How we enjoyed her sassy, little-bit-loud Ladies vs Ricky Bahl in an otherwise limp film; her mixture of feistiness and intensity in Ishaqzaade; her unwavering gaze with the slight shimmer of vulnerability in Shudh Desi Romance.
I remember laughing delightedly at a video clip where she told a hemming and hawing reporter to say menstruation, not ladies problems. Learn to deal with it, learn to deal with women’s bodies, she said. Wish she’d said that to a few more people, who apparently couldn’t deal with hers.
After a hiatus of nine months, (yes, we did not miss the symbolism of being re-born), Parineeti is ‘back’ with a photo spread called #BuiltThatWay. She displays every inch of her super toned, yaniki thin body. She exhorts every girl — not every person- to let go laziness and indiscipline and become thin, and so, ‘the real you’.
As her message says, “Four years ago, a chubby, childish girl was introduced to the world. Four years later, I am closer to where I want to be. A very special photoshoot helped me shed my inhibitions and portray the strong confident girl I am today.” Life before thin-ness was a lie. Now the new version is the truth.
The message of the photo shoot is like those fairness cream advertisements that tell you the real you is locked up by your complexion. You can release it and have anything you want — once you are fair. However, it is not the photo-shoot, but nine months of kalaripayattu — or some work out anyway — that helped Parineeti lose weight and it is weight she has lost, not inhibitions as such.
As far as we could tell, Parineeti was pretty strong and confident before. But maybe she didn’t feel so. If this is her truth, we must accept it. But why must it become every woman’s truth? Why can’t Parineeti - or rather her managers who are credited for concept on the photoshoot, let other women be? Most women in India are comfortable bodied and they were indeed #BuiltThatWay. They are good at their jobs, confident, uninhibited, happy, dress nicely when in the mood. Other men and women love them, fantasise about them. Why falsify their truth?
This is a stupid, retrogressive message to send out, decked up in the language of power and confidence — when it is the opposite, founded on a sense of self-hate and lack of confidence. Parineeti’s Twitter timeline is full of congratulatory messages — welcome to the club. Now let’s all live here in fear of being thrown out, lest we gain a gram or two.
One can only feel sad really at this public berating of her past self, this born-again declaration of belief in the world of thin-ness where girls bodies can be dealt with only when reorganised by the idea of control, self-restraint and ‘discipline’.
There is some social media scorn directed at Parineeti. But why get angry with her? The recent fashion of talking about women’s lives in isolation — boiling things down to my choice, my story of overcoming obstacles, my journey creates the illusion that empowerment is simply a matter of personal mantras. And baba, I am not a feminist.
These kind of stories, make women solely responsible for their empowerment,and so, also blame them for not being empowered. That’s how, no one turns their gaze to the system that produces these disempowering stories; no one demands that the people who pretend to make love stories while actually generating images of self-hate, should change. Guess whose world it is?
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com