By Ranjona Banerji
The speculation is rife within the media, fans and media commentators that the fight between Deepika Padukone and some branches of The Times of India is manufactured: all good publicity to promote a new movie. And all those who got taken in are just naive idiots because both Bollywood stars and the entertainment media are utterly ruthless at all times.
Certainly many controversies are media stunts, carefully organised just before some film event or more often the launch of a film. So one can understand the cynicism of Anant Rangaswami of Firstpost.com when he raises these questions: http://www.firstpost.com/living/deepika-versus-bombay-times-may-real-war-1724717.html
But even if you assume that it was all manufactured, the response that appeared on the front page of the Bombay Times on September 22, written by its “editor Priya Gupta, you have to wonder at the self-belief of a media house which puts up such pathetic writing and worse logic in defence of its actions. You also have to wonder about the edit page of The Times of India carrying a distinctly unfunny piece by “comedian” Radhika Vaz slamming Deepika Padukone’s objections to The Times of India’s official twitter handle focusing on her cleavage in a prurient manner.
To recap, the tweet read, “OMG: Padukone’s cleavage show!”. Padukone responded saying yes, she was a woman, yes, she had breasts and a cleavage and did they have a problem with that. She also pointed out that this was India’s premier newspaper’s idea of news. After this, TOI tweeted back saying it was a compliment and then deleted that answer as social media outraged in its normal manner.
It is easy to say Padukone over-reacted, that she is a Bollywood actress who has profited from the objectification of women’s bodies and so on. The problem lies in the tone of the first tweet. It was gratuitous, prurient and sleazy. The second tweet was too clever by half.
But even more horrific and distasteful was the response from Priya Gupta, who became editor of Bombay Times via the HR and marketing departments and in keeping with the Bennett Coleman policy of keeping all supplements under the grasp of Medianet.
Gupta’s defence mentions all Padukone’s work where her body has been in display, dismisses her as someone who started life as a liquor model, says that the Times Group disapproves of moral policing and then provides several examples of how the moral police would be really happy to bury Padukone in an underground cell. The edit page piece by Vaz makes fun of Padukone’s anger with her cleavage being displayed.
A timely response from firstpost to the Bombay Times piece: http://www.firstpost.com/living/its-2014-dear-toi-slut-shaming-deepika-padukone-over-cleavage-is-so-passe-1724023.html
Shivam Vij also dissected and destroyed Gupta’s piece in scroll.in: http://scroll.in/article/680348/Times-of-India%E2%80%99s-rebuttal-to-Deepika-Padukone-is-regressive-and-shallow
I would argue that the group has gathered around its official Twitter handle and decided to put Padukone in her place. Newsminute.com has carried a story saying that several reporters working for the Times in New Delhi have written to senior editors about their discomfort with Gupta’s piece.
And here lies the problem with the “it’s all fake” theory. If indeed this fight is a marketing ploy, could Bombay Times have not concocted a more sophisticated response? Is a childish, badly written and ridiculously argued defence full of bizarre references to the fact that the newspaper does not carry photos of vaginas and nipples and with a big red arrow pointing to a cleavage the best it could do? What about the unfunny funny piece on the edit page?
It is definitely true that glamour coverage will continue, that women and now increasingly men will be objectified, that the media will be an intrusive and salacious supplicant, that the glamorous will stoop to conquer, that sex will sell, that feminists and others will occasionally object, that those in glass houses should not throw stones. For all we know, Padukone may even dance at a Filmfare Awards night in the future and win an award.
But the issue is not Padukone. The issue is one of India’s oldest and biggest media houses and its road to degradation in a number of ways. Medianet and paid news are bad enough. Its descent into sleaze on its website is gross. Its defiant, “glamour sells, too bad you suckers” is becoming tired and tiresome. But its need to justify itself on something like this case now also makes it a sulky four-year-old.
The tragedy is that there are parts of the Times of India as a newspaper which really work. It has excellent institutional memory. It still has a strong stable of journalists. It excels at a particular sort of blanket coverage of events. It may not break the greatest stories but it remains solid on overall news. The hard work of all those journalists is gradually being eroded by the behaviour of the management and indeed those editors who buy into the management’s spiel.
Honestly, the newspaper has made itself into a laughing stock with its over-the-top, misjudged, badly conceived, distasteful, unsophisticated response to a foolish tweet someone on its payroll put out. At the risk of being ageist, is this a sign of senility?
Ranjona Banerji is Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. A senior journalist and columnist, she now lives in Dehradun. The views expressed here are her own, though the editor endorses it. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona
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