Vogue Empower released a video starring the starriest of stars, titled “My Choice” on how everything in a woman’s life is her choice- every important facet of her journey, and the decisions and judgment calls that go along with it. Things on which the Indian society at large tends to place shackles- from the choice of wardrobe to her choice of partner.
There isn’t a media house that hasn’t lent their two pennies on this video. Plenty of criticism has appeared, and some stray instances of support too. In this opinionated article, Binjal Shah has tried to collate all those strong views and give you more than one side to each argument.
Argument 1: “Deepika the Bollywood star does Item numbers, how can she be against objectification?” (Various Facebook users)
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again- stop making this video about Deepika Padukone! It’s not about her- focus on the ‘evidence within the frame’, and leave Deepika’s real-life decisions out of it. The video is not titled, “Deepika Padukone the Devout Feminist being her real-life self for Vogue the Women’s Rights NGO’s campaign,” nor does it make any such claims. In the video, she is a woman, part of a campaign that has a message.
What Deepika does in Bollywood as an “actor”, and need not interfere with her decisions to champion a cause in her real life, or in another ‘acting gig’ – if that’s how you see this video. And if you still wish to argue, you also need to raise an objection against Ashutosh Rana being allowed anywhere in a three mile radius around a girl, because he cold-bloodedly raped and murdered Kajol in Dushman.
My point is- judge the video on the basis of the evidence provided within the frame. Everything else, all other knowledge which is not depicted in the piece, automatically becomes trivia, noise, barriers- and interferes with your viewing experience, which it should not. Take the message in one video without referencing her other work to judge it.
Argument 2: In her empowering monologue about what part of a woman’s life is her choice and hers alone, a line in the voiceover goes ‘It’s my choice to have sex outside my marriage’ (Every single publication.)
I can attempt to explain why this was included. Cheating is not judged from the same set of morals for male and female offenders. It is a case of Men will be Men v/s She has a bad character. The video makes a terribly half-hearted and controversial attempt at highlighting that. What they may have been trying to say, but failed at miserably- is that it is equally okay AND not okay for a man and woman to cheat. It would have been best to leave this out, as they clearly couldn’t spend more time on explaining the thought behind such a gray area. Another theory, refers to a girl’s right to be in an open marriage or relationship. (This violates my own idea of using evidence in the frame though, because there was none to support either interpretation, I agree. Which is why I concluded, that this incomplete idea should not have been included in the video at all, if they were going to treat it so indelicately.)
Yet, the comments on this clause were all focused on the absolute, objective “wrongness of adultery.” Just my two pennies on this- when it comes to matters of complex adult relationships like adultery and polygamy, it’s best for us on the outside not to judge, it’s not our place. Steer clear of assuming a moral high-ground and stating what’s right or wrong- the reality is, how a couple treats adultery committed by one of them is completely their prerogative and issue. But yes, we are a voyeuristic lot, and when you do find yourself tempted to judge, judge its morality independent of gender.
Argument 3. By extension, some have dissensions to raise with the advertiser, “Vogue: the epitome of superficiality and vanity. For them, this was just a gimmick.” (Various Facebook Users)
Apart from applying the same ‘seek evidence in the frame principle’ here’s what else is wrong with that argument. Vogue is no do-gooder NGO, and I don’t even see it trying to create that illusion- and if you expect it to be that, you also probably believe the world farts rainbows. I don’t care if the bloomin’ video was a mere marketing gimmick to them, as long as a viewer is going home wiser and a changed person.
Consume this like you would consume a film with a message. Were movies like 3 Idiots made for national welfare? If they were, the actors wouldn’t have charged a fee, and Raju Hirani sure as hell wouldn’t have charged 300 bucks a ticket. But they all did, because the movie was- prepare to have your positivity bubble bursted- a business venture. Yet, that didn’t change the fact that it stirred something within us, as we laughed and cried with the characters and let the story change our perspectives, one suicide at a time.
If it were gimmicky- did they shove their upcoming April issue in your face at the end of it, or give any direct call for action to spend, buy, invest or donate? Besides, ‘social marketing’ is a whole separate category in advertising, and companies are free to resort to it, and, in fact, even encouraged to do so.
Argument 4: Deepika’s larger-than-life superstardom, coupled with the other celebs that shared the screen with her like Nimrat Kaur and Zoya Akhtar, made the video appear too elitist- as if the movement was only targeted to the upper class. (Appeared on SaddaHaq.com, Quartz.com)
To be fair, Vogue did intersperse the visuals of everyday women along with their more ‘privileged’ lot. Here’s how I saw it- the women’s movement is an equalizer. It transcends class, caste and backgrounds and affects the entire gender, and hence, calls for all of us to join forces and unite.
Moreover, this move questions the creative freedom of the advertiser and his ad agency. Why are celebrity brand ambassadors used to endorse anything at all? No one is getting fooled when Amitabh says Navratna Tel is the most Thanda Thanda Cool Cool, that it is because he swears by the Thanda Thanda Cool Coolness of it in reality.
Celebs used in advertising are the product of an advertising formula- nothing more to it, nothing less either. To lend a product more credibility in the minds of the layperson, and create better recall in the minds of the consumer.
Let’s say the video IS elitist, who is to say that Urban woman don’t have their trysts with patriarchy every corner they turn? At least the video is attempting to make a dent in the vast world of gender bias that knows no class. It may be inadequate, but it’s certainly not misguided.
Argument 5: “The reasons this video has clicked are the 4 Ds…Deepika Padukone sells and how. She rules Bollywood and hearts…Deepika’s Dimpled Smile. Anybody can fall for it….” (Appeared in Indian Express)
The point is that it struck a chord. And as long as it isn’t inciting a gender apocalypse, why are we complaining exactly?
Also, congratulations on being part of the reason why the “dumb-blonde” stereotype is still going strong. Pretty women can’t have depth? I don’t get it- are you calling all ‘real’ feminists ugly, or good-looking women dumb and superficial?
Argument 6: The video disrespects women who are stay at home moms. (Appeared in Indian Express, Firstpost)
I beg to differ. “To have your baby, or not. To Marry, or not to marry. To have sex or not to have sex. To wear a bindi, or to take it off.” Enough emphasis is laid on the fact every decision of the woman shall be respected, as long as it is voluntary. (I have explained this exact phenomenon in detail, in this other article I wrote on the topic.)
Argument 7: “It’s just another story of man-hating.” (Appeared in Firstpost)
Boys, stop making it about y’all! Especially that video of you playing the victim- absolutely uncalled for, it reeks of first-world problems. (My sister got a car on her birthday. On that note- mom, dad, where’s MY private jet?)
For once, this campaign wasn’t a rant. Not one instance of her generalizing in the video. Heck, this video wasn’t about what men do to women in the first place. It was completely centered on a woman stating her rights and freedoms, without mentioning once if “all” men violate them.
I did not see the tone of that video as derogatory or demeaning. Rather than that, the tone was assertive. Everytime she said “they”: Did you imagine her attacking your well-meaning and liberal boyfriend, or did you see that she was directly addressing that Lawyer in the Nirbhaya case and his low-life species?
The one common theme in most of the critiques- Deepika Padukone and Vogue and what’s wrong with their lives, nothing to do with the video. I can’t stress upon this enough- focus on what you see and hear, and more importantly, feel and experience within the frame and what it’s trying to communicate.
The Huffington post article on this subject seems to agree with me on all of the above- but what they went on to do, was as thoughtless as the rest of the dark noise- snarkily pick on the choice of words in the video, and Deepika’s “flat monotone” voice. Come on, we’re better than that! And certainly capable of being less superficial and judgmental while assessing something that is pleading with you to look at the larger picture. All these criticisms are playing in the mud, while the video aims at flying high.
Long story short, this video managed to give me chills, inculcate in me a sense of empowerment and liberation from unspoken and unjustified rules that govern my subconscious mind, without making me hate my father, grandfather, boyfriend, brother, friend or anyone who hasn’t ever wronged me. I am just trying to extend this sense positivity, power, and enlightenment to as many as I can.
I have built on this thought, about how this video is in fact doing its job by busting modern-day myths about feminism. Read the article here.