Being Angry at a Celebrity for Not Taking a Political Stand is Wrong: Actor Maanvi Gagroo

A young, brash north Indian woman who is perpetually wearing sunglasses, and has no qualms about riding a horse to her own wedding in all her bridal finery – Maanvi Gagroo as Goggle Tripathi in Hitesh Kewalya’s Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan (2020) was showered with critical acclaim.

Maanvi has come a long way. The webtertainment celebrity is one of the most recognized faces on OTT platforms, and has gained adulation for her forays into Bollywood as well.

Maanvi, who started her career with Disney Channel’s Dhoom Machao Dhoom in 2007, shot to fame in the digital content space with TVF Pitchers. Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan’s success comes on the heels of another Bollywood comedy, Ujda Chaman, where she played the female lead role. Her other recent works include  Amazon Prime web series Four More Shots Please and TVF Tripling.

Actor Maanvi Gagroo (Photo by Waseem Gashroo/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Breaking free of stereotypes

Although Maanvi is well-established as an actress now, she had once felt stereotyped.

Speaking to MAKERS India in an exclusive interview, she says, “I often tell people that I have a ‘pre-Pitchers’ and a ‘post-Pitchers’ career graph. Earlier I used to get the roles of the bubbly, chubby Punjabi girl whose character had no depth and who only existed for comic relief or to fill a frame. They were not pertinent to the story and were one-dimensional. Eventually, I stopped enjoying them and auditioning for them. Thankfully, things changed after Pitchers.”

Although Maanvi has been lauded for the finesse in her depiction of comic characters, she says that she was worried of being stereotyped when she was offered the role of Goggle Tripathi. “But I realized it would diversify my repertoire. There would be many people in the audience who would see me for the first time and it would make them see my other works also, which have been varied. Also, comedy is no longer a male bastion. Earlier, comic women were portrayed according to tropes- one of them being that funny women cannot be sexy; but things are changing,” she tells MAKERS India.

On being unfazed by beauty standards

In an industry which has been criticized for promoting unrealistic beauty standards, Maanvi has proudly hold her own. Although the reel Maanvi has played multiple roles of women with body image issues, the real Maanvi responds nonchalantly to the issue of conforming to established beauty standards.

“I keep shuttling between two points of views because there are days when I feel I need to do something about myself and be healthy for my own sake. A lot of casting directors, filmmakers, and even well-wishers have told me ‘Bas tu thodi patli ho jaa, tu phod degi! (Lose a few kilos and you can be even more amazing). If you want to be in the commercial space, you would have to conform to those standards; and it is perfectly fine as long as you are doing it out of joy. But there are days also when I get angry and exasperated. I feel that as long as I bring authenticity to the table in terms of the characters I play and the work I do, it shouldn’t matter.”

Such a stand is admirable in a culture where anything that a celebrity does or says evokes public response. For instance, during the recent spate of protests across the country against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register for Citizens, social media was rife with netizens urging actors and actresses to take a stand.

On being asked about her take on actors taking a political stand, Maanvi emphasized that it is a personal decision. “Being angry at a celebrity for not taking a political stand is wrong because I think why should I be following a celebrity, for their political views? I would follow them for their work. For political view, I look at a news channel, or a journalist who has expertise. That’s why I think it’s wrong to expect political expertise from a celebrity just because he/she is famous and has a certain amount of following on social media. I think it’s important for every citizen – and not just actors or celebrities – to stay abreast of what is happening in the country and be able to voice their opinions.” 

The pay gap debate

The entertainment business is no stranger to the issue of gender-disparity in payment, with even the most bankable actresses receiving significantly lesser remuneration than their male counterparts. According to Maanvi, the pay gap exists in the digital content space too. “Even though this industry is newer and has a more contemporary voice and way of functioning, the people in it belong to the same society that we are a part of,” she states.

Maanvi believes that the pay gap problem cannot always be dealt just by looking at it through the gender-lens. “It is about stardom also. For example, I can put my foot down and ask for a higher amount in the web content space. I do not have the same leverage in films yet because I am bigger name in the domain of digital content. It is an ongoing battle and women should voice their worth. Things have been changing; but at a slow pace.”

It took decades before actresses could catapult a film into the blockbuster category without the legitimacy of a male superstar. Although women are now getting meatier roles across various content platforms, there is a long road ahead before such content is accepted as widely as any other film.

Maanvi says, “When we say women-oriented films, we attach so much baggage to it. We expect it to be a really kickass film and suddenly the standards by which the film is judged becomes way higher than other films. I want to see these terms being eliminated – there should only be good films and bad films. It is our duty to watch and support such films.”

Surely, the time has come for change in Indian entertainment space, and Maanvi is among the icons leading that change.

(Edited by Athira Nair)

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