Kangana Ranaut's 'Bollywood Diva' video with AIB calls out sexism — and the 'wokebro'
Kangana Ranaut’s latest video with All India Bakchod ('The Bollywood Diva Song', which comes just days before the release of the Hansal Mehta-directed Simran), became an internet sensation within hours of its online debut. Vagabomb called the song ‘The Perfect Slap in Sexist Bollywood’s Face’ — and that's exactly what it is. The song, with its catchy lyrics ('Cause I Have Vagina Re') set to the tune of Jaqueline Fernandez's ‘Chittiyan Kalaiyan Ve’, is a takedown of everything that's wrong with the Hindi film industry. A satire shot in the style of a typical Bollywood sangeet sequence, the lyrics tackle nepotism, sexism, the objectification of women — all of the things that its star, Kangana, has been 'raking up' in her interviews, be it with Karan Johar or more recently, with Rajeev Masand and Rajat Sharma.
There’s another thing the AIB video does quite deftly — acknowledging the existence of the 'wokebro'.
Who is the wokebro? You're sure to have met him, probably at a party where he's almost always name dropping Foucault, Butler and Beauvoir with an ease unbeknownst to most scholars, almost as if they were his classmates. You may have met him at your workplace, where he encourages you to voice your opinion, with the helpful caveat: "Just don’t go on a feminist rant" or "Don’t be so shrill".
The wokebro wants to be an ally, but he is only an enlightened sexist.
The AIB video begins with Kangana expressing an opinion — that her character wouldn't talk like the reductive dialogues that have been written for her — which the director pooh-poohs. In comes the male lead (Varun Thakur, in a hilarious throwback to Shah Rukh Khan-Jaya Bachchan's opening scene from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham) and is treated in just the way male leads are treated: with love, respect and intense pampering and inflating of ego. He walks in and repeats exactly what Kangana said right at the start — surprise! (not really) the director takes note.
You're heartened that the hero is saying something meaningful and not-sexist — until the wokebro reveal comes in at the end, when uncomfortable with all the truth bombs exploding around him, he tells Kangana (in the most well-meaning way of course): “Dekh meri baat maan, main keh raha hoon tu replace ho jaayegi haan?”
The happy-to-sound feminist, hero of the masses who ‘respects’ women (when convenient) shrivels into the man whose ‘wokeness’ is indirectly proportional to threat to his ego/privilege/safety.
This is the wokebro quality almost everyone involved in the annals of the ‘Kangana controversy’ has expressed at some point or the other. Take Kangana’s appearance on Koffee With Karan (which started the whole debate on nepotism in the first place): For the most part of the interview, Karan Johar agrees with Kangana but as soon as he felt personally targeted or did not have the wherewithal to respond to her acute and non-sugarcoated observations, he moved the narrative from 'this is too much' to 'she is too much':
“I was gracious enough to keep everything. I cut none of it and I do edit so much of stuff from the show. I was like, let the world see her opinion. I gave her the platform to speak and now this is my platform so here I am speaking what I want to. I want to conclude by saying I am done with Kangana playing the woman card and the victim card. You can’t be a victim at every point of time who has a sad story to say as to how you have been terrorised by the bad world of industry. If that’s the case, leave it (sic).”
Okay, wokebro Johar, you didn’t edit the video, even though you could? How gracious of you. Wokebro Johar is unhappy with Kangana that she didn’t use the platform he gave in the way he wanted her to.
Industry wokebro Varun Dhawan, while promoting Badrinath Ki Dulhania, said in interviews: “I realise that women don't want to get treated differently but just equally. I don't know what feminism is all about but I understand that women should be treated equally and I endorse that thought.” Okay, not as woke but his heart is supposedly in the right place. Unfortunately, even he couldn’t look beyond his own privilege before making the infamous “Nepotism rocks!” joke at the IIFA along with industry shehzaad wokebro Saif Ali Khan.
Saif Ali Khan kicked it up a notch and brought in genetics when addressing the issue:
“If you need another example, then take race horses. We take a derby winner, mate him with the right mate and see if we can create another grand national winner. So, in that sense, this is the relationship between genetics and star kids. Hope that’s clear? As for the girl from Elle: I’m sorry you found words like eugenics in a conversation about nepotism misplaced. Perhaps if you got your head out of the hemline of the actress of the month and read a book, your vocabulary might improve.”
Wokebro Khan likes using fancy terms and expresses knowledge of race horses but instead of substantiating or making an informed argument about why the mention of eugenics in a conversation about nepotism is not misplaced (it is totally misplaced, a shout-out to the ‘Elle girl’) he prefers calling women girls and mansplaining by asking them to read books.
Wokebros are allies but only when it's convenient and so long as it serves their own self-interests, maintains their privileges, hierarchies. When women begin to the rattle the cage, it rattles the wokebro who slips up and unleashes the most ‘un-woke’ bile unto them.
We are living in times where it is easy to access certain words and literature on equality and feminism. Buzzwords catch on. Trending hashtags have made it easier to access and contribute to the domain of gender speak. But, what does it really mean to put those words that one speaks into action? Does one become a feminist or an ambassador for equal rights by spouting: 'Yes, equal work, equal pay?' Or does one become woke by acknowledging casual sexism, making a conscious effort to check one’s privilege, by empathising with the lived realities of women?
And if you’re wondering whether wokebros are a new breed of men, they are not. Wokebros have existed for centuries. The descriptors change with time and the evolution of language itself.
It is a grave mistake to assume that an exhibition of progressive intent on one front naturally lends itself to progressive and unproblematic approach towards understanding gender. Take the Women’s Liberation movement in 1970s US, which specifically questioned the existing sexism within radical and progressive groups. More recently and in the Indian context, the Kumar Sundaram episode points to how the Left (and the Right) progressives usually keep mum on issues relating to gender within their organisations.
Gender speak has to fulfill the larger goal of raising consciousness — enabling individuals to recognise the oppressive structures around them. But what do we do about the wokebros who only talk, rarely listen? The burden of being Kangana Ranaut is not unique, it quite simply is the burden of being a woman in a world that isn’t structured to benefit any of us.