I was reading about the social media outrage on Kartik Aryan’s rant normalizing marital rape in ‘Pati Patni Aur Woh’. I then read the justifications masked as apology from ‘sources’ close to the makers as well as from the lead actress of the movie, Bhumi Pednekar. While I have no idea and no interest in these mysterious ‘sources’ who always seem to know everything about everyone in Page 3 news, Bhumi’s “apology” made me laugh out for its hypocrisy packaged as truth. Not only did she say that the movie is not sexist although they are sorry if they hurt anyone’s feelings, she also had to add that no one involved in the film belonged to “that school of thought”. Oh yes Bhumi! We understand! An entire crew that ‘celebrates’ women and stays away from that ‘school of thought’ thought that they could cash in on the now-controversial monologue which they thought was amazing enough to be the focus of the trailer, apparently because the ‘Pyaar Ka Punchnama’ monologue worked. And now when people call that out you come out with the “Oh it was just a joke! We’re sorry if it hurt you. But we’re really not people who think like that” template that is reserved for situations like these.
I can’t remember the number of times I have heard the very same thing when something sexist, racist or aligned to any similar kind of evil is called out. Casual evils, as I like to call it because that name is an all-encompassing one. I have always felt that it is more dangerous and more contemptible than the real, outright display of evil. The “Man, I was just joking. Why so serious?” kind of comments. Because they won’t even accept the fact that they are assholes unlike the ones who make blunt and visibly evil comments. And they even add a coat of “People who know me know very well that I respect everyone” glittery paint while packaging the mockery of a response to any sort of criticism for their subtly vile comments.
When the sorry tale of ‘Kabir Singh’ (‘Arjun Reddy’ was the original and I keep wondering why this shitty tale keeps getting remade in every Indian language) released, I saw a massive outrage against the highly sexist content of the movie. A part of the elite, urban cinemagoing crowd chose to question the intelligence of those criticizing the movie with “It is only a movie. Learn to see it like that instead of being too harsh” kind of logic, conveniently forgetting the number of times such movies have inspired and normalized stalking, abusing and physically hurting women in the name of love. And as always, the blame for the outrage went to feminism. But when a movie of its kind comes from a director who declares happily that love is not real unless you can hit your lover, you know it is not “just a movie”, but portrayal of a widely accepted belief of what real machismo is, something that has romanticized even the most horrific of crimes. I never wrote about ‘Kabir Singh’ because it came in the category of ‘outright evil’ which I had written about multiple times and needed no further attestation to its tag from me.
However, the crew of ‘Pati Patni Aur Woh’ and similar movies is what I would call the more dangerous ‘Casual evil propagators’. But they are still not the most dangerous ones in this category because their evil was at least visible enough to be called out by some. The most dangerous, real evil is the one that is so beautifully wrapped in shiny paper that you do not even see the evil within.
There is a pretty good Malayalam movie called ‘Sapthamashree Thaskaraha’ starring Prithviraj in the lead role, which has a song that is pictured on him and the heroine (Reenu Mathews) meeting, falling in love, getting married and later, her being pregnant. It is filled with scenes showing how amazing a husband Prithviraj is. The last scene in that song shows the pregnant wife sweeping the courtyard and him taking the broom from her and doing it himself. Right then some little schoolkids walk by and they laugh at him and he hides the broom behind him with a sheepish grin while his wife looks on, laughing.
Now you ask me why I call this the most dangerous and most casual portrayal of evil? Because all sugarcoated with love, romance, care and a bit of humour, they just fed us the age-old teaching of our patriarchal society – sweeping or any household chore for that matter is a woman’s duty and any man who does that is going an extra mile to help and not because it is something he should ideally do, and hence the laughter at the sight of a man doing that. I have never seen this scene or the innumerable similar ones in so many movies ever being criticized the way ‘Kabir Singh’ or ‘Pati Patni Aur Woh’ are. Why? Simply because people, even the most progressive ones, have not even noticed them. They are that beautifully wrapped.
We can’t blame anyone for that really because it is somehow deeply ingrained in all of us. As a married couple, Hari and I take an equal share in doing work around the house. It is something I love the most about us and I know that it is the first and best lesson in gender equality that my daughter will have. Even then, when she asks me something like “Who drives a plane?”, my first reply is “Pilot uncle”, which I then tactfully change to “Pilot uncle or aunty”. And when she asks me something like “Who is using a mixer grinder now?”, my reply is “Some aunty in the building”, which again I change to “Some aunty or uncle in the building”. My upbringing in a home and in a society where men and women are given gender-specific roles has left me conditioned to some extent that I have to consciously put in an effort to tell my daughter that anyone can do anything in this world. The very same way I am conditioned to look at particular sections of people in ways that are stereotypical of them and have to consciously put in an effort to block that out at times. But as long as we are aware of the strains of those ‘casual evils’ in all of us and are ready to move in the right path where someday the right thoughts and right words will come to us without any effort, I believe it is okay.
So let’s start identifying the evils within us first and then move on to battling the evils that are so rampant around us, yet do not get addressed because they are so commonplace and seem so harmless. After all, no cleansing is effective unless it is done from the roots.