When pictures from Ranveer Singh’s nude photoshoot popped up on my timeline, my reaction was, “Oh, he looks good. And what a lovely carpet!”.
The Mumbai Police now informs me it should have insulted my modesty, and for that, they have registered an FIR against the actor. According to the police, Singh, among other Sections, has been booked under Section 509, which deals with “word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman”.
I am a woman, and my modesty has not been insulted by the pictures.
What Singh or anyone chooses to do with their body is their business, and prurience, like beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder.
However, the pictures led to a predictable storm on social media, with people bemoaning the collapse of “Indian values”, the “depravity” of Bollywood, and the “pernicious effect of Western influence”. In Indore, some industrious citizens started a clothes donation drive for Singh.
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As a woman, what alarms me is the confidence with which people express regressive opinions on social media, a confidence born from the knowledge that their views are largely acceptable. What irritates me is a state trying to play nanny, protecting my perceived “modesty” from an innocuous photoshoot, when the actual threat to me and to other women are the patriarchal beliefs and conservativeness that the photoshoot’s critics are displaying.
Nudity was beautifully expressed and celebrated in ancient India. Ironically, those most loudly lamenting the influence of Western culture continue to invoke legal sections that are a Western import — the Victorian morality that still informs so many of our laws.
Singh’s photoshoot can be read in many ways, one of which is that it was intended for the female gaze. If a society that enjoys item numbers in movies and “DJ dances” off-screen thinks pictures women could find sexy are dangerous, that is not protecting my modesty, that is policing my desire. At that, I am outraged.
Before they attracted legal attention, Ranveer Singh’s experiments with clothes have long provided fodder for jokes and memes. The actor shows up to public events in the most extravagant skirts, jewel-toned shirts, velvet jackets, etc. In this, he has broken the mould of standard male fashion, of big man suits and cool boy tees. At least a section of ridicule that comes his way is from men aghast that masculinity can be colourful, experimental, non-threatening, and, god forbid, fun!
His nude photoshoot, too, is not about the intimidating six-pack of a powerful man. He is not glowering into the camera, not looking like he would try to ravish the next woman he spots. If anything, the pictures are sweet, of a man sitting naked and vulnerable on his blue carpet. Refreshingly for a male photoshoot, they speak of desire and intimacy, not domination. And it really is high time that we as a society learn a man being unguarded and vulnerable is not a crime.