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Monday, July 04, 2022

Chethana Raj’s death: Our entertainment industry can’t brush gender issues under the carpet

Divya Spandana writes: Those of us who are actors need to be responsible about what we put out on social media: Let's be honest, let's be real. Let's not make ourselves look thinner, leaner or fairer. The silence is not worth a life.

Written by Divya Spandana |
Updated: May 20, 2022 9:19:27 am
Chethana Raj's death is a harsh reminder of the reality of the entertainment industry: There are unrealistic standards for “beauty” when it comes to women. (Image via Instagram)

I don’t think Chethana Raj is the first person in the industry we have lost to plastic surgery. There was another incident that involved a Telugu actor, some years ago. She also died due to complications after liposuction in the US.

Chethana’s death is a harsh reminder of the reality of the entertainment industry: There are unrealistic standards for “beauty” when it comes to women. This is not just a result of the industry’s demands. It is also, I believe, a consequence of the pressure that is placed on girls since childhood — to dress well, to be “presentable”, to look good. Take the fashion and retail clothing industry. It appears as though the responsibility to look good is on women alone.

I know of so many colleagues who have undergone surgeries. And a vast majority have undergone laser or chemical treatments to get rid of body hair, which isn’t considered “sexy” on a woman. For men, of course, it’s completely okay. Laser treatments, skin lightening, chemical peels, lip fillers, botox, liposuction – we do all of it to keep up with the “standards” of beauty. Ever since my tumour removal I have struggled with weight as well. There are so many quick fixes out there, it’s easy to get carried away.

The need to diet, to look a certain way, is always there.

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Films are supposed to be a reflection of society. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. The heroine rarely looks like a regular person, someone you would encounter in your daily life. Nobody dresses that way, or wears that kind of makeup. But the on-screen persona has slowly become the aspiration, and everyone wants to aim for perfection, like in Instagram filters.

A man, on the other hand, can be 65 and potbellied. He can lose his hair, wear a wig and still be a “hero”. If a woman in the public eye puts on a little weight she is trolled and fat-shamed. A woman in the entertainment industry pretty much loses the spotlight by her late 30s. Things are slowly changing, of course, but there’s a long road to travel. Is there a Size Zero for men?

In this regard, the Malayalam film industry must be commended for the kind of roles written for women. Actors are portrayed sans makeup, in regular clothes that do not accentuate their figures. Their hair isn’t blow-dried, and they’re not wearing extensions or fake eyelashes. And it shows in the performances — real and honest.

The bias against women on screen isn’t just about how they look. In the South Indian film industries, men are usually paid in crores, women in lakhs. Only a few people have managed to change that. The “hero” always gets the major role. In the posters and credits, his name almost always gets top billing.

It’s time both men and women have these conversations. Filmmakers, producers – and all those in the entertainment industry who have the power to bring change – must not keep brushing these issues under the carpet. Those of us who are actors need to be responsible about what we put out on social media: Let’s be honest, let’s be real. Let’s not make ourselves look thinner, leaner or fairer. The silence is not worth a life.

As I look at Chetana’s photographs, I see no flaws in her. She looks like any of us — that leaves me with a slew of questions, but none of us know what she was going through and the pressures she faced. Sometimes, young women like her are the sole breadwinner in the family. To “make it” in the film industry, to have to look a certain way could have pushed her to opt for liposuction surgery. None of us can judge her. At the end of the day, every individual makes her own choices. But I am left with one question: Was it really worth it?

The writer is an actor and former Lok Sabha MP

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