Dear Akshay Kumar, Women Can Be ‘Heroes’ Too
Akshay Kumar, you need to check your privilege.
Akshay Kumar might claim to uplift the women around him in Mission Mangal and put on his saviour hat in Padman, but a true misogynist can’t stay hidden for too long. Recently, the trailer of his upcoming Rohit Shetty film Sooryavanshi dropped. One look at the (painfully) four-minute-long clip is enough to tell you that Sooryavanshi is a typical testosterone-packed mess that Rohit Shetty is known to serve us. And while that itself is enough to make a judgement about his attitude towards women, I’ll still take a moment to humour those who still spew garbage opinions in the name of separating art from the artist.
Sooryavanshi stars Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Ranveer Singh and Katrina Kaif. It is slated to release on 24 March.
To make my case, I present to you Exhibit A.
On 2 March, at the trailer launch of Sooryavanshi, Akshay Kumar passed an extremely patronizing remark about his co-star Katrina Kaif’s performance in the film. Let me break it down for you.
So, it starts off pretty normally - if you ignore Kumar’s body language, that is. He says, “I have become a big fan of Katrina Kaif.” A compliment, great.
However, when Ajay Devgn butts in for some harmless banter, things start to go south. Somehow Kumar manages to objectify, belittle, and take credit for Kaif’s Bollywood career all in one breath.
Here’s what he says:
“Earlier I was a fan of her beauty. She has done so brilliantly in this film. And hats off to her that a woman, who didn’t even know a word of Hindi, came to Bollywood and today she is working with such big heroes. A round of applause for her.”Akshay Kumar, Actor
Umm...can he even hear himself? Even if we were to ignore the fact that he objectified Kaif, there’s still plenty wrong with that supposed compliment. According to Kumar, the measure of Kaif’s success is not her own skill, talent or popularity. But the fact that she has worked with ‘big heroes.’
I am sorry to break it to you Mr Kumar, but women too can be heroes. In fact, the only reason they have been deprived of that opportunity is because of insecure men like you who can’t stand the thought of being overshadowed by women.
Bollywood is not the most progressive industry but with time, it has been forced to evolve and change. 2019 might not have been the best year for women-led films but in the past decade, we’ve seen films that have performed relatively better at the box office, despite not having a mainstream ‘hero’ so to speak. Alia Bhatt carried Raazi entirely on her own shoulders, Vidya Balan’s Tumhari Sullu performed well at the box office, Priyanka Chopra’s Mary Kom also struck a chord with the mainstream audience. Moreover, 2020 itself has had such a great start with films like Panga and Thappad, both of which had strong women-centric narratives.
Of course, the economics and politics of women-led films are very different from that of their counterparts. And that’s a truth, Mr Kumar is not interested in acknowledging. In fact, his appearance at the HT Leadership Summit in 2019 proved just how fragile his male ego is when Good Newwz actor Kareena Kapoor boldly declared that she’d like to be paid as much as Akshay Kumar. Kumar, visibly offended, goes on to challenge Kareena to be the face of a film and instead of remuneration, opt for fifty per cent share in profits.
“I am ready, in front of everyone, to make a film where she does the hero’s role and she will be 50-50 partner with it. Is it agreed?”Akshay Kumar
Kareena further adds, “Technically, in Good Newwz, the girl is also the hero of the movie.” The back and forth that follows is proof enough that Mr Kumar, despite his fat paychecks, is threatened when called out on a public perform.
(Pro tip: watch at 14:50 for Akshay Kumar’s public breakdown)
To Mr Kumar, I want to say - you might excel at the art of performative goodness. You might make public declarations of love to your wife, you might treat the women on your film sets like absolute queens, you might pretend to take a backseat in a movie that’s about women. But all of that means nothing if you don’t truly respect them. You’ve managed to become a ‘hero’ because of a social system that has been made by men to benefit men. So it’s about time you check your privilege and stop feeling threatened by those you claim to respect.
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