Monthly Archives: August 2014

Raj Shetye: When Conscience took ‘The Wrong Turn’

Nah. I ain't giving in to Raj Shetye's thirst for publicity. The pictures that should not have been clicked will not be shared here on my space. I choose to lead with this comment instead
Nah. I ain’t giving in to Raj Shetye’s thirst for publicity. The pictures that should not have been clicked will not be shared here on my space. I choose to lead with this comment instead

Mr. Raj Shetye. This is my comment on his latest work showcased on Behance, a website, couple of days ago before being taken down as a result of protests starting to pour in. I shall not reproduce here the pictures that have gone viral overnight, as has Mr Shetye’s name (infamy!?).

For those who haven’t yet come upon this man’s creative expression, allow me to describe: Mr Shetye recently showcased his latest addition to his fashion photography portfolio under the title ‘The Wrong Turn’, which shows a female model and a group of 4-5 male models on the background of the interiors of an Indian public bus. The model is dressed in various fashionable ensemble that certainly would leave Haryana’s Khap Panchayats asking “what was she wearing” and not in a fashionably bitchy way or in a ‘I-want-the-name-of-her-label’ way’. She is being handled dirtily by two male models on one row of seats on the bus while in another shot she’s crouching under a male model, his legs astride, a commanding pose. In another, two male models’ muscular arms are seen grabbing her from both sides of an aisle between two adjoining rows of seats. The most evocative accessory the female model has on is the ugly look on her face. She’s scowling like a prey being mauled, molested, manhandled. It doesn’t take even a layman’s thought to wonder why the backdrop of a bus, 4-5 males (man)handling (lascivious looks, suggestive postures) one female who is clearly the opposite of assertive, happy, smiling, protected in her own personal space SHOULD NOT BE connected to Jyoti Singh Pandey’s gangrape on a Delhi bus on a wintry night in December, 2012.

And this is what Mr. Shetye says to Huffington Post, “I have been planning a series of photo shoots around gender insensitivity and this particular photo shoot around sexual violence against women was the first one of those. Dowry, domestic violence, marital rape are some of the other I have been brainstorming over.” This is his explanation of intent.

Find the link here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/08/06/indian-bus-gang-rape-photographer_n_5654189.html?utm_hp_ref=uk

And, his explanation of intent clearly jars with Buzzfeed to whom Mr. Shetye said that the shoot was not based on the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi in December 2012. “But”, and he adds, “Being a part of society and being a photographer, that topic moves me from inside”.

Find the link here: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2014/08/07/indian-fashion-photoshoot-echoing-gang-rape-sparks-outrage

And Mr. Shetye had come prepared, just in case you ended up asking in true Bollywood flair – tumhari maa-behen nahin hai kya (meaning “Don’t you have mother or sisters?” an oft-repeated line mouthed by heroines falling prey to the evil-intentioned villain/his sidekick aimed at evoking sympathy and/or mercy) because he further backs up with, “I stay in a society where my mother, my girlfriend, my sister are out there and something like this can happen to them also.”

You know, when the controversy erupted over M F Husain’s paintings of Mother India and his paintings were trashed in Amdavad ni Gufa, when Hindus globally condemned the appearing of Hindu deities on bikinis and footwear, when the Danish cartoon controversy bloomed, I was nevermore disappointed in artists and citizenry alike. Yes, as artists, we have to push boundaries, question and challenge status quo, yes we have to start dialogues about traditionally held perceptions, cultural posts, etc. But, this is quite unlike any of these issues.

This photoshoot is a twisted take on a person who underwent the worst brutality one can imagine, with her parents still battling the trauma of her traumatic passing, a nation is still mourning in its susceptibility to bristle and protest at all the horrific crimes against women that keep getting reported now and then. As an artist, I think Mr. Shetye approached the subject with a certain thought process but I think he forgot to process the thought as a citizen of the society wherein to put a work up for display in public is to subject the artist and his work to common criteria of acceptability. An artist is entitled to ignoring or even not accepting the plaudits he receives for his creation but an artist, being a human being, owes it to the society to humbly retract if the society roundly rejects his work.

The struggle is always on and the boundaries always appear unfair to the artist, why wouldn’t they! To have the appropriate talent to express a thought be it in writing or in pictures or in music itself entitles one the aura of a creator – it’s a great high. But, to put creation over common sensibilities – art for art’s sake – is bound to jeopardize the balance of respect.

Raj Shetye’s clarification that the shoot was “just a depiction of the situation of women in our country” and not based on the rape just doesn’t quite cut it. The way I see it, and I think we all see something as what kind of person we are, Mr Shetye, when he thinks of fashion, photography, fame, and how to achieve it, thinks of showing men owning a woman’s body. It did not appear to him to show a man being pumelled and assaulted by the rapists for trying to protect his friend, nor did it occur to him to show this man also being thrown off on streets. Because that wouldn’t be interesting (or fashionable), would it!

Find the link here: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-28670663

I think if people can be arrested for posting negative and violent comments about politicians (read PM Modi and Mr. Balasaheb Thackeray), this person should be held legally accountable for such lack of taste as to challenge the dignity of a woman who only lives on in our hearts now, to provoke a section of the society, and to misguide people and society in general.

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The Great Indian Tradition of Hypocrisy

An Ad posted by Dastkar, a Non-governmental organisation, promoting ethnic weaves. The caption that appeared with the original picture says, 'Wish more young girls would learn to wear this beautiful and becoming garment'
An Ad posted by Dastkar, a Non-governmental Organisation, promoting ethnic weaves. The caption that appeared with the original picture says, ‘Wish more young girls would learn to wear this beautiful and becoming garment’

Don’t you just love these little posies posing in some gorgeous Andhra saris? Look at them giggling and leaning on one another, truly happy and enjoying the moment! Except that it’s just not right. Not right at all. 

If you will, look at the first one on the right in a blue sari, the one holding the ‘pallu’. The pallu is the free end of this beautiful drapey drapey garment that is the most showy, most versatile too. Feeling cold? put it over your shoulder and use it to cover your torso. Rain or sun? use it to cover your head. Use it to cover your head anyway as a mark of respect if you happen to meet either orthodox elders or if you end up going to a temple or even a religious ceremony. Use it to wipe your face, your child’s face, or anything at all. Finally, as our B’wood movies make it amply clear, use the pallu to cover your lover’s face and play peekaboo, or when nervous, take a corner and twist and untwist it to make your state of mind appear pretty. For a ‘come hither’ look, just let the whole thing drop… but take your time to sing a song while you’re at it. And, the rainier it is, the better. Of course, you will need it in times of emergency as the hero gets hurt and the situation will demand that you rip off a shred of your pallu and use it as a tourniquet. Then, when he has stolen your heart by saving you from the lecherous villain, he will pull you close to him with the help of? Pallu, yes, exactly.

We can’t see the pallu of any of these little girls but one. And that one has already caught on to one of the most common techniques of keeping it in place. You either pin it up right behind your shoulder after pleating it into a fan and end up looking like a school teacher or an air-hostess, none of which are bad I must say. But then, there is a dressier version. You could run it across the shoulder over your back and KEEP one of your hands forever occupied in holding the corner right above your crotch. Always. Believe me. Yes, you could let go of it once in a while and let the pallu cascade down your shoulder but of course, if you are doing anything other than sashaying across through a garden party where you are not the host, this is not practical, you’ll see. 

But, of course, in the name of Indian-ness and what have you, since even Hollywood finds the sari so interesting, even Maria Sharapova wore one (she, of course, wouldn’t wear one to court though, I mean tennis) and since Rohit Bal and the likes of him find it so graceful and sensuous, it’s only natural to catch our young women really young and use gooey images such as above to lure them in. I for one, can’t imagine wearing a sari in the hot hot hot Indian climate, on crowded as hell Indian streets. I am personally biased against a sari since I can neither lift my weights in it nor walk my dog nor can I cook in it. Sitting pretty is a whole another matter. 

But why pull little girls in? This is my big question for Dastkar. It’s hypocrisy and you know it why. If the same girls had been dressed in adult clothes from the Western culture across the seven seas, we would scream ‘sexualization of little children’ or westernization of young girls. Even if at least some of those clothes let the girls be girls: be boisterous, be bodily free, not wanting to keep adjusting a piece of fabric hanging over their crotch. I know my language is stark, I know our mothers and grandmothers all wore saris at all times (well, not my mother but my gran definitely did and my aunt still does, even when she goes to bed) but I did never see them walking, running, breaking into a jig, climbing over a fence, skipping over a piece of furniture. Of course, some in my hometown have chosen to combine tradition with modernity by wearing sneakers over a sari (pallu in the front: Gujarati or Bihari style), but I would not say it’s a great idea. You still can’t go hiking in a sari. 

I know what you’ll say: that you can’t go hiking in a pencil skirt either. And this is where I come to the real point. Sari is great at times when you would rather go with Indian formals. Salwar Kameez is great when you are already late for that 9am Borivli to Churchgate local, pencil skirts are great when you are meeting up with those French delegates your boss wants you to host, trousers are great when you mean business and are going to be frantically busy. But, these are adult roles, aren’t they? 

Little girls should be running around, playing, hopping, skipping, and doing all the things their adult selves would have to painstakingly find time for. They should be carefree, not bothered about those pleats at the front and whether then can climb a flight of stairs without tugging at their crotch or whether that pallu will fall off showing some errant strap or another (To note here that the girls are not wearing a blouse, or at least that’s the impression I get – not cute. Not done either). And to wish for such a mad proposition to catch on is madness itself! 

You know, if you so badly want to promote wearing a dress that is 5.5 yards long, that requires you wear a blouse and a petticoat underneath, that requires constant care and attention by the wearer, why don’t you go ahead and make it compulsory in schools. 

Another question, how about you encourage young boys to take to wearing dhotis or mundus or whatever it is that adults wear? 

Stop, just stop treating women and girls and children like objects of pleasure, will you? And don’t lean on tradition to justify doing so.