We, who take offence

We, who take offence.jpg

There’s a new disease out there. The symptoms include reddening of the eyes, a dramatic rise in blood pressure, eyes bulging, and a manic need to bite people’s head off. It is called Taking Offenciasis, and India seems to be suffering from quite the epidemic. It was in public display recently, when middle-aged women, who seemed suspiciously infuriated, took to the streets, and burned posters of Simbu and Anirudh in protest of the recently released ‘Beep Song’.

And so, I heard this “outrageously vulgar” song, a track that sure as sunrise I wouldn’t have, if it weren’t for all the negative publicity, and imagine my surprise to find that its obscenity was nowhere in keeping with all the hype. One person said it incited violence against women, another said it represented women indecently, and there was one who hilariously accused the song of describing “a female’s parts”. That’s like calling a person nuts, and having the president of the International Nut Council file a case against you for indecent use of the word.

If anything, Simbu makes a useful point when he asks youngsters not to berate women, but blame themselves instead for falling in love with the wrong kind in the first place. In a culture whose films often show the hero descending into alcohol, abuse and violence when the heroine says no to him, I’d posit that this is some necessary development. All the obscene words are beeped out, as is usually done by television channels; I couldn’t but wonder if those angry women carrying placards on the streets even heard the song. Only two lines made me feel slightly squeamish: one that encourages men not to fall in love with women, but have one-night stands instead, and the other that says women fall in love only to make a man unhappy. Sure, it’s some seriously regressive whining, but objectionable? Come on.

We’ve had far worse over the years, and rightly refrained from making a big deal about them. ‘Kadhal En Kadhal’ in Mayakkam Enna has the frustrated hero asking for women to be hit and kicked; ‘Raathiriyil Poothirukkum’ from the original Thangamagan has lines that go, ‘Maanganigal thottinile thoonguthadi ange’, to which the female vocalist tantalisingly responds, ‘Mannavanin pasi aara, maalayile parimaara’; if the Tamil there is too chaste, ‘Maanga maanga’ from Prabhu Deva-starrer Prathap makes it easier for you to get the euphemism. I dare you to check the video, and oh, be advised that it is NSFW. Incidentally, we have songs even during the times of MGR and Sivaji that aren’t particularly odes to women; ‘Beep Song’, in contrast, is simply a star, seemingly frustrated about his love life, bemoaning his choice of women.

In MGR-starrer Vivasayi , there’s a song titled ‘Ippadithaan irukka venum pombala’, that advocates how women should behave. Advice includes ‘Uduppugalai iduppu theriya maatakoodadhu’ and ‘Udhattu melay sivapu saayam poosa koodadhu’. These are just off the top of my head. It’s often romantic to forget the failings of the past and believe that the present is the most profligate. It isn’t.

The point is not that we missed great opportunities at getting outraged and taking to the streets. It is about how much we are now curtailing expression — even if tasteless — and how art is in serious danger of asphyxiation in our society. Can you imagine the mind-numbing monotony of politically correct art? Aren’t we the same people who complain of boredom when a star provides only diplomatic answers in interviews? Art, like humour, must not have boundaries, and practitioners must not have to work under the looming threat of public backlash and potential imprisonment. Earlier this year, a renowned sculptor installed a statue of female genitalia in Versailles, and of an old queen, no less. The artist is very much at large, and working on another exhibition. No, decadence is not the word; tolerance is.

Interestingly, I find that the commoners aren’t the ones usually baying for blood in response to such work. Most people I know simply find the song amusing and dismiss it as the bawling of an infantile artist. What about those protestors though?

Those women out on the streets, looking like they would settle for nothing but prison time for Simbu and Anirudh… Do they really represent us? Or is their wrath politically motivated? Is it possible that criticism of anything related to cinema is a great way to popularise a political party? Over the years, haven’t we had them raise a ruckus about everything from smoking to drinking to even movie titling? Is it possible at all that they are not just selfless people tirelessly working for the purging of the immoral?

And now, there’s controversy over the upcoming Bryan Singer film, X-Men: Apocalypse , in which the antagonist in the film, a mutant, calls himself “Ra, Krishna, and Yahweh”. As you probably guessed, Egyptians and Israelites aren’t shouting themselves hoarse over the “inappropriate usage” of their gods. Only we are. The floods have receded, and normalcy has returned.

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