Taapsee Pannu was recently on a show with East India Comedy in which she spoke about the male gaze that heroines are subjected to in the film industry.
Her comments on director Raghavendra Rao's obsession with the midriff have caused an uproar, with many south Indian film fans taking exception. From calling her a "back-stabber" to a "hypocrite", many have said that she shouldn't have made fun of south Indian films when she got her big break here.
This is an unfair view to take, considering the unequal power equations in the film industry. As Taapsee pointed out, women end up doing ridiculous roles because they're often not in a position to say no if they want to survive in the business. Most films are hero-centric and have only an ornamental role for the heroine, after all. Further, her opinion does not become invalid just because she chose to air it a few years down the line, when she has finally reached a position where she's able to speak out.
Ironically, however, Taapsee's comments on sexism came after her discussion with the panel on "maids" and how "dependent" the middle class is on their domestic workers, with one of the panelists even cracking a joke about having sex with the maid. The "witty" quip came when someone said that he'd be refused sex for three months if he didn't open the door to let in the domestic worker.
"Sex with the maid?" the other bro asked, following it up by calling him "Shiney Ajuha" who was accused of raping his domestic worker in 2009. The "humour" evoked rich laughter from the audience, including Taapsee, who didn't seem to think that it was appalling at all that we find the very real sexual exploitation of domestic workers to be funny.
The casual way in which the four people on the panel dropped these comments and then went on to discuss the sexism of the movie industry, exposes an insidious hypocrisy that needs to be called out.
It's true that south Indian films have a bewildering love for objectifying a woman's midriff and it's high time someone slammed Raghavendra Rao's ridiculous portrayals of women's "sensuality". However, it's unacceptable that anyone should congratulate themselves on being "better" while indulging in rape jokes.
The discussion on south Indian films casting her in "glamorous" roles ensued from Taapsee's comments on why women don't make as much money in the film industry as the men do - it's because not as many want to watch a woman-centric film as they do a hero's. She went on to add that if the audience wanted to see women in good roles, they should be willing to pay for it, suggesting that women end up doing such roles because they're often not in a position to say no. They simply don't have the power to do so.
However, considering she was the star in EIC's panel, one assumes that Taapsee did have the power to call out the rape joke. But she didn't - possibly because she didn't see the problem with it.
That's the thing with sexism. Sometimes, it's as obvious as a coconut thrown on a woman's navel. And sometimes, you could get hit with it on the head, just like a coconut, and you don't realise it because you are not the victim.