Opinion: Unfortunately, She was Female

The insensitive speculation around Sridevi’s death had everything to with the fact that she was a woman

By Sowmya BR

 Sridevi in  Chaalbaaz  (1989) via  LightsCameraBollywood.com

Sridevi in Chaalbaaz (1989) via LightsCameraBollywood.com

Botox. Weight-loss surgery. Drugs. Alcohol. The allegations flew thick and fast; the speculation in the aftermath of Sridevi’s death had all the ingredients of a seedy pulp fiction novel. This was after all, a woman in the public eye. And while celebrities around the world routinely have their private lives ruthlessly excavated and squeezed for juice, when they happen to be female, that just makes it so much worse.

There were eulogies, no doubt. Some called her India’s first female superstar, others sang paeans to her acting; the lilt of her hips; the impact of her celebrityhood on impressionable young minds. And yet, ironically, in death, she wasn’t accorded the dignity of insensitive, sexist speculation.

Oh yes, it was sexist. Take Rajesh Khanna. The man who had treated his ex-wife—the lovely and too-young Dimple Kapadia—badly, was also known to have hit the bottle quite hard, especially in his later years. And yet, his death brought forth none of the breathless criticism of his lifestyle that Sridevi’s did, because—lets’ face it—he was a man. That she had traces of alcohol in her blood had to mean she was a careless drunk. Because that is the fate that befalls wanton women who drink. And if they’re rich, good looking and in the acting business, they must be doing unmentionable things that are ‘against Indian culture’. The fact she was the second wife of a man who has unwittingly participated in one of the film industry’s biggest scandals at the time—leaving his first wife for a vixen actress—only underscored her promiscuity even more, one would imagine.

Take one of the first forwards this writer received on WhatsApp the morning of Sridevi’s death. Secure in its own self-righteousness, it was about how we must introspect about the ‘pressure to look good’ that had certainly killed her; how she lacked self-love; how she had ‘patriarchal implants in her head’; how she was little but a clothes horse for designers who would make her as beautiful as she desired. That this very line of thinking was perpetuating the very same relentless pressure on female celebrities to look and act a certain way, had obviously not occurred to the writer of the message. But why would it? Sridevi is a female celebrity, she obviously asked for it. Duh.

Enfant terrible Ram Gopal Varma, a self-confessed fan of the actor, took it upon himself to discuss the troubles in Sridevi’s life. "More than the external peace, her internal mental state was of a high degree of concern and this forced her to look at her own self… The uncertainty of the future, the ugly turns and twists in her private life left deep scars in the superstar’s sensitive mind and thereafter she was never at peace," Varma said on social media. Oh, the insight!

If Varma’s philosophical ponderings are true, then in death, as in life, Sridevi found little solace. Ultimately, her unquestionable talent, her supreme impact on the film industry, her hefty body of work—all remained subservient to the fact of her gender. Her death only buttressed what we already know—women don’t deserve respect. After all, everything that happens to them is their fault. 

 

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