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A rule for you and a rule for me: Shebaba by Renuka Narayanan

Why are some men who behave obnoxiously towards women nevertheless awarded and celebrated?

more lifestyle Updated: Mar 04, 2017 20:22 IST
Renuka Narayanan
Renuka Narayanan
Hindustan Times
Ramayana,Guru Dutt,Misogyny
A still from Guru Dutt’s 1955 film, Mr & Mrs 55, an utterly anti-woman affair that involved the basest stereotypes and a kidnapping ‘for love’, followed by the total capitulation of what had been a thinking heroine. Why is it that we let artistes get away with treating women so badly?

In Ludhiana last week, auto driver Uday Chand of Bihar and his wife Lakshmi allegedly drugged their teenage daughters Jyoti and Priti and threw them into a canal because they suspected them of having boyfriends, the police said.

The girls were rescued a day later, when passersby spotted them floating in the water. They were rushed to a local hospital, where Jyoti died.

According to the HT report, the police said Priti was “initially evasive and furnished false names”. She also told police that they were orphans, used to beg near a local temple and fell unconscious after eating some food offered by a stranger. This aroused the police’s suspicions, since the girls did not look like they were beggars.

When the police counselled her, Priti told them what really happened. Isn’t it grotesquely moving that she tried to protect her parents?

The police have charged the parents with murder and attempted murder, and have launched a manhunt for the absconding couple.

Read: Please do as you would be done by, says SheBaba

Last week, meanwhile, an elegant young woman told me over a gin-and-tonic that she despaired of ever finding a partner who was the perfect balance between a chivalrous knight who’d fight for her and a modern man who was self-controlled, polished, well-educated and well-placed.

“Looks like only Sri Ram will do,” I said spontaneously, and knew at once that I should duck; that I would have grenades with ‘Sita’ and ‘Shambuka’ on them lobbed at me; and I could not hope to escape with flippant quips about Sambuca, the liqueur.

Instead, I dodged down the millennia to the misogynistic passage in Maupassant’s short story, ‘The Model’, which I read aloud to my young friend, who was properly horrified and diverted.

I also brought to her attention the utterly anti-woman attitude in Guru Dutt’s movie, Mr & Mrs 55. But it was a sad exercise. I loved the Ramayana uncritically once, just as I loved Maupassant’s stories and Dutt’s films. I could no longer love them the old way.

Read: The best of luck to Aristotle... and us, says Renuka Narayanan

But while the epic stubbornly retains a piece of my heart, Maupassant and Dutt and several other artistes have fallen off my map. Instead, I wonder, like Sady Doyle in Elle magazine, why men who behave obnoxiously towards women are nevertheless awarded and celebrated — as actors Casey Affleck and Mel Gibson have been recently, or directors Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Bernardo Bertolucci and actor Marlon Brando have in the past (I cannot get over what happened to Maria Schneider in The Last Tango in Paris).

I can just hear the ABVP, AISA or whoever thinking, “White men get Oscars though they abuse women, their pictures are splashed in the Indian papers with congratulatory articles, so how come we’re the bad guys? Does their art excuse them?”

No, it does not. So Uday Chand and Lakshmi seem different only in degree from the Oscar mindset. Hailing from Sita’s state, they evidently went by such unchanging mores, too, and flung their daughters off the map.

The views expressed are personal.

First Published: Mar 04, 2017 20:22 IST