Do comedies have to be sexist? Here’s what Akshay Kumar thinks

“It is just a character, ” the Housefull 4 [2019] actor urges critics to not take such films seriously

By Mayur Lookhar

Akshay Kumar, Pooja Hegde in a song from Housefull 4 [2019]

The nation is outraged over the brutal rape and murder cases that have come to light in the recent weeks.  Social media has become a tool for people to express their sense of helplessness, anger.  Often when brutal sexual crimes occur, serious questions are raised over policing, governance, judiciary. Cinema, too, finds itself facing the heat with some aggrieved citizens bringing out the familiar accusation – objectification of women, sexism in films.

Akshay Kumar’s last film Housefull 4 [2019] was largely panned by critics, with the Farhad Samjhi-helmed mindless comedy drawing flak for its poor quality of jokes. Some deemed it as sexist in nature.  A respected journalist raised the familiar point of how Bollywood treats its women in films.

“You come, enjoy, and don’t take it so seriously. If that was the case then we show ‘no smoking’ [disclaimer] in our films, but you tell me how many people have stopped smoking,” said Kumar during a group interaction with the media on Tuesday.

“There is a person who is playing a negative character. I, too, have played it a few times, but that doesn’t mean I’m trying to teach you something negative. I’m just playing a character,” Kumar explained.

The actor opined that if someone doesn’t like a particular thing in a trailer then that person shouldn’t watch that film. And s/he should also request his family, friends to stay away from it.   He however called for respecting an actor’s freedom of choice

 “When you write an article and  someone questions what have you written, you are likely to tell that person to not read it. Just like you have a freedom of speech and writing, the person also has freedom of acting. Besides, it [film] is being passed by Central Board of Film Certification [CBFC] which is a government body. Why should there be a problem,” said Kumar.

Few minutes later, another respected journalist, known for her strong feminist views, then singled out Housefull 4 for its alleged sexist content.

“When you are doing an Housefull 4, [shouldn’t] the responsibility as an artist has to be the same as you are doing a Toilet -Ek Prem Katha [2017],” the tenacious scribe questioned.

“ Why? Where is it written?” Kumar shot back.  He continues, “My responsibility while doing a Housefull is just giving a slapstick comedy.”

But that doesn’t have to be sexist, stressed the scribe.  Terming it as her point of view, Kumar said that he had a different perspective.

The journalist then didn’t mince any words when she said that comedies don’t have be sexist to be funny. A lot of time our mainstream comedies have been sexist or gender discriminating, as observed by the journalist.

From this moment, Kumar repeatedly toed the ‘this-is-just-a- character’ line.

“This is a film that has this kind of comedy. it is just a character. I am again telling you don’t take it seriously. When I see someone else’s work say an Inder Kumar or Abbas-Mustan comedy, I will go into the theater with that kind of mood. I’d sit and watch with my family,” the Good Newwz [2019] actor explained.

“But what if it makes fun of women,” the scribe hit back. 

For a moment, Kumar looked taken aback by the scribe’s implacable attitude.    Though not offended, but the actor seemed to be at great pain to explain his perspective.  

“There are many other ways of making fun of men too.  Look, you don’t have to agree with me, but all I’m saying it is just a character. Watch it as a film. Everything that I am doing, it can’t be like I have to impart a lesson today. I am not a teacher,” asserted Kumar.

Clearly, it was difficult having a consensus here. A seasoned journalist then broke in claiming that often couple of social media tweets tend to create an impression as if they are speaking for the nation.

“This social media has become a sword,” moaned Kumar. 

Whenever a grave issue come up, media seeks perspective from opinion makers like Kumar.  The Good Newwz actor turned the tables on the media, questioning what is it that they have done to trigger any particular change?

 “If you want to live a peaceful life then don’t be on social media much.  Just do your job. Help others where you can. Speak if you witness something wrong.  It is easy to write, but when the time comes, no one really does anything about it.  We advise the government to do this, but what have we done ourselves. We would stop blaming each other, “Kumar opined.

Kumar is one actor who is at the forefront of doing films with a strong social message. In a shocking turn of events, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla had raised concerns over Rani Mukerji’s film Mardaani 2 [2019] perhaps tarnishing the name of his region, Kota, Rajasthan. [Mardaani 2 is set in Kota]

Does this suggest that there is a lack of political will in dealing with hideous crimes like rape? we asked Kumar earlier.

“I have not read about it. I don’t know and honestly this is not the right platform,” shrugged Kumar. We then reminded Kumar of the bizarre statement made by the Lok Speaker while attacking Mardaani 2.

“If that is how you go, there are so many politicians, [pauses], people go to jail, so what are you trying to show,” said Kumar. We couldn’t really make sense of it. The actor though was clear when he urged all to ignore all such regressive voices. “It is better we be away from all this. They [politicians] are doing their job. And I am sure they know their job very well. We are doing our job,” sighed Kumar.

The unabating sexual crimes against women has left most of us disturbed and speechless.  Let’s give the actor the benefit of doubt here for he is as hurt and numbed as all of us.  A few days ago, Kumar had expressed his pain at the many horrific cases and called for swift justice.

“Whether it is #PriyankaReddy in Hyderabad, #Roja in Tamil Nadu or the law student gangraped in Ranchi, we seem to be losing it as a society. It has been 7 yrs to the gut-wrenching #Nirbhaya case & our moral fabric continues to be in pieces. We need stricter laws. This needs to STOP!,” Kumar tweeted on 29 November.

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