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Backlash to Sai Pallavi’s Views Proves We Have Archaic Expectations From Women

Sai Pallavi courted controversy over her comments on religious violence in India, but there's another layer to it.

Published
Celebrities
6 min read
Backlash to Sai Pallavi’s Views Proves We Have Archaic Expectations From Women
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“…What I believe is, if you are stronger than me, and you are oppressing me, then you are in the wrong. A large number of people oppressing a small group of people is wrong. A battle has to be fought between two equals.”

Sai Pallavi Senthamarai has courted controversy for the first time. An actress with an universal appeal for her dignified portrayals and “homely, lively” roles (not the cliche, bubbly thankfully!) now sees herself on the receiving end of what literally feels like “Judgement Day”.

Quoted above in this article are her words to a YouTube channel– translated from the Telugu lines, and her appeal for neutrality has been drowned in her having drawn a comparison between a genocide and a lynching mob (deliberately avoiding the religions mentioned in either case because as Sai Pallavi said, “It’s important that one is a good human being first”).

Actor Sai Pallavi.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

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This article is NOT discussing the validity of her statement or beliefs. This article is about the level of anger which is being spewed against her because - She is an ACTRESS and we usually don’t want an Indian film “actress” to be opinionated (unless her opinions match or reflect the common majority sentiment).

We forget that even in 2022, an actress who comes from a secular home and educated background will still have to conform to age-old expectations.

Before pressing the “send” button, a troll will forget that working in cinema today is as commonplace as one would go to work in say a Tech company. In a polarised nation which wants to constantly look for “deities” in all forms, anyone saying or behaving in ways which can’t be deified has to be defied!

To explain things better, let me list out some of the aspects or expectations from an Indian movie actress:

1. She should be idealistically beautiful and adhere to predefined notions of beauty.

2. She should not opine on any controversy – she should only give interviews about her love life or lack of one thereof. Oh! And what’s her favourite holiday destination?

3. She should intersperse her interviews with coquettish smiles and gleeful glances and refrain from giving any view whatsoever on politics or history or anthropology or anatomy (in this case Sai Pallavi can as she is a doctor, so perhaps she can opine on Covid and leave it at that!)

4. She should, of course, resist/refrain/refuse to answer any question on her views about any political role she’s playing (In this case, Sai Pallavi plays a Naxalite in her latest film Virata Parvam and her answer began with “it was perhaps the way they (Naxals) knew to express themselves (their fight for their rights) at that time”).

Sai Pallavi in a still from Virata Parvam.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

An actress should court only controversies which involve her with a hero and not otherwise. I mean who wants an actress to sound sharp or opinionated? Specially, if she were to say something which will court controversy for something the ancestors of our land had done eons ago, she cannot just plainly say it openly like this!

And if she does, look what she gets! She will be trolled for things beyond what she said– like her gender will become a target for threats, her family will have to worry for letting their daughter become an icon in the first place and her social standing/ popularity/ talent, everything she has built so far, will be “banned”.
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How powerful are you, India?! To bring a successful woman to her knees? All because she voiced something she knew or had an opinion about!

Dear troll, you’re not alone in what you set out to do. The expectations a vast majority has of an Indian film actress is what most of Indian society has of its women! Irrespective of how factually correct or incorrect Sai Pallavi was in her comparison, the avalanche of threats against her on social media is unjust and unfair. I liked her whole interview by the way.

Sai Pallavi, to a large extent, has voiced the truth of those of us who are neither “right” or “left” and who, by virtue of being “neutral”, are now being forced to adopt the freedom of many things which the Left represents. Wait, before you launch into a tirade on the sufferings of Hindus at the hands of Muslim rulers– let me also add– that in this same interview, Sai Pallavi has said how our present cannot be made answerable for our past (religious differences).

Freedom or the lack of one has meant several things in these several zillion years that humanity has existed on this planet! What was a tradition or custom a hundred years ago, is not valid anymore.

And irrespective of religion or kingdom or culture, women have always had it tougher. If we were to start taking stock of it all now and burn the present erstwhile “enemy clan” at the stake, we will be left without people to call for as neighbours and friends, and in many an Indian home, with inter-caste marriages, one will be left without a family to hold onto, if religious dogmas alone were to make up for a society.

Now if I were to write a piece on the above lines it would go unnoticed. Because a) I’m not an actress and b) reading by far is a secondary medium when compared to audio/visual. My “neutral” views would immediately die down. But because Sai Pallavi is a popular actor and as she says in her interview, she comes from a “neutral home”, she said what she said and lo! Behold… the “armies” are at work. She is a TARGET.

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Actresses in general are easier targets. Had a hero said the same sentences, he wouldn’t have been threatened with warnings of rape and sexual assault and his physical well-being would not be at risk.

Even in a non-political controversy it’s always the woman who bears the brunt of the Great Indian Troll! Take for instance, the way Samantha was “treated” online (and still is being trolled for her bold roles, fashion choices and everything else she does) for her divorce from Naga Chaitanya.

The Indian moralistic world spared the man and went all out to spoil the woman. And to add to her woes, Samantha also had a sexy song in Pushpa which upped the ante of patriarchy to come all guns blazing at her. While we wait for an India where a woman can walk on the road safely even in the middle of the night, let us first wait for the “awakening” of India on social media, which knows to disagree with dignity.

Samantha Ruth in a still from the song 'Oo Antava' in Pushpa.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Sai Pallavi is entitled to her views. Much as you are or I am. You may be Right, Left, Centrist, it doesn’t matter. Disagree with a celebrity quote or tweet but don’t threaten a woman just because she is a woman.

In most cases trolls are paid social media “centres” which work overtime to bring down an icon, because it can bring their “cause” some spotlight. In cases where a woman’s dignity is threatened, it doesn’t become merely a social media troll. It is social media terrorism.

Celebrities in our country, especially in cinema are damned if they give an opinion and damned if they don’t! Sai Pallavi is a heroine, who has displayed immense grace and sharpness in her choice of roles or in her manner of conducting her public life. This “troll assault” on her is proof of how much India needs to grow up.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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