The latest in actor Dia Mirza’s longish repertoire of looking impossibly pretty on celluloid, is a commercial for a deodorant brand. This one, unlike the others Bollywood stars have endorsed in the past, doesn’t promise pristine white armpits or a pollution invading flowery fragrance.
It tells potential male buyers that all you need to do is spray it and stand at the window – a dazzling Dia Mirza prototype will coming running to you. A very comforting thought for the men of our world it may be, but ads like these point at a deeper malaise in our culture – that of not giving enough space and legitimate hearing to the idea of female desire.
As writer Veena Venugopal points out in her strong piece on Kafila, female desire in popular social and cultural narratives is either something that’s hastily shoved under the carpet or laughed at for its apparent ridiculousness. She starts her piece with an anecdote about DevD (Anurag Kashyap’s film anointed a classic by the anti-populists).
The scene where Mahi Gill, who plays Paro, is shown dragging a blanket through a field and then laying it out, as she waits for her paramour, draws raucous laughter from the male friends with whom the writer was watching the film. The women, according to Venugopal, laugh ‘uneasily’.
She goes out to point out how inadequate and warped narratives about female desire is in our popular culture.
When did desire become a male privilege? There is so little conversation about a woman’s desire for sex that a lot of people simply assume it doesn’t exist. A Times of India article last month starts with this surprising headline, Women too have high sex drive. Did you not know that? To my mind, understanding that there is such a thing as female desire is essential to knowing how we behave.
Also, it brings to mind debates on another issue – that of item songs in Bollywood films. A Kareena Kapoor or a Katrina Kaif dancing to a raunchy song on the lines of Chikni Chameli or Favicol are vehemently dismissed as puerile attempts at objectifying the woman and her body.
However, if we were to give it another thought, songs like those are actually about women seeking male attention and some might argue, sex – on their own terms, from whoever they want. Do we ask, if that is not the prerogative of every woman? No.
In a social discourse which gives little space to female desire and the fact that it lends itself to various manifestations, item songs, are villains of the highest order – possibly because they don’t fall in place with set prototypes of desire we are acquainted with.
In the din of acerbic feminist debates over them and how they instigate men, drive them to all sorts of violence, and how women like ‘us’ are different from women like ‘them’, we defeat our very own arguments about the legitimacy of female desire and our freedom to express it whatever way we like.
Read the complete article by Veena Venugopal on Kafila here.