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A “Me Too” Culture

January 2007
A “Me Too” Culture

This is a dialogue from Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, a recent star-studded movie from Karan Johar. Evergreen superstar Amitabh Bachchan's character, Samarjit Singh Talwar (a.k.a "Sexy Sam"), a playboy widower shacking up with his married son in Manhattan, is the one who delivers the glib answer.

The dialogue didn't strike me as too out of place in line with the character, the setting, and the times. Rather, Bachchan manages to lend his deft touch to make Sexy Sam kinda? adorable. Yet, only later, it struck me like a ton of bricks—as to how far Bollywood (and thereby Indian culture) has changed from days of my coming-of-age when it was all about sada-suhagaans and sexual sacrosanctity that can best be described by the Sanskrit word "lajja." ("respect" or "reverence" more so than "shame").

Who would have thought that a father (played no less by Bachchan, the proverbial good son of Bollywood classics like Deewar and Trishul), living with his son and bahu (daughter-in-law), would flippantly quip with the son about his nightly sexual escapades? And that, too, with the nonchalance that would suggest that he indeed were chatting about breakfast.

Broadly speaking, Indian society had approached sexuality with reverence – in striking contrast with the way Western culture has treated it, Howard Stern and Jerry Springer being just couple of the mascots of this crass orgification of sexuality.

There was a certain amount of mystical cloak surrounding sexuality; in contrast to the stark nakedness with which it is treated in the West.

Sure, there is a risk of prudishness, repression and even persecution, if this is carried to the extreme – as has been the case in some Arab societies. But isn't there a fine line between sexual liberation and sexual flippancy? Doesn't crassness characterized by such flippancy, along with hyper-commercialization of sex (of which the Internet is exhibit A), suggest a dysfunction?

Yet, this is about more than sexuality. Rather it is about contemporary Indian society's mad dash to blindly ape and "one-up" the West. "Marital dysfunction is rampant in your society? O, no big deal! We are revving that up in ours as well!"

Referring to recent risqu� Hindi films such as Jism, Hawas, and Murder, a recent article in one of India's largest dailies, The Hindu, stated, "This is a season of adultery? in Bollywood. And promiscuity has become the favourite sin for the dream merchants. As more and more heroines walk out of marital closets, producers-directors are raking it rich with the audiences showing? remarkable flexibility of morals, and an eagerness to cater to the Satan within."

Dialogues like the above (of Sexy Sam) and films like Jism—right or wrong—are not innate to our heritage.

In a globalized world, being hip with the times is no longer an option, but a necessity. Yet, how does a society and a nation stay hip with the times, and yet not sell out its own character and soul? Can India strike a balance between importing Pepsi and Pizza Hut while holding on to its chai and chapatti? A casual observation of the contemporary youth of the country seems to suggest that most of these urban yuppies, symbolically speaking, would consider chai and chappati too pass� and perhaps even beneath them. That is simply a sad state of affairs for such a rich and ancient culture!

- Parthiv N. Parekh

[To respond to this editorial, please write to editor@khabar.com]

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