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Ram Gopal Verma’s new film on being Sunny Leone is a feminist’s nightmare

LiveMint logoLiveMint 10-06-2017 Rajyasree Sen

Film auteur Ram Gopal Verma has decided to mansplain to us why women should be allowed to make sexual and career choices. Since his last few long films have failed miserably, he’s now decided to branch into the short film category with a “feminist” short. Meri Beti Sunny Leone Banna Chaahti Hai is a 11 minute, 29 second film which will make the most liberal and feminist of us cringe. I can pretty much lay a bet that it would make Sunny Leone cringe. And smart at the fact that Verma is using her name for publicity. Because there’s no reason other than the title that you’d watch this film for.

The short starts with a battery of quotes, because Verma is nothing if not erudite. All the quotes though are incorrect and have never been uttered or penned by the people they are attributed to. There’s “to take away a person’s freedom of choice even if it’s a perceived wrong one, is nothing but suppression” attributed to George Washington, who never said these words. Ever. I checked. Multiple sources. This is followed by, “to force another person to live the way what you think is right, is against the democratic right of freedom of choice” attributed to Ayn Rand, who may have written a whole bunch of poppycock which is swallowed up whole by teenagers. But she never wrote this. There’s a quote attributed to the “Hindu” Upanishads (as opposed to the Islamic ones, which we also read now and then) on sex and women, which I have no way of verifying, but I’m guessing it’s as accurate as the first two quotes.

The film is almost Hitchockian in its aim. It’s shot in one room with three people. It could be Hitchcock’s Rope or Roman Polanski’s Carnage. But sadly, it isn’t.

We see a man and his wife speaking to their daughter who seems to be in her early 20’s. They are from a middle-class milieu as explained when the daughter comments on her father’s job as an assistant manager in a government office. While the parents are dressed simply, the daughter is togged out in jeans and boots and has had her hair straightened. All possible. Other than the conversation. Which, if people are having with their families, my strong advice would be to desist from doing so.

The film stars Naina Ganguly, Makarand Deshpande and Divya Jagdale—and begins with the father (Deshpande) asking his daughter (Ganguly) what she means by saying that she wants to be Sunny Leone. The wife (Jagdale) is standing behind him, looking perplexed, like most parents or thinking people would be if told that someone educated and seemingly able to land a job in the non-sex industry wanted to be a porn star. The daughter, who for some reason is sitting in the same pose as Amitabh Bachchan’s in the Sarkar poster, then proceeds to spend the next nine minutes telling her parents why her choosing to be a porn star is a sign of female emancipation. Which would well make sense, if the arguments offered made sense.

But much like Ram Gopal Verma’s recent films, the arguments also fall flat on their face.

The arguments posed by the daughter are that men like her father have for generations suppressed women and made us unsure of our sexuality (!) and have told us to save our “sexuality” for our husband. So that our husbands can extract his “entertainment” from us. And when he gets bored, he will make us become child-bearing machines and look after children. A crudely put explanation of marriage being a patriarchal institution, but there’s some semblance of a point there. Although what it has to do with her being a porn star–and especially since Sunny Leone is a married woman–beats me.

Also, the irony that porn itself is steeped in patriarchy and misogyny, seems to have eluded Verma while he was doing his deep research for this film. It is only now that the porn industry has started making “women-friendly” porn, which doesn’t meet the absurd standards of sexual acts set by earlier decades. Just the fact that for the longest time porn stars were not allowed to use condoms even if this meant that female porn stars were exposed to STDs and had to be on contraception to not get pregnant, should underline how female-unfriendly the porn industry has been. This is also an industry where the shelf life of female stars lasts a couple of years at best, a couple of months at worst—unlike male stars. There are umpteen cases of rape on set, as exposed recently with the James Deen case. Verma should really watch some documentaries on the porn industry in India and abroad to correct his facts about this industry being a feminist beacon of hope.

But that’s just tish tosh for someone like Verma, who seems to think that being a porn star is the ultimate feminist move.

The daughter then says that Leone gets lakhs of rupees for just a 10-minute appearance, which is more than her father will earn in five years. So, easy money is the other reason. I’m telling you, it only gets better.

Freedom of choice is the next. Which I agree with. Women are free to choose to do what we want. Much like our parents are free to tell us if we’re being imbeciles. As they do, with this woman.

She also says that a woman’s body is her property and she can do with it what she wants. Again, an accurate statement and thought.

The other reason, when asked by her father who will marry her if she becomes a porn star, is that she doesn’t want to get married, she wants to enjoy her life and if she does marry she’ll marry someone like Leone’s husband Daniel Weber, who understands her. Even Weber must be surprised that he’s being held up as the ideal husband.

The other argument is that a woman’s value lies in only her beauty and sex appeal, so they should make the most of these. Good way to reduce women to just looks, Mr Verma. Ten on 10 for just this argument. And for actually buying into and underlining the objectification of women as sex objects in the porn industry.

As far as self-goals go, this is right up there.

Just when you think your brain will implode, the film ends, that too with another quote, this time attributed to Verma himself. Thankfully. It is—I strongly believe women empowerment should have no discrimination. Her power should be her choice.

It’s good to keep in mind that on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2017, Verma had tweeted—I wish all the women in the world give men as much happiness as Sunny Leone does. Why? Who knows. Leone posted a video responding to Verma saying, “change only happens when we speak in one voice. So choose your words wisely”. And therein lies the problem with Verma. He needed to choose the words his female feminist protagonist spoke a little wisely, as well.

If the aim was to be provocative with this film, Verma has managed to do so. If it was to make an intellectual point about freedom of choice, maybe he’s come near that. But to posit joining the porn industry as a feminist move and not be able to back that up with a stable argument, other than women have only their looks and sexual appeal to stand on and easy money being attractive is not only trite but an insult to feminism. And injurious to people like us who watch these videos.

My sincere advice to Mr Verma is to not tweet, not make short films, not make long films—and definitely not be the feminist torchbearer he’s hoping to be. Really, we have it tough enough as women, without having to be reduced to sex objects by yet another man.

Also, quit making up quotes. Google is your friend. Use it accurately.

If you must watch the film, you can do so here. You have been warned. https://youtu.be/jIOoK2QJ26I

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