Recently, Tamil actor Suriya, who has a massive fan base in the South, was the subject of some mild ribbing. Two women anchors on a regional channel tried to joke about his height, and what followed was something unprecedented: The Tamil film industry rose in unison, all righteous anger at the “distasteful humour” and “body-shaming” that the women had indulged in. The actor’s army of trolls wasn’t far behind.
We take a look at the instances when actresses were body-shamed on and off screen, and the kind of …support they received (or not)
In Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, a girl of eight playfully tries to persuade a man to not marry a woman with whom she shares the same name. Why? Because she wants her father to marry her instead. “Why would you want to marry her? She’s fat and dark. You should marry someone else,” she says, all in a bid to stop the impending marriage. The man laughs it off, ruffles her hair. It’s propped up to be a cute moment.
This particular scene was innocuous at best for the time it was set in, but it was and still is one among the many tropes used on women in films.
In the film, Anjali, played by Kajol, was a woman who chose sweats and t-shirts over skirts and dresses, short hair over long, and basketball over makeup. She believed she didn’t have to follow what most girls did because she was perfectly happy being who she was. Until Rahul, played by Shah Rukh Khan, ridiculed, mocked, insulted and taunted her for being different than everybody else. Her clothes, her attempts at trying to look “feminine” ended up becoming a joke really, until the male lead finally said, “Hey, you’re still cool.” This made her feel better yes, but let’s not forget who planted those insecurities in her head first.
Four days ago, two anchors from Sun Music were subjected to brutal verbal abuse when a clip of them making fun of Tamil actor Suriya went viral. The vitriol they faced from Suriya’s ardent fans and even some members of the cinema industry resulted in a massive protest outside Sun TV’s office on Saturday.
Discussing Suriya’s upcoming films, the anchors talked about Amitabh Bachchan’s inclusion in Suriya’s next film directed by KV Anand, and wondered how the two would look together on screen – with remarks about high-heeled shoes and using a stool to look tall. A dig at Suriya’s height.
Unsurprisingly, the hate against the two female anchors included the choicest misogynistic abuses while some even threatened physical abuse. Actresses like Khushbu Sundar too, berated the two girls for their behaviour.
It does mot matter who is tall or short..fat or thin..fair or dark..what matters is how tall u r in ur deeds..how big u r in ur empathy..how fair u r in ur justification..shame on those who spoke of @Suriya_offl in such a demeaning way..shows ur insecurities n complex..#apologise
— khushbusundar (@khushsundar) January 21, 2018
And yet, had two men been on screen body-shaming an actress, no one would’ve batted an eyelid. Because, that’s quite normal for an industry that thrives on using women as bait to drive home a point – in the guise of humour, or more often than not, having a male actor deliver lessons in femininity.
Shamed for being fat, shamed for being too thin, shamed for being too short, shamed for being too tall, shamed for looking masculine, shamed for looking too feminine, shamed for dressing too old, shamed for dressing too young – it doesn’t just stop.
Of course, it’s quite rampant in Bollywood too – an industry that represents 43 per cent of the Indian net box office revenue, propagates a far more insidious form of shaming women for their physical appearance, something that has been normalised over the years. And when actresses are not body-shamed, they’re asked to cover their bodies.
Sometimes, questions at interviews and press conferences tread a similar path of making women feel more conscious of their bodies.
In November last year, Vidya Balan was asked if she would be doing more women-centric films and if she had thought about losing some weight. A stumped Vidya, like most of us, didn’t get the connection between women-centric roles and weight loss.
“I’m very happy with the kinds of roles I am doing. It would be great if you could change your mindset,” she said, with all the grace that even the queen wouldn’t be able to fathom.
Nobody came to her defence, of course. Not that she needed any. Dealing with trolls is a piece of cake for Vidya, considering she would take none of it even when Shah Rukh Khan made fun of her dressing sense at an awards show a few years ago.
Interviews aside, social media too, is a place where women get trolled and body-shamed.
A few months ago, Sonam Kapoor, who was in Thailand with her Veere Di Wedding team for a song shoot, was body-shamed when her co-actor Swara Bhaskar shared a video of her in a bikini top and a towel, lounging next to a pool. Trolls took it upon themselves to make fun of her body, calling her “flat”.
No statements were made asking people to “use their time wisely” nor were there any protests. This was, after all, just another day for a woman on social media.
In August last year, rumours of Nargis Fakhri being pregnant did the rounds. Because, she had packed a few extra pounds. In some photographs on social media, the actress can be seen hiding her face from the paparazzi. However, she took to Twitter to clarify that her weight gain was just because of eating.
BREAKING NEWS! pic.twitter.com/xQesGX75Yi
— Nargis (@NargisFakhri) August 26, 2017
New mothers were not spared either. In 2012, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was ridiculed and fat shamed so much it wasn’t even funny. Barely five months after giving birth to her daughter, Aaradhya, Aishwarya was photographed. The memes and “jokes” that followed, would continue for years.
It’s regular business in cinema of course, and while we have some films like Dum Laga Ke Haisha that tackles this hypocrisy beautifully, actresses seldom find such support in fans and patrons – something that Suriya, has been bestowed with.
1. Abdul Kalam
2. Sachin Tendulkar
5. Charlie Chaplin
6. Aamir Khan
9. Mike Tyson
— Surya Fans Club™ (@SuriyaFansClub) January 23, 2018
Illustration: Dani Charles