As much as I like Sona Mohapatra, I am seriously wondering if she’s turning out to be a soft bully like Kangana Ranaut. What’s with the slut-shaming of other women from the film industry and calling them talentless? Seriously? You can criticise someone’s actions or the lack of it without getting personal.
I cannot deny that the issues which Mohapatra has raised are serious and need to be discussed. There’s no doubt that women like Jacqueline Fernandez and Shehnaz Gill have been supporting the wrong. However, is it as black and white as Mohapatra paints it out to be?
Here’s where I differ from Sona Mohapatra.
I see Jacqueline Fernandez or Shehnaz Gill, less as opportunistic women and more the victims of a patriarchal industry. The misogynistic film industry spares no women, especially outsiders like the women that Mohapatra dismissed as talentless. We’ve seen numerous cases of women who are outsiders seen as trophy girlfriends, but never good enough to be an A-lister’s wife because of their lack of lineage.
I think Jacqueline’s association with Salman Khan has ruined whatever good she had to offer the industry. When she came first, she had a distinct aura. A westernised vibe with a smouldering sensuality that came effortlessly, much like Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi in the seventies. Today, it’s sad to see Jacqueline being reduced to looking like a zombie in crass dance numbers that portrays her as the quintessential bad girl. Calling artists like Jacqueline Fernandez as talentless is elitist and even a smack of arrogance. She’s a legit beauty queen winner who represented her country and came to Bollywood to make it on her own. Jacqueline is a fantastic dancer and has a face that has launched many brands. She’s a legit influencer with a strong Instagram game. She’s also a fantastic speaker who’s hosted interviews with the likes of Katy Perry. Her song “Applause” is among the Top 5 Oscar songs of the year 2022 along with “Naatu Naatu” from RRR.
As for Shehnaz Gill, she’s just entered the dark net. I’d said this back then, how her support for Sajid Khan is only going to earn her breadcrumbs. Her debut in Salman Khan’s movie “Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan” is a cameo. There’s an audience for reality shows, including me. What’s with mocking people taking part in low-brow reality shows? We don’t know their reasons. For some, the money may be important. For some, it’s their stepping stone to fame. Where is the dignity of labour? Also, calling Shehnaz Gill talentless is both insensitive and ignorant. Gill has been an actress and singer in the Punjab film industry for years before she took part in Bigg Boss. She shot to instant fame after the audience loved her in Bigg Boss. She has a unique voice, is highly confident and articulate. Let’s not forget the massive amount of weight she’s lost to fit into the industry. While this might seem superficial at the outset, it takes a lot of willpower, discipline, and grit to lose weight and maintain. It shows her ambition for making it big in the industry, and who are we to deem her talentless or worthless? Besides, you don’t always need talent to make it big. Having ambition is a good place to start, and working your way with consistency can help you reach your goals, and even build that talent along the way.
Opportunistic women or victims?
I’d go to the extent of saying if the film industry is so patriarchal where women have to compromise to get a minor role, we should empathise with their situation for being caught between their dreams and the necessary evil rite of passage of the industry. Not tearing them down brutally. Yes, Shehnaz Gill’s support for Sajid Khan was wrong, but do we know the complete picture? Is she being coerced? Has she been blindsided with offers for better roles? Does she have a skewed sense of morality because of her childhood experiences? We know her father has been accused of rape, and there are even some rumours of him being a paedophile. Do we know enough about these women and their journeys to humiliate them publicly for their choices?
It’s hard for women to make it on their own in the industry without compromising to the higher powers. More than being opportunistic, it’s their trap and I’ve no doubt these women are, in reality, the victims. Jacqueline Fernandez had once cryptically tweeted, “Fame is a beautiful fraud.”
As for talent, even Zeenat Aman was slut shamed and called all sorts of names in her time for her choices in her professional and personal life. But we respect her today. If there’s anything we can learn from, this is to look beyond our ego, and see the good in others and their journey, now and not when it’s too late.
Jacqueline Fernandez or Shehnaz Gill, these women have their own strengths that they can offer to the entertainment industry. There are so many successful celebrities who may not be good actors, but they’ve built a legacy on lesser acknowledged skills and talents such as dancing, and even plain seduction like Katrina Kaif, Bipasha Basu or Sunny Leone. Why cherry-pick Fernandez or Gill for paid PR when the whole industry, including A-listers, plays the game? Forget celebrities, even your regular influencers pay their way to get followers and engagement for brand deals.
Why is the same yardstick not applied to the men, Ms. Mohapatra?
Is Shehnaz Gill and Jacqueline Fernandez the problem? They might be part of the bigger problem, but they barely hold any power within the industry. Why hasn’t Mohapatra or anyone objected to Shah Rukh Khan for taking the favours of Salman Khan, who’s been accused of domestic violence and sexual abuse by his ex-girlfriends, for his comeback film? In fact, both the Khans have collaborated and extend their longevity as lead actors in the industry. Why isn’t John Abraham being questioned for slashing his fees for working with Sajid Khan in his comeback film?
There’s nothing wrong with the issues Mohapatra raised. What she lacked in her message was empathy towards other women who are, in fact, victims, and not opportunists. It’s the men in high places who are actually opportunists, as they prey on women who come to the industry pursuing their dreams. It’s the men in high places who exploit these women, and take the lion’s share both in their roles and remuneration. Instead of attacking the puppets, blame the system and those who hold the strings of control and run the show at the top. In most cases, the puppets have no way out from their doomed stage act, except for perhaps death. My heart goes out to so many women artists because they’ve entangled themselves in a dark net that’s difficult for anyone to come out.
Because there was a lack of empathy and sensitivity, Mohapatra came across more like a borderline troll. Are Jacqueline Fernandez and Shehnaz Gill soft targets for Mohapatra? Maybe she cannot hit out at more successful actresses like Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt, who can act and hence can’t be mocked at for being talentless. Maybe someone like Shehnaz Gill, who’s just starting in the industry, is a more convenient punchbag than an established actress like Katrina Kaif.
Yes, we need more outspoken women. But we also need more than just that.
We need more outspoken women like Sona Mohapatra and Kangana Ranaut in the world.
However, when their message is devoid of empathy for other women, then it’s a problem for all women. Yes, these issues must be raised and discussed. However, selective vilification of women seen as lesser threats is borderline bullying, and not revolutionary.
So yes, while we need more Mohapatras and Ranauts in the world for calling out the wrongs in the system, what we need more is unwavering solidarity among women based on the foundations of kindness, empathy and big picture thinking.
Together, we can break all boundaries of bias and injustice against us, women.
“Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding. “– Anon
This blog post is part of the Women’s Day Blog Hop, themed on She: A Tribute to Her, hosted by Swarnali Nath.