Ranjona Banerji: Times’ titillating tweet on Deepika Padukone crosses the decency line

16 Sep,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


The Times of India official entertainment twitter account on Sunday posted a picture of film star Deepika Padukone picture with the legend, “OMG: Padukone’s cleavage show”.


Padukone reacted immediately with this tweet: “Supposedly India’s leading newspaper and this is News? Yes! I am a woman and I have breasts and a cleavage! You got a problem?”


Immediately, there was support for the actress across the spectrum and especially from within the film world.


TOI’s Twitter handle perhaps made it worse by replying that it was paying Padukone a compliment, a tweet that has since been removed. The picture was from the premiere of Chennai Express last year.


The Times of India used to be known as the “Old Lady of Bori Bunder”. A lot has changed since then and it has dumped its “venerable” image by dumping down news content and upping its entertainment and glamour quotients.


For this, it depends heavily on Bollywood and its stars. The PR machinery that runs the film industry has been fed and nurtured by journalists who prefer access over stories and managements have honed the craft by introducing money-making schemes like Medianet. Bennett Coleman has been first off the blocks and has first mover advantage here. Several lectures have been given to journalists about marketing must have precedence and who pays your salaries and so on. The reader, obsessed apparently with Bollywood news and information, does not care that he or she is being taken for a ride.


But what happens when film stars – your prime selling point – turn against you? Amitabh Bachchan boycotted the film media for years and it made no difference to his popularity at all. And that was in the days when the film media was not a willing handmaiden in the publicity game. But even with all that, mutual respect is important. And there is a line – fine though it may be – between glamour reporting and sleaze. TOI desperately needs film stars to make one of its prime entertainment properties like the Filmfare awards a success.


This sort of photo feature is common on the internet and many websites carry similar “stories”. Most of them are sexist, especially in India. The Times of India only recently got into trouble when it was discovered that its website was carrying the most ridiculous tips on how to pleasure women sexually, many of the ideas either plagiarised or outright impossible. At the time, the young person responsible was removed but whoever issued instructions remained.


There is an argument being made that film stars are in the public domain and therefore have to take the good with the bad. But this is not a bad film review – which the TOI is careful never to do – or about bad dress sense. This is about, quite simply, looking for cheap titillation. Padukone has reacted more as a woman than as an actress. If the tweet for instance had just said “Padukone looking sexy”, the matter would have ended. By drawing attention to her breasts, it crossed that fine line.


It also makes you wonder at the kind of people hired to do these jobs. Much as they are enamoured with glamour, they evidently bring a certain petty mindset with them. There was a time when journalists could not survive without open minds. Now it seems we revel in the khap panchayat idea of life.


It is also fascinating that male stars are not targeted in a similar manner in India – the way they are in the west for instance. Anyone interested can look up John Hamm, the star of Mad Men and his propensity to wander around without underwear, to see how far irreverence can go. But we in India have specialised in some peculiar fawning laudatory fan-writing interspersed with appalling sexism. Our inherent incipient hypocrisy and what sociologist Dipankar Gupta calls India’s “mistaken modernity” is on full display here.


Padukone has reacted against that. Not against pictures of her cleavage.




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