Reel Life: In the thick of a pandemic of righteousness and piety

Why the hue and cry over Instagram pics of Ranveer Singh which anyone can choose to ignore? As the outrage turns more and more sanskari now, one wonders if we have become more offence-prone in 2022

Photo courtesy: Twitter/@RanveerOfficial
Photo courtesy: Twitter/@RanveerOfficial
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Namrata Joshi

Shed clothes, reveal, have people react, gather attention and then move on. What one thought would follow this tame trajectory has gone on an entirely different wild road.

A case has been registered by the Mumbai Police against Ranveer Singh for posing in the nude for New York-based Paper magazine. The star had also posted these pictures on his Instagram account and broke the internet on July 21.

An FIR was filed at the Chembur police station in Mumbai on the complaint of an NGO and a written application by the lawyer and former journalist, Vedika Chaubey, alleging that Ranveer had hurt the sentiments and modesty of women.

Paper magazine has previously featured the likes of Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Miley Cyrus, Zayn Malik, Katy Perry et al and the photoshoot and the article were being perceived as a shot in the arm for Ranveer, an acknowledgment of his stature as a global icon. No wonder the fellow celebrities—from Alia Bhatt to Priyanka Chopra— came out in full support and solidarity. But his detractors, it appears, have another axe to grind. That they could see his bum.

It hasn’t just driven some intense discussions on TV channels but also spawned a whole genre of butt-bottom-backside-behind jokes on social media capped by the ultimate pop culture endorsement—composer Yashraj Mukhate’s song video ‘We can see his bum’.

The prudishness of the FIR itself defies logic, way beyond any discussion on whether the photos are obscene, vulgar and what have you. Did Ranveer go the Full Monty in public? Did he force it on everyone to see him in his birthday suit? Why the hue and cry over a magazine shoot and Instagram pictures which anyone can choose to ignore?

It’s not the first time a celebrity has done a nude shoot either. Just a couple of days before Ranveer, South star Vijay Deverakonda was seen with strategically placed bunch of roses—and nothing more— on the poster of his upcoming release Liger, and Rahul Khanna posted a picture of himself on Twitter wearing socks and shoes and nothing else, seeking cover behind a small cushion.

Inspired by Ranveer, the Instagram account retrobollywood did a wonderful collation of pictures of Bollywood men on a stripping spree, going all the way back to the pioneer— villain Ranjeet in the 1970s.

Others included Jackie Shroff, Kabir Bedi, Shakti Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Aditya Pancholi, Danny Denzongpa, Naseeruddin Shah, and even the blue-eyed boy of the current regime, Akshay Kumar. Shots of Anupam Kher in his undies are on Twitter, so too of the late Sushant Singh Rajput with a precariously placed towel.

Back in 1995 Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre had posed in the buff for a shoe ad. And, even before that, in the 70s, Odissi dancer and model Protima Bedi shocked one and all by streaking on Juhu beach, ostensibly as part of promotional photoshoot for the launch of Cine Blitz magazine.

The issue sold like hot cakes, but Protima had to go on the backfoot and claimed that the image was from a nudist camp in Goa.

More recently no one batted an eyelid when Aamir Khan in the buff, with a two-inone for camouflage, stared back at all of us from the posters of the film PK.

(Clockwise from top left) Jackie Shroff, Kabir Bedi, Akshay Kumar and Shakti Kapoor
(Clockwise from top left) Jackie Shroff, Kabir Bedi, Akshay Kumar and Shakti Kapoor
Photo courtesy: Retrobollywood Instagram

As the outrage turns more and more sanskari now, one wonders if we have become more offence-prone in 2022. Is persistent indignation fuelling our lives? Is affront sustaining us? More than getting riled for oneself, it’s utterly baffling to find people flaring up on behalf of others.

What is making us become nannies and moral police for others? Who gives the right to another to talk about my modesty getting outraged when it refuses to get outraged by seeing a star’s derriere?

But yes, it does take offence when it comes to sexism, gender disparities and crimes against women. A strange infantilisation of public discourse is upon us and reactions to Ranveer Singh are merely symptoms of that larger malaise. We are in the thick of a pandemic of righteousness and piety.

As expected, it has been men who have been expressing more rancour than women. Does Ranveer laying himself bare for the female gaze make them feel exposed? Why is objectification of women de rigour but a man voluntarily objectifying himself become a national issue?

A group of men in Indore collected clothes for Ranveer as a symbolic protest for outraging women’s modesty. Ironically, with no woman present in that crowd. One only hopes that those clothes that they have gathered would be better utilised as charity for the needy and destitute.

These cases and protests are eventually nothing more than desperate attention seeking tactics. However, in trying to bring themselves in the spotlight these individuals end up doing nothing more than generating more buzz around the star and wasting the time of the cops and the judiciary on such frivolities when the institutions have many other cases of significance to focus on.

And why just them, the media also seems to be bereft of ideas when it comes to debates of consequence. “This causes mental trauma to children,” said Priyank Kanungo, NCPCR Chairperson on a TV debate.

What about the trafficking scandal rocking the Meghalaya BJP? Ranveer’s bum is ultimately all about the eyeballs and the state of his anatomy more critical than the state of the nation’s economy.

To be fair there was much to enjoy from our awkward, uncomfortable reactions to him and fun was being had by all initially with the creative silliness of the many memes and reels on social media centred on Ranveer’s bum till the case revealed the clown in us.

The joke is not on a maverick, nonconformist star but on us in making such needless brouhaha.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)