In a recent interview to the showbiz magazine Variety at Cannes, Mallika Sherawat said that India is a regressive nation. Priyanka Chopra, when asked to comment on this revelation, responded that as an Indian woman she was offended. It is now a micro controversy with just enough fuel to keep the tempo of the complete inanity of both their opinions going.
In the video of the Variety interview, Mallika begins by answering why she is at Cannes, which is actually a pretty good question. She says—in that strange American accent that Indians seem to get after a few months abroad—a biopic called Dirty Politics brings her to the film festival. Here, she plays a nurse involved with a politician who rapes and abuses her. She records his “misgivings and everything” and that leads to the government’s fall. In the end, the nurse dies.
These are the lines in that interview which proud patriotic Indians have found offensive: “India is such a hypocritical society where women are really at the bottom of society as compared to men”, “I made a conscious decision to divide my time between LA, America and India. Now when I experience that social freedom in America and I go back to India, which is so regressive for women, it’s depressing. As an independent woman it’s really depressing”. Lest you think that this is serious talk, it is not. On the Variety website, the interview is around two minutes and 40 seconds long and most of it is Mallika talking about Mallika with plenty of liberties taken with the truth. She name-drops Jackie Chan as usual. She name-drops working with Jessica Lynch “who is the daughter of David Lynch” without mentioning that the movie was called Hisss and she played a snake who just crawled most of the time. She lies that she was the first person to kiss and wear a bikini on screen (Raj Kapoor took care of that in Bobby and this must have been before Mallika was born). “Imagine in this 21st century. Instantly I became a fallen woman and a superstar. At the same time,” she said. She is, of course, neither a fallen woman nor a superstar.
And yet everything that she said about India is true. So self-evidently true that it is Priyanka Chopra who appears deluded in her response. “I think it’s a misrepresentation of what our great nation is on the world platform… It was upsetting for me as a woman. It was upsetting for me as a girl who comes from India,” she was quoted by IANS. India is not regressive because “it upsets me” or “it is bad for the country’s image” is the sort of argument that shows why India is regressive. It is such an obvious fact that women go through life in India bound hand, foot and mind so tightly that no one needs to go through feminist literature or sociological studies to know it. Some, like Priyanka Chopra and Mallika Sherawat, break out of the prison, but that is a ratio of one to one million. It means nothing. It is like saying that because Sonia Gandhi is the Congress chief, India has progressed enough that even Italians can be successful in politics here. To not say that India is regressive because it is unpatriotic is the intrinsic hypocritical essence of our culture.
To give instances of India’s regression would take more than the pages of this entire issue of Open. But all you have to do is take the most elite Indians—intellectually and financially—and look at their lives to see how steeped they are in institutions which go back thousands of years, like caste or dowry or non-inheritance of property by women. When Priyanka commented on Mallika’s statement, she was launching Unicef’s mobile application that will conduct a survey to identify issues that need prioritisation in this country. “The UN will then take the collective voice of the nation to world leaders,” she said. What does such tokenism mean in a country where there is a number to the minutes a young girl can stand alone at Mumbai’s CST railway station before she is whisked away to prostitution? If a mobile application is an indication of progress, then we are all blind as bats holding a tricoloured flag.