I Love You Juhi, But You Just Took Feminism Back a Decade

Juhi Chawla just took Bollywood back to the ’90s when she said being paid less than the male actors didn’t upset her.

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Women
4 min read
Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla on the sets of the legendary<i> Yes Boss</i>. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/srkuniverse/photos_stream">Facebook/Shah Rukh Khan Fan Club</a>)

It is a given that when you’re somewhere in your respectable twenties, your childhood crushes will begin to disappoint you. The life you had built around them (read: a whole load of tosh) will start to crumble – and you will accept it and move on.

It’s a little more difficult when you’re a woman and your childhood crush, too, was a woman.

Long before I shifted my gaze to the dimpled demigod (who calls himself SRK) and promised to be betrothed to him, Juhi Chawla had caught my childhood fancy. She was adorable, I thought, like a breath of fresh air! And it helped that she was so funny that even Shah Rukh Khan went on record to say how she was the one actor (irrespective of gender) that he could never outdo.

“She’s the one actor I could never outdo,” SRK on co-star Juhi. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/srkuniverse/photos_stream">Facebook/Shah Rukh Khan Fan Club</a>)
“She’s the one actor I could never outdo,” SRK on co-star Juhi. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Shah Rukh Khan Fan Club)

She’s the one actor I could never outdo. Among the greatest comic timing actors I’ve ever seen or ever worked with, (the best) would be Juhi Chawla. Even now when I have to do a comedy scene, she is my reference point. Can I do it like Juhi? How would she have done it?

Shah Rukh Khan (in an interview to Filmfare in 2006)

How Juhi Went From Comedic Actor to Moment of Farce

I’ve been happy living in that bubble, using Juhi too – like SRK – as my reference point against all stereotypes of Bharti-esque female comedic actors. (Because, apparently, you can only be a woman AND funny if you’re a hundred kilos heavier than the closest bag of sand.)

Until yesterday. When my favourite actor from the 90s had an appalling foot-in-the-mouth moment and set back the gender divide debate by about a decade.

Pay disparity has always been there. It was there during our times too. There was no problem. It wasn’t something I got upset about. We just accepted that the male actors would get more than us. But it is alright... And it is pretty much the same now.

Juhi Chawla to PTI
I Love You Juhi, But You Just Took Feminism Back a Decade

Er, right. Even if one were to ignore the fact that she just said something incredibly sexist (yes she did and you can stop bleating ‘feminazi’), Juhi sounds almost wistful of an age gone by. What’s with the “hum jab actor hua karte the” tone, Miss Chawla?

(I can also hear a billion Juhi Chawla posters in an eight-year-old’s scrapbook ‘chinging’ through a paper shredder.)

If that were the end of it!

A Far Cry From the Anushka-Deepika Battles

Juhi also went on to elaborate on the role that “girls” play in movies today:

I think you can name a few such films but then 300 movies get made in a year, so, seven-eight will have something substantial for girls to do. It has been happening on and off. During our times... Maybe I did not do those things, I was more into mainstream stuff but Madhuri did Mrityudand, Manisha did Khamoshi.

Juhi Chawla to PTI
I Love You Juhi, But You Just Took Feminism Back a Decade

Thank you, Juhi! You just killed two feminists with one phallic-shaped stone. So, on one hand, the women who’re currently crusading against the gender pay disparity (read: Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone, Kangana Ranaut…) have been relegated in almost matronly fondess to ‘girls’; on the other, you’ve just played straight into any sexist’s weaponry by claiming you did “mainstream” stuff while other people “did their shit”.

Deepika Padukone in a still from the movie <i>Piku</i>. (Photo Courtesy:<a href="https://www.facebook.com/PikuTheFilm/"> Facebook/Piku</a>)
Deepika Padukone in a still from the movie Piku. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Piku)

To the lay observer, Juhi may have seemed to redeem herself by the end of the interview when she declares that “a few women-centric films like Queen, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, etc.” did well last year – but here’s my problem with that injunction. Can we STOP with the “female-centric film” denomination? We don’t call Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo and Baahubali ‘male-centric’ films, when that’s clearly what they are.

I wish, Juhi, that you’d taken the nostalgia train you clearly boarded and got off a station after confused-meets-the patriarchy. I also understand that things were different (whatever the hell that means) in your time, but that’s no reason to rain meek indifference over the fierce fights an Anushka or a Kangana are waging.

People look up to you, as one of the finest actors of our time, and I know a particular eight-year-old of the ’90s who worshipped you.

I Love You Juhi, But You Just Took Feminism Back a Decade

You not only reinforced sexism by saying that, you also did your Bollywood kin a great disservice. Maybe re-watch Gulaab Gang before the next gender pay gap question?

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