Got back a while ago after an hour long panel discussion on 'People Power' - Rajdeep Sardesai's cnn-ibn prime time show, feeling reassured that a civilised debate and discussion on the day's explosive topic is still possible without anybody bursting an artery or taking cheap pot shots. It was sober, erudite, informed and nuanced, with several points of view and interesting perspectives being accorded enough space and respect. Nobody interrupted, shouted, screeched, cursed or sulked. And like somebody on the panel pointed out, this protest is longer about Anna or even the Jan Lokpal Bill! I am sure you can catch it on the cnn-ibn website if you are interested. This is really how it should be - there was nothing shrill about Rajdeep's anchoring, and nobody became apoplectic when views didn't match. It's come to a ridiculous stage otherwise when Anna fans accuse dissenters of being worse than traitors!Enough said. Let a thousand opinions bloom... eventually, it is only truth that prevails.
This appeared in The Week....
Lolita is alive and well…
At a time when the Police Commissioner of Delhi is compelled to advise women not to travel solo at night , it does seem terribly odd to read reports of 11- and 13- year-old girls who are being used as models for decidedly grown up ads. The peculiar part about this arrangement has to do with the fact that they are not endorsing teen products. These pre-pubescent girls are being passed off as young adults with a few clever flicks of the make-up brush, high heels, and entirely inappropriate clothes. When I read the report titled, “Twelve going on twenty-two” in HT Café recently I did a double take.These are not girls from underprivileged or uneducated background doing it to keep from starving.These girls are modeling for the dosh. And fame, of course.Read what the mother of 11-year-old Malvika Hoon has to say about her kid posing seductively for a photo shoot, “Since she didn’t have a real cleavage then, a tight top made sure she passed off as a 20 year-old.” Another mother (Dolly Chakra) boasts about her tween daughter Aarti, who started modelling at the age of 3, “Her height is an advantage and we make sure she looks years older through make-up.” The 167cms girl is seen in bridal shows and has done jewelry campaigns as well. A photographer named Rahul Dutta is quoted as saying, “Skin care brands prefer young models as their skin is supple and flawless.There’s a fresh appeal to their face.” Child rights’ activists may knock the trend, but the way it works is simple – the market gets what the market wants. And the market wants ‘taaza maal.’ Others in the glam business insist it’s an acceptable trend given that it is popular in the West where agencies specifically ask for pre-teens and a model’s career peaks before she hits 18! But then, are we in India also ready to accept transsexual models like Brazil’s hottest cat walk queen Lea T, who is one - and proud of it?
Each time I catch a kid gyrating provocatively on tv in those awful dance shows, I shudder to imagine what life beyond that garish set is like for these precocious children. When I spot the faces of their beaming parents cheering them on, I feel even more revolted. Do they not see how blatantly their kid’s sexuality is being projected and exploited for the hungry eyes of countless voyeurs? Does it not scare the hell out of these idiotic, misguided people? Or is the lure of making a quick buck out of an innocent child powerful enough to blind those greedy mothers and fathers? Do they really want their nubile daughters to send out lurid signals to the audience? Or have they just not thought about possible repercussions down the line? Is it ignorance or avarice that drives such folks? I recall talking to a shining example of parental exploitation – Rakhi Samant – just before she arrived on the big ticket circuit. She wept big, fat tears recalling the days her mother would throw ghungroos at her and command her to dance for ‘rich people’. Rakhi eventually struck gold ( well… at least in material terms, forget emotional damage). Not every little girl shaking her booty for the cameras is as lucky. Given the times we live in, teen models being coerced into role playing by painting their faces and squeezing their budding breasts into tight tops, makes for a sickening story. No matter how lucrative the deals, or how prestigious the campaign. In fact, each time I spot pictures of Suri, the gorgeous daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, I cringe at the imagery. Here’s a cute kid of high-profile parents being projected as a style icon, if you please! The kid’s been wearing high heels and carrying designer bags virtually since she was a toddler! Now we are told she’ll be launching her own fashion label since her fashion sense is so damn sharp that she provides valuable style checks for her parents!
A society that actively encourages and endorses this sort of sexual objectification of minors through mass circulated ads, reflects a scary , almost schizo attitude towards sexuality itself. When Nobokov wrote Lolita, he was branded a dirty old man, and the book was banned in several countries for promoting child pornography. Today, as millions of women across the world take to the streets to protest against sexual violence, here we are foolishly promoting tween fixations through girls like Aarti and Malvika. Their mothers need heavy duty counseling. Were it not for these women pushing their bachchas into growing up in a mad hurry… forcing them to slap on war paint and create fake cleavages… in other words, persuading their kids to sell their garden fresh wares to a panting audience, those girls may have actually got a life. A less twisted one.