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A recent talent show on television mined the #MeToo movement for the sake of a 'prank', making light of the very real experiences of harassment that women and girls everywhere go through.
A recent talent show on television mined the #MeToo movement for the sake of a ‘prank’, making light of the very real experiences of harassment that women and girls everywhere go through.
I’m a temperamental television viewer, relating to the programs on the tube only when they are genuinely entertaining. That was what made me watch Rising Star on Colors TV – the sheer talent that sings each week on that program is something else. Except, last Saturday, I was left with the familiar taste of disgust that has become all too common, seeing sexism and sexual harassment unfold in the programs, movies, and shows that pass off as entertainment.
The contrived montages that present participant back stories played on screen, introducing two young men who were to sing in a duo. One bashfully shared that the other always played pranks on him. The prankster looked particularly proud. The montage ended and the duo was on stage. The host, Aditya Narayan, introduced them to the audience. The prankster looked at the bashful one and suggested that the bashful one had casually remarked backstage that Neeti Mohan, the lone woman on the three-judge panel that comprises Diljeet Dosanjh and Shankar Mahadevan as well, looked ‘Rapchik’ and ‘Kadak’ in her ‘red dress’.
My ears perked up: I may not know the language, but I know enough to know that the words are not appropriate and cannot be used for a woman. Needless to say, Neeti appeared to have perked up, too. What followed was what seemed like Neeti calling out sexual harassment: she said she represented other women and girls on the platform, asserted that neither she nor the channel would allow such things, and threatened to walk out. All this while, Diljeet Dosanjh and Shankar Mahadevan are heard reprimanding the boys, suggesting that it wasn’t cool and such words were cheap.
I was amazed: a live television show stepping up to take a stand against sexual harassment? How awesome is that, right? We’ve never had anyone do this before.
That’s it right there. “We’ve never had anyone do this before.” And therefore, it must be treated as TRP-worthy.
Proving that right, Neeti began laughing, and suggested that it was all ‘mazaak’. The boys were no longer ‘frightened’ and then even fell at Neeti’s feet (WOW, SO NICE!). Shankar proceeds to tell us that the prankster had masterminded (!!) this entire ‘prank’. The audience burst into applause, the duo sang, won their votes, and are now perhaps headed to the next round.
Yep. Jyuuuust another sexist day at work.
The show lost all entertainment value for me, in those few minutes. It was an absolutely disrespectful exposition of exactly how sexual harassment is treated. For Neeti Mohan to not check her privilege, to not acknowledge the damage that she’s done by choosing to be part of a prank that reduced sexual harassment to a mere prank, represents the very problem with Bollywood. To think that she did not think twice before saying that she was representing all girls and women makes me smart with grief.
Women and girls around the world brave all kinds of traumatic experiences each day – and speaking up is not easy. Reporting sexual harassment comes with a heavy load of challenges – think of what singer Chinmayi is going through for calling Lyricist Vairamuthu out, for example – and the already stifling patriarchal system does not do anything to alleviate the trauma of the experience.
First claiming to represent women and girls (hello, pass the mic much?) and then going on to call this a prank is a huge disservice to the emotional labour that women are putting in every day to call patriarchy to account. Diljeet and Shankar represented nothing better – but that’s not surprising because they clearly batted for the ‘bro culture’.
I hear that they’ve taken the section of the footage down. But the damage’s done. And your silence, Neeti, Diljeet, Shankar, and Colors, is shameful.
Image courtesy Desifeed video
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