It might be strange to find me, whose primary job is that of entertaining people, now involved in a story that has so violent a premise. A story that anyone, and indeed everyone, should consider unacceptable.
As I read and watched the continuing news of brutal rape and abuse in our newspapers and on our televisions, I thought it is necessary to do something.
The fact that a hero can have many faces is a lesson that writing characters has taught me. He could be your father, a member of your neighbourhood club or she could be the woman in your office. I am of the belief that one has the power to influence society through even the smallest of actions and the largest change in society can possibly start by each individual making a small change at home.
So when you see the cricketing great Sunil Gavaskar on your TV screen, sporting the curled moustache, speaking about a need for change in the idea of manhood, he is setting an example. Throughout history there have been such examples, men who have believed that they and women ought to stand shoulder to shoulder, equal to one another.
I found that apart from the Indian Premier League, cricketers were more than willing to join that league of extraordinary gentlemen. Adam Gilchrist wasn’t just heartfelt in what he said to us and on television; he followed up his involvement with our campaign, Men Against Rape and Discrimination (MARD), with admirable and concerted effort.
He seemed to share the concern and horror that had led photographer Atul Kasbekar and me to want to re-introduce the parameters of what it means to call yourself a man.
When trying to arrive at a word that would best define the parameters of a new definition, we felt that the word mard fitted best. A literal translation of the word ‘man’ into Hindi would be purush.
Mard implies a man who stands for what is right. We realised our complete logo block can only be viewed in select locations and social media but the long, thick, twirled moustache, which is so common across India, can be viewed by people everywhere. That moustache, we hope, can now also serve as a reminder of the values our MARD initiative stands for.
The question of what is acceptable sexuality often comes up in debates about films and their ethics. While certain representations of gender and sexuality in today’s films are undoubtedly questionable, neither the media nor its artistes would like to be part of a culture which actively promotes censorship or bans.
Only through our own efforts can we set a higher standard, can we expect society to follow. As personalities with influence, it should be our responsibility to wisely choose what to and what not to make. But while vulgarity in cinema should be condemned, we must also realise that cinema, which is also an industry, can end up making bad products.
It is time the audience also remembered that it has the power to reject. If any piece of filmmaking is widely considered to be crude, we need to ask — how then did it end up doing so well?
In films such as Dil Chahta Hai and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara that I have either directed or acted in, the effort was to promote gender interaction that would be healthy for our youth. While desire for a member of the opposite sex and flirtation are natural, there is no reason that such actions cannot be imbued with dignity.
Item songs, by very virtue of the fact that they are an ‘item’ in a film, are instances that would make you expect exaggerated representations of sexuality. What I find even more disconcerting is the manner in which some heroes go about romancing their love interests.
During many a wooing process, you find the woman insisting that she be left alone, but somehow the man remains physically present and the imposition on her space can, at times, cross all levels of decency.
Stalking should be considered a serious problem. The treatment of romance in films has always had the ability to seep into a culture’s subconscious, and we should ensure that we consider the implications of its representations.
Since we always derive our points of reference more from the popular media of our times than from speaking with our parents, it would be good if instances of cinematic love promoted a culture of dignity in the wooing process. These little changes could definitely make the youth of our nation think progressively.
Our campaign MARD hopes to have taken a step towards that goal. By asking men to support the initiative, we aren’t just asking them to respect women, we are asking them to change the way they think about them.
You can argue that respect should only be given when the other person deserves it, but to treat all with equal dignity reflects more who you are and how much respect you deserve. It is our collective responsibility to make society healthier and safer. So please do not wait for someone else to come along and do it. Take the initiative. You will be an inspiration for someone else to follow.
Farhan Akhtar is a film personality and a part of the initiative MARD. The views expressed by the author are personal.