- So why did the story hit the fan? There can’t be much of a reason except that small-time politicos and culture warriors want to latch on to celebrity lifestyles that they can pick on.
Till recently, few have heard about a New York-based fashion publication simply called “Paper,” also known, according to its Wikipedia listing, as “Paper Mag.” But now one can be sure millions of Indians have Googled it, thanks to the controversial photographs it published of a popular Indian actor.
The gushing story by journalist Aishwarya Subramanyam titled “Ranveer Singh: the Last Bollywood Superstar” is really much ado about nothing on. Literally, it will be only remembered for the nude photos of Singh by Ashish Shah and the hornet’s nest they stirred back in India.
In several photos in the story, Singh displays his near-nude and admirably chiseled body and discusses his views about all kinds of things with a generous dropping of F-bombs. It’s really difficult to characterize what they amount to, even if the interviewer seems quite enamored (“He compliments me freely, noticing my bag, my shoes, my style”).
Singh at times appears to wax philosophical, when he says, “I have an understanding of mortality. The eventualities of life and existence. I look at it like, what is this? It’s flesh, it’s bone. These aren’t my concerns. This is just a mortal vessel. My concern is with the energy, the spirit, that intangible thing that nobody seems to be able to explain. What is this energy that runs through you, runs through me, runs through all living beings. What is it? That’s the stuff.”
On the question of nudity, however, he is much more lucid. “It’s so easy for me to be physically naked, but in some of my performances I’ve been damn fucking naked. You can see my fucking soul. How naked is that? That’s being actually naked. I can be naked in front of a thousand people, I don’t give a shit. It’s just that they get uncomfortable,” he tells Subramanyam who thinks, “It’s not a side of him we see often.”
The Bollywood star continues, among other things, in defense of his gender fluid lifestyle: “I work f***ing hard, … I want to wear nice sh*t. Eat my f***ing a**, I will wear nice f***ing sh*t.”
Meanwhile, far away from Manhattan, a mountain is being raised out of a Mumbai molehill. A police case has been registered against the matinee idol based on the complaints of “a non-governmental organization and a lawyer” which claim the nude depictions have hurt the “sentiments of women and insulted their modesty.”
A matrimonial lawyer Vedika Chaubey lawyer tells NDTV, “Of course this is vulgar. We can see his bum … This is a national issue.”
It is amazing how often nondescript lawyers and political activists in India gallantly take up lost causes, like, in this instance, coming to the defense of the modesty more than half of the population of the planet, or in the previous instances, saving the prestige of a 5,000-year-old civilization which in their view is ever so vulnerable to the slights of minorities of every hue.
But the fact, however, remains, that male nudity (or the vicinity) is not unheard of. As film critic Alaka Sahani writes in The Indian Express, “Indian male celebrities have, over the decades, disrobed for the camera. Milind Soman did it in the 1990s to push the sales of a shoe brand. More recently, in November 2020, to celebrate his 55th birthday, the model-actor ran naked on a Goa beach. Popular actors Jackie Shroff and Anil Kapoor were photographed in their birthday suits, albeit with their private parts covered with a surfing board and a newspaper, respectively.”
So why did the story hit the fan? There can’t be much of a reason except that small-time politicos and culture warriors want to latch on to celebrity lifestyles that they can pick on. And in a political atmosphere charged with the polarization of people on religious and cultural issues, it is so easy to set a social media fire. The bigger the celebrity, the bigger the fire.
As Subramanyam rightly points out in her Paper story, Bollywood has never seen a star quite like Ranveer Singh. “The immensely popular (and versatile) actor has challenged practically every stereotype of masculinity in still-traditionalist Indian society, all while remaining largely free of controversy and polarizing opinion (except perhaps when it comes to his fashion choices). There is a strong case to be made for the death of the superstar in show business, but Singh is the closest thing we have to one in this generation. He may even be the last of his kind.”
But this won’t be the last controversy over nothing.