Bollywood director Farah Khan on Saturday said India has enough talent in the industry and we should work with people from our country. She made the statement while responding to a question from the audience on her views on the ban of Pakistani artists during a conversation with Express Group executive director Anant Goenka at The Bridge, an initiative by The Caravan in association with indianexpress.com to discuss gender empowerment.
Referring to Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan, she said, “There are two that we are talking about and they are not important in the scheme of things. The movies were made when it was not illegal to work with Pakistani artists and it would be unfair to ban those films. If you say we should not work with them from now on, I say we have enough talent in our country and we should work with them. I think we are far better so I would prefer working with someone from my country in my movies,” she said.
Sharing her views on surrogacy, a subject that was recently debated after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj condemned the misuse of it and Union Cabinet approved Surrogacy Bill 2016, she said, no one should tell anyone when to have babies and there is ‘too much personal interference’ in people’s daily lives. “You should regulate surrogacy, make the laws stricter, make sure surrogates are taken care of but you can’t just get up and put a blanket ban. You can’t tell people when they should have babies and with whom,” said the director.
Responding to a question on Smriti Irani’s statement that women in Islamic countries have more freedom than women in Muslim families in India, Khan disagreed and said “we live in two India(s); modern and conservative”. Talking about her own liberal upbringing, she said, “There are women in Muslim families who aren’t allowed to do a lot of things, but then you have women like me and Sania Mirza as well”.
Khan is known for ‘item numbers’ in her films which have long been discussed for objectification of women. During the conversation, she said, they are not derogatory because they are there for money and just so more people can come to watch the film. Therefore, an ’embarrassing’ question as she called it was thrown at her from the audience which received a round of applause at the gathering of hundreds. “I disagree with a lot of regressive things you said today but I vehemently disagree with your take on item numbers because they indulge in the most blatant commodification of women. What kind of feminism is Kareena Kapoor espousing when she sings ‘main to tandoori murgi hun yar, gatkale saiyan fevicol se’?” asked the boy to which Khan said that Kareena is a sensible and independent woman who chose to do it and “no one put a gun to her head”. By not allowing it, we are not giving Kareena the choice of what she wants to do, said Khan trying to convince the boy but his response lead to a louder cheer. “Feminism is not just about making choices, it’s also about examining how constrained those choices are”.
In a room full of men and women in equal ratio, gender empowerment was discussed by a number of panelists including Child and Women Development Minister Maneka Gandhi, Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, journalist Mona Eltahawy, Sharmila Tagore, comedian Aditi Mittal and Mallika Dua, singer-activist Ginni Mahi, Author Urvashi Butalia and many more. The conversation centred around significant subjects like feminism in India, how Bollywood is predominantly a boys club, the plight of young Indian men, patriarchy in the corporate world and political representation of women.
Sharmila Tagore was in for a loud cheer when she said, “Pink has all these wonderful feminist messages but they’re all articulated by men. There are great elderly women in the industry too”. Many cheered for journalist Mona Eltihawy when she joked about introducing a day where no men should go out and women should be able to roam freely. And everyone was awed when India’s largest self-help group from Uttar Pradesh shared their journey on how they fought with their families to change the landscape of their villages.