'When a woman uses stunning sexy photo shoots to make a splash and be noticed by audiences and the industry, it doesn't mean she can be broken down to breasts, buttocks, legs, navel and oh... a pretty face,' says movie director Suparn Verma.
Choli ke peeche kya hai? This existential question has plagued Indian men since the time they were weaned. And the answer has been all over the news since September 14.
A newspaper tweeted 'OMG: Deepika Padukone's cleavage show' along with a link to a video pointing to the lady's decolletage.
Deepika tweeted back angrily. 'YES! I am a Woman. I have breasts AND a cleavage. You got a problem!!??'
Soon the Internet was abuzz with Deepika's supporters. After a while, the cynics took over, declaring it was a publicity stunt for her film, Finding Fanny, which released last Friday, and has one of her best performances.
Since I am very much part of the film fraternity, let me give you an insider's point of view with the eye of an outsider because I shall forever remain a fanboy who made it in this business.
Do I think it was staged? No.
My reason is simple. Deepika is currently the number one actress at the box office, so she doesn't need the publicity. Finding Fanny is meant for a niche audience. Most of the celebrities supporting her on Twitter have already seen it at the many screenings that took place starting two weeks before the release of this lovely little gem of a movie.
Some days ago, it was a different story. An actress arrested in a prostitution racket doesn't get eyeballs anymore, so now the media names her, screaming out that a National Award-winning actress had been nabbed by the cops.
Everyone reads every article, checks out every video link hungrily, makes polite clucking sounds about how she has fallen or disgraced herself or poor her, etc, etc.
One question, that everyone should have asked, but many didn't, remained: Why was her identity revealed?
The thing is that prostitution isn't illegal in India. You can read more here (external link).
Shouldn't her identity have been guarded? If anyone had to be named for the sake of argument, then it should have been the supplier or her customers.
We are zealous about guarding the identity of rape victims, so why are journalists so eager to show the faces of women caught in sex rackets when they are being sent for 'rehabilitation'?
Why do camerapersons try and enter police vans to take photographs of girls when they are busted at a rave party or when self-styled moral police bust legal pubs and beat female customers up?
What if any one of these women committed suicide?
Would the media then be responsible for their death or will they pass on the onus onto society by saying this is what sells?
This leads me to the 'fun' part of this column. It is about you and me.
You are a voyeur.
Yes, YOU, dear reader, regardless of your gender or age, are a voyeur.
We are also hypocrites.
We live in a world where sex sells the most, yet we are embarrassed to openly admit it.
What image comes to mind when you think of chocolate biscuits?
Hrithik Roshan and a Spanish-looking model making love with syrupy chocolate and cocoa powder to sell biscuits or girls with full, luscious lips, smeared with chocolate, licking their lips.
We use sex to sell every product under the sun!
Our obsession with sex is used to advertise everything from deodorant sprays to cars to clothes to shoes to you name it.
Advertisers may think kids are their primary customers, but actually, at the end of the day, their primary customers are men.
Carefully notice all television and print commercials. The men will be a mix -- either young or old or, if it is a funny TVC, then the man mostly likely will be rotund and not very good-looking -- but women will ALWAYS be good-looking.
Here's another thumb rule... the uglier the man, the more stunning the woman.
What thrills me the most is that -- in a country like India which has one foot in the puritanical past with a right-wing government and one foot in the future by virtue of having the youngest population on the planet -- one of our most successful leading ladies is a porn star.
Sunny Leone is not just the most Googled name in India (most men have seen her X-rated videos), she is also a mainstream Bollywood heroine.
She is like what the Ramsay brothers were in the 1980s, giving hit films minus the respect from her peers punctuated with a lot of venom by struggling actors.
But this lady takes it all in her stride and goes about her business quietly. She knows one simple thing that few care to admit, you can hate her and call her names, but she sells in this sex-starved nation.
Everyone capitalises on the sexual repression in this country. Producers post tantalising video footage to sell their film, the media creates their own spin and headlines to sell copies and get hits and users use message boards and anonymous social identities to leave the filthiest messages for well-known names in the public domain.
Sex as a commodity remains a vicious circle. What we must never forget, however, is that this choice is a woman's prerogative and should always rightly remain so.
When a woman uses stunning sexy photo shoots to make a splash and be noticed by the audiences and the industry, it doesn't mean she ceases to be a human being and can be broken down to breasts, buttocks, legs, navel and oh... a pretty face.
We as a society tend to objectify women on the basis of their looks or how they dress. In this matter, sadly, a woman is a woman's worst enemy.
It is a mother who raises the child more closely than the father. She should be the first one to slap him the first time he behaves like a chauvinist and hold his face close to her and tell him that she is a woman too.
If she chooses to wear a skirt, it doesn't mean she is looking for sex. If she has a drink, it doesn't mean she is an easy pick. Just like he would never hit her or would kill the man who rapes her, he cannot hit or rape another woman.
But this is a big thing to ask for because the fact remains that the women on social media are divided even about the most basic thing -- dignity.
When Deepika Padukone found it demeaning to be brought down to being a pair of breasts and registered her protest, some women sniggered that she first used her body as an image to make a mark and now doesn't wish to be objectified.
There is a world of a difference in being called a sex symbol and have a headline screaming 'OMG look at this cleavage show.'
The film industry has to suffer the indignity of censorship film after film, yet the news media worldwide takes advantage of the lack of censorship in their field with impunity.
It is time we lifted the veil of sexual repression in our country that currently lives in a Kafkaesque world in which our health minister proclaims fidelity is a better AIDS prevention measure than condoms. He has forgotten the carnage caused by HIV the world over because the Vatican refused to allow the usage of condoms.
Suparn Verma is a well-known filmmaker and a member of the founding editorial team at Rediff.com
Image: Deepika Padukone. Photograph: Abhijit Mhamunkar