Deepika’s Vogue Ad: What Deepika and Vogue got wrong about feminism
Deepika Padukone, Bollywood actress and model, did something new. She did an ad, financed by fashion brand Vogue and directed by Homi Adajania, on feminism. The ad stars her and 98 other women, spanning over two minutes and is full of poetical-lyrical jargon, half of which I didn’t catch because I was so lost in the excellent music and well-choreographed sequences of appearances of the various women.
Well, I am sorry to say that the ad, although fairly well-intentioned, failed miserably to reach the mark. Paraphrasing a friend, who is a feminist author and columnist, the version of feminism depicted in the video is only the one suited for plush dining rooms in Delhi and Mumbai, over cocktail parties and glamorous evenings at socialite gatherings. This video depicts the version of feminism that is extremely dissonant with the ground realities of women in India.
Problem 1: Deepika confuses her right of autonomy over her life choices with feminism in general. She can come home at 4 in the morning, she can choose to love a man or if a woman of she is a lesbian or love both if she’s bisexual. No problem with that. Her sexual orientation is her own business. She can have extra-marital or pre-marital sex- again, no judgment. Those are her choices and she has to bear the consequences, good or bad. But a whole lot of women don’t have, especially in India, the latitude to make these choices. Hell, they are denied their birthright to choose their husbands, their careers and their lifestyles and plan families.
Problem 2: Again, feminism is confused with other issues. Now, feminism is about woman being equal to men, about women having the right to choose their husbands, their careers and lifestyles, plan their families and not be stereotyped because of their gender.
But here, feminism becomes about a woman coming home late at night, about her sleeping before/outside the marriage, about her not having sex within the marriage at all, about her ‘choosing’ to love a man or a woman. Firstly, you don’t choose to love a man or a woman- our sexual orientation is innate in our sense of identity. If you are a gay woman, you’ll love a woman. If you’re straight, you’ll love a man. Secondly, infidelity and sex lives of married couples/unmarried couples are private, personal choices. Sure, a woman should have the freedom to have pre-marital sex without being branded a slut, but that is a personal choice between her and her partner. Feminism has very little to do with it. There is nothing feminist about infidelity.
Problem 3: Most of the ad focuses on Deepika and other famous women like director Zoya Akhtar, all well manicured and airbrushed and dolled-up. How does this represent the millions of real women- imperfect, plain and leading so different lives from these privileged women? No, I don’t have anything against these wealthy, famous and successful women. Their achievements are laudable. But they don’t represent the normal women anywhere- in India or the world. This ad was about glamorous women and their rights. How do they need empowerment? They are already empowered. Those who are exploited by society and have faced physical, mental, verbal and sexual violence need to be supported and empowered. Does this ad talk about their problems? No.
Problem 4: The right people to make an ad or a film on feminism are the feminists. Like Gloria Steinem, Flavia Agnes and the likes. When fashion houses star leading, glamorous Bollywood actresses, directed by A-list Bollywood directors in a film about an issue that represents plenty of other, less well-known women and their problems, things go terribly wrong.
As that author friend rightly suggested, this ad was a chance for Deepika to make some money and increase her portfolio. Doesn’t matter if the message the ad sends out is terribly misguided and open to misinterpretations and does a big disservice to the already-in-shambles situation of women in India, and discredits feminists. Deepika will get applauded by all and sundry for starring in an ad about an ‘important’ topic and this will lead to more brand endorsements and films with big banners and lead roles. Deepika is now a marketable face on the big screen, right?
Vogue should stick to fashion designing and dressing up models and fashion shows, and Deepika should stick to starring in big-banner films and modeling and making good money. That’s what they’re good at.
Leave feminism to the feminists. They know what they’re talking about.
The moment glam dolls and fashion brands turn their attention to feminism, what results is: a condescending, glossy, overhyped and highly misguided ad that actually does a huge disservice to the very issue it claims to tackle.