Fifty shades of black and white: Why a headline about Manish Malhotra's birthday bash had Twitter fuming

Aniruddha Mahale

Dec 08, 2016 18:33:26 IST

Three nights ago, fashion designer Manish Malhotra celebrated his 50th birthday like most celebrities do — with the who’s who of the glamour industry air kissing each other over aperitifs and appetisers. Like other Bollywood parties, newspapers and blogs squeezed and stretched (and even shutterbugged) to cover the story. Mumbai Mirror did so too, though they tried to pull a different angle. Then ran the story like everyone else, adding their four-word spin to the headline: '50 Shades Of Gay', they called it.

It was simple. It was out there. It did what it was supposed to do.

The headline was distasteful, and if the double meaning stands — it’s a desperate attempt to sensationalise the rumours of someone’s alleged sexuality.  But when it comes to newspapers like Mumbai Mirror, the allegations are always as ambiguous as the next Paulo Coelho book — ‘We didn’t mean it that way,’ they would say, ‘We meant it the other way; Why do you have to think of the double innuendo?’ the blame game continued, but so did the speculation.

It was supposed to be a click-baiter, and that’s precisely what it did. It laid out the cards, and the rest of the world played along.  And the worst bit?

We played right into their hands, just like they wanted us to. What the newspaper did was wrong — they took a poor man’s birthday, and tried to make an inside joke at the edit table — probably guffaws were exchanged, and one bright sub-editor was patted on their back for coming up with the clever jape, a raise was promised and forgotten soon after. Nothing was said, nothing was spelled out — it was only heavily implied, just like the child back in school who doesn’t complain, but still surreptitiously points out to the classmate who is cheating in the exam.

Manish Malhotra's 50th birthday bash: All the pics from inside the designer's big celebration

The Twitter tantrums piled on soon after, but then again, that’s what Twitter is for — to let people point fingers and shout their throats hoarse, in 140 characters or less. We do it from the confines of our couches, our cars, from under our desks and while we sit on the pot — we pull people down, we show our dissent, we roar out with discord — typing furiously on our touchscreens.

‘How could they say it?’

‘I cannot even…’

‘So distasteful, what are you implying, Mumbai Mirror?’

‘Not cool, media. Not cool…’

‘Who uses Gay as happy anymore? It’s not the 1980’s anymore.

Fifty shades of black and white: Why a headline about Manish Malhotras birthday bash had Twitter fuming

As people, we feel at ease with the semblance of an opinion — it makes us feel safe and important, we love having them. Is demonetisation good? What do I feel about the Syrian refugee crisis? Has the beef ban affected me? What’s with section 377 anyway? Can a high profile actor really get away with murder? How did Donald Trump become Time magazine’s Person Of The Year? But as a nation, we’ve thrived on blind items, gossip columns and what the sex expert has to say in our daily tabloids — we love the drama, and if someone ever made a movie about it, we’d throng the movie screens so that we could laugh about all the juicy details on Facebook the very next day. And as the story built up and spread like wildfire, so did lurid (but mostly exaggerated) details about the designer’s life. As the story grew, so did the allegations.

After all, when we are trudging through our boring desk jobs and post-lunch doldrums, nothing charges us up more than the lives of the rich and the famous. Implications of a celebrity’s sexuality have always been thrown around casually — ‘Did you hear that the country’s leading director is dating the beautiful boy that he debuted last year?’ or ‘Remember that actress who’s not been seen in a movie since the past decade? I heard she’s never been married, she’s clearly a lesbian’, not to forget my personal favourite, ‘Oh sure, he’s married, but he’s having an affair with that hunky actor. It’s never stopped them before, has it?’ ù we litter the roads with these rumours ourselves, laughing over them at house parties and office water coolers.

We know that sex sells, but gay jokes sell even more — it’s such a disposable word to throw around. We strengthen the stereotypes, and hide them behind sniggers and hushed whispers. ‘Why get affected by something that doesn’t even offend me?’ said TBBT star Johnny Galecki, when asked if he was bothered by the constant questions regarding his sexuality.  In India, however, being gay (whether you are out and about, or safely tucked into the closet) is still looked as an object of ridicule — simply a tool to raise eyebrows and sell newspapers. We treat it with disdain, with mock agitation and use it as a slur — one that leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. There’s no handling it as an every day thing as it should be — full of charm, impeccable taste and great, moisturised skin. That’s how the world gets a movie like Dostana, or breaking news like last night’s headline.

We feed it, and we’ve been doing so for the past few decades.

Is there light at the end of this dark, depressing tabloid-driven tunnel?

Yes, there is. We slowly begin to understand that not all headlines are black and white; sometimes they are also grey, all fifty shades of it. That’s how it is. So what do we do after?

It’s simple. We turn to the next page.

Updated Date: Dec 08, 2016 18:41:16 IST