum Akele Tum sorrowful self. The one lovemaking scene in this film pans on her smiling indulgently and sorrowfully as her lover grinds (with tears) above her. It captured the entire essence in a story that should have been about her, rather than the men that she happens to.

Karan Johar‘s story was the big disappointment. No surprises there since his story in ‘Bombay Talkies’ was the weakest too. What a mercy that time, his plotline arrived at the end. It felt too much like a discarded script for a Hollywood movie, hastily cobbled into Indian context. Mile high club fantasies and casual usage of dildos in college libraries? Nope, not smalltown/lower middle class India at all. Even the comic relief was borrowed from The Ugly Truth (not exactly a great reference point on female empowerment or for that matter, female lust). I got the sense that this part was the ‘moral of the story’ bit where the audience is meant to be informed of the fact that female libidos exist, masturbation is okay and that Indian males are clueless about this fact. Okay, thank you.

All in all, I think ‘Lust Stories’ was a nice enough watch. It was adequately sensitive without once becoming sleazy. All four stories remained in the realm of believable (though the realm had to be very elastic in some cases). And yes, India needs more stories like these. We’re a country of a billion people who gave the world Kamasutra but are terrified of the thought of orgasms or masturbation, especially on-screen.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

If You Won’t Let Us Laugh, Someday We’ll Make You Cry

I watched ‘Veere di Wedding’ today. Don’t worry, this is not a review. The film is getting enough of hatred on social media to inspire enough curiosity in you to watch it. There is uproar over the swearing, the drinking, the raucous laughter, the sex talk. Everyone and their grandmother is horrified.

I’ll give away no spoilers and just say, I loved every minute of the film. And now I’m cueing up ‘Gone Girl’ on streaming as a nighttime watch. Me, who shudders at the thought of Bollywood horror films and basic slashers — I enjoyed the story of the sociopath and I will gladly watch it again. At night. You know why?

Because it gives me a sense of vindication, of justice even. I won’t talk about ‘Veere di Wedding’. Let’s talk about ‘Gone Girl’ instead. Why did so many women LOVE it? Because every single one of us has identified with the feeling of doing so much, being so much and still being edited and worse — invisible.

What does that mean? It means we don’t exist the way men exist — as people. We exist like a 24 x 7 customer service operation that must seamlessly and boundlessly cater to the male gaze, the male need, the male ego, the male everything. We don’t even get paid for it, let alone acknowledged. And any sign of our own humanity comes with severe, very severe consequences. What consequences, you say? Slut-shaming, body-shaming, single-shaming, rape culture, violence against women, silencing of women, mansplaining, manspreading. To name just a FEW.

I could not see a single reason any reasonable human being would dislike ‘Veere di Wedding’. It was funny, it was frothy, it was glossy and it was entertaining. It made a few digs at the expense of men’s glaring flaws but you didn’t REALLY believe that we never talk about you, did you? Wait, you did? Then why is the Bechdel test even needed? Literally that if two women can have even one conversation on screen that is not about a man, it passes. So few films do. So clearly we’re expected to yap about men only all the time. Did you think we wouldn’t complain or joke about you? HA!

Curiouser still, didn’t you all really enjoy ‘Hangover’? How about ‘Pyaar ka Punchnama’, that gut-sucking punch to every woman on the planet? That looooooooong diatribe against the entire female race that all of you liked so much, it’s practically a viral poem on Youtube now. ‘Veere di Wedding’ didn’t have even a third of all that. The ‘motherlover’ line? What, now we’re not supposed to tell the truth? You do worship your darling momma, don’t you and wish every other woman was more like her? It’s called The Oedipal complex and all she was doing was stating that. I guess we should leave personsplaining to the men.

But never mind all that. Clearly you can’t handle women’s laughter. But want to know what happens when you suppress her natural positive instincts? ‘Gone Girl’ is what happens. It’s when this woman wakes up one day and realises that this life is shit and it really is so much better without you. She runs everything of course, without credit and with all the harassment and silencing. Why does she need to carry your sorry-ass as well?

Sure, call her a sociopath like Amy. After all, what was Amy but someone who loved Nick very, very much? Yes, that is wrong. You certainly don’t deserve it.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

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