In a post #MeToo world, the Indian film industry seems to have awakened to narratives depicting sexual harassment, rape and the concept of consent. Kajol's recent short Devi encompasses these notions into a fairly gripping narrative about rape victims (victims, since none of them seemingly survive the trauma).
Having garnered close to 13 million views on YouTube within two weeks is no easy feat to achieve. Devi deals with a room full of women going about their daily chores, mostly complaining about the lack of space they're experiencing with every new female entry. In a heartbreaking twist at the end, a little girl child is shown knocking at the door of this supposed 'haven.'
With a strong message and an even stronger set of female cast and crew working behind it, Devi managed to tick all the right boxes.
However, during the film's promotions, Kajol spoke at length about her idea of feminism and how one should handle a scenario of voicing discomfort/anger/repulsion in a "sensible" manner. The actress stated that misogyny could not be combatted with a sense of fanaticism, as then society will "accuse you of being hysterical or PMS-ing. You have a lot of people who are screaming, crying, going on to TV and howling (about what happened to them)."
She continued her justification by complaining about the people who are making a furore about the "trivialities" that they've experienced since "it's not rape."
These statements stand in stark contrast to the soul of Devi. Headlining a sensitive film with bold statements on feminism is one thing, and understanding the intricacies of patriarchy and power structures is another.
The fact that women have been able to speak up against years of systematic torture should only be celebrated by the women in cinema, especially since the movement was pioneered by an actress within the industry. Policing women's actions on public platforms sets a dismal precedent for survivors in present and future times.
Kajol's statements are a clear reflection of the widespread ignorance that often plague A-list actresses in the business. From Rani Mukerji's cringeworthy statement of women bearing responsibility for sexual harassment to Priyanka Chopra justifying why her television show Quantico did not have characters who were "bra-burning feminists" " the idea of feminism and emancipation seems dangerously warped for few stars.
Anubhav Sinha's recent film Thappad garnered widespread accolades for its deft work at portraying the subtle misogyny that lies beneath few woke, metrosexual men. Many compared the film to the toxic masculinity that Kabir Singh blithely championed. But within days of the discourse that Thappad initiated, news of Kajol's statements began making the rounds.
As a nation, we're still disarmingly uncomfortable discussing consent, boundaries, relationships, sexuality and abuse in public. But to have icons advocating vague ideologies that play it 'safe,' and dismiss the struggle that women face in this country, is to purposefully bring down collective morale.