Monday, July 16, 2007
Vinita Dawra Nangia
When Pooja Chauhan of Rajkot stripped to protest against dowry demands, she got instant attention. Nudity is bound to get you eyeballs – not just in India, but anywhere in the world. What changes is the attitude towards the naked body.
Most high profile, organized international groups take advantage of this attention grabbing tool and get people to drop clothes for causes they espouse. Especially PETA, which ropes in celebrities such as Pamela Anderson, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell to pose naked on billboards to grab world headlines
Nudist protests have ranged from anti Bush-in-Iraq campaigns to female prisoners in Johannesburg disrobing to show displeasure at being shifted to another prison; Mexican farmers going topless to naked protestors in Spain against the annual ritual of bull-chasing. The Queen of England too wasn’t spared, as nude activists protested use of bearskin to make hats for her Palace guards.
Pooja’s is the second incident in India of a naked protest, first being when women in Manipur stripped in front of 17 Assam Rifles gate in 2004 to protest killing of Manorama. And yes, it’s a worldwide phenomenon that women strip as a form of protest far more than men do.
What do nude protestors hope to achieve when they shed clothes in public? The most obvious answer is media attention, which is instantaneous. Even though, much to the chagrin of naked campaigners, media focuses on the form of protest far more than the reason! Interestingly, apart from a play for attention, votaries of this unique form of protest reveal they are trying to highlight vulnerability of mankind and also reveling in freedom of breaking away from conformity.
Isn’t it interesting how the judgment we pass on nudity changes with context? Nobody derides a child for being born naked, but shed your clothes at any other stage of life at your peril! When 500 young Londoners stripped for artist Spencer Tunick in Selfridges as a live installation, it was called art, but when Protima Bedi streaked down Juhu in 1974, it lived on as her single biggest recognition in life as well as death. If a lone man walking down a road throws off his clothes, he’s called an exhibitionist, but if he participates naked in a group, he’s elevated to the status of nudist protestor with a cause! Nudity in a film is ok, but someone walking around naked in a non-sexual context isn’t!
If we agree that attitudes towards nudity reflect our degree of sexual repression, then a society as sexually repressed as India, is bound to frown upon nude protests. And so in India, Pooja, who bared her body to bare her soul, has to disappear the day after her protest, amidst snickers that the least she could have done is wear matching underwear if she planned to shed her outers!
One could have traced nudism to Adam and Eve, but their covering themselves in “shame” spoils it all. The true first votaries of nudism were really the Greeks and Romans around 1300 BC when Greek students exercised and were educated in the nude and athletes played naked in early Olympics! From here on things worsened to the extent that in the Victorian era even legs of pianos and chairs were covered so they wouldn’t arouse sexual interest!
It was only in the 20th century that organized nudism came into practice, with the first nudist park, Freilichtpark (Free Light park) opening near Hamburg in Germany in 1903.
Lately nudism, which is the phenomenon of people enjoying the liberation of being naked with each other, has a large number of votaries. There is no sexuality involved in this; it’s all about celebrating the human body. Exhibitionism on the other hand, has sexual connotations and derives pleasure from an audience. An extreme form of this is flashing, which is exposing oneself indecently in an attempt to shock or traumatize someone. As opposed to this, streaking is the “non-sexual act of taking off one’s clothes and running naked through a public place.”
Interesting, how the same act can arouse such different emotions in varying contexts!
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Vinita Dawra Nangia
A riot of colour and costume; mesmerisingly energetic footwork; loud music that sweeps you into a dance, and a play of emotion on the faces of Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and a family from grandma to grandchild – all in the course of one extended musical sequence in Kal Ho Na Ho -- Dekho Dekho Na Pretty Woman…
Who said India is known as the country of snake charmers and rope tricks? Or even for willfully roaming elephants and cows? Not even the Taj Mahal holds much fascination anymore!
Today India is the land of Bollywood! On a recent trip abroad, amongst a motley group of nationalities, the first question almost anyone asked me was about Bollywood. A young man from Germany exclaimed over Bollywood theme parties he’s attended and movies he’s watched back home in Hamburg. A Russian lady executed some exaggerated Bollywood dance steps to the amusement of Japanese, Chinese and Thai delegates, who all nodded vigorously in agreement.
Fellow journalists from Netherlands commented on Bollywood dances, a telling comment on the reach of Indian movies! The Swiss of course claim a special relationship with Bollywood, with a string of movies being shot at any given time in favoured scenic destinations such as Interlaken and Berne.
Most wanted to know about “your biggest star, someone called King Khan…?” Then came questions about “the actress who is a beauty queen and also appears in commercials….?” Even Johnny Lever is recognised – ““India’s top comedian, a short man with curly hair and big eyes.”
Bollywood is indeed a great window into our country today and it is through this prism that rest of the world looks at India. What is it about Indian movies that attracts a multitude of foreigners? Indeed, it was a surprise to see “Bollywood” bags with pictures of Shah Rukh selling in the market area in Berne. In Frankfurt, a colleague spied young German girls buying Bollywood DVDs dubbed into their language. Professor Ruthermond, renowned Indologist and formerly of Heidelberg University, comments on how Bollywood is possibly the largest export from India to Germany!
In an attempt to understand the phenomena, I turned to the one man surely responsible for much of it, a director whose movies don’t ever embarrass you with their depiction of India – Karan Johar. Karan agrees there’s been a sudden rise in Bollywood’s popularity abroad. He says, “In 2002 I sold the rights for my movie in Germany for $ 5,000, while four years later, this took a quantum leap to $ 2,50,000! It’s amazing. And Germany for some reason, is particularly smitten.”
Karan denies he has ever made any movie keeping in mind a foreign audience. “I make movies for Indians – from Bihar to New York. If they appeal to foreigners, that’s an added bonus!” He says you never know how or why a movie appeals to a foreign audience but all he has ever done is depict “everything unapologetically Indian -- the glitz, glamour, dances, our emotions which are not at all subtle, but so totally in-the-face. Kabhi Khushi, Kabhi Gham was a great showcase for all we stand for and at Cannes, people came out with tears streaming down their face.”
Karan opines that Indian films tug at the heartstrings and that is what appeals to foreign audiences and stays with them. “Europe can get quite depressing with the breakdown of their family system and everyone being so alone and self-centred. When there’s no family behind you, you start thinking small. On the other hand, we are all about family and attachment. We laugh loud and we cry even louder. We are not brushing any emotions under the carpet. Family support helps us think big and do well. Abroad they pay huge amounts to go and unburden before psychiatrists. We do so with family, parents and friends!”
So, it is the selflessness, togetherness and bonhomie of Indian families that appeal to foreign audiences, who view India as an exotic country with bright clothes, colours, religion and a strong culture. This intrigues foreigners as they grapple to understand a culture so different and so vibrant and happy.
One can’t help but feel relieved to be viewed through the Bollywood prism abroad. It’s certainly better to answer questions about Bollywood rather than the usual Indian stereotypes – poverty, cow worship and snake charmers! Isn’t it nice to have this replaced by the image of India as a great support system – family support as depicted by Bollywood; spiritual support and of course, tech support!
Monday, July 2, 2007
Do you have the guys making a beeline for you? Why ever not?
For a man, the seduction game is all about sex, sex and more sex. Only then comes – even more sex!
Vinita Dawra Nangia
Spruce up your appearance ladies and take grooming very, very seriously. Let us not blame women who go in for asset-enhancing techniques anymore. For, where a man is concerned, nothing seems to have changed so far as his mating instincts go. He is still the visual creature he was many centuries ago -- appearances are all to him!
And even with appearance, he goes straight for the jugular – those aspects that signify a woman’s sexuality are most attractive to him. For a man, the seduction game is all about sex, sex and more sex. Only then comes – even more sex! A woman might as well accept this and be resigned to the fact that it’s the sex appeal she oozes that scores over all other attributes she may possess – mental, emotional, spiritual, whatever.
Evolution has geared men to look for facial sexual signals. Research shows men are most attracted to a childlike face, for this arouses their paternal instincts to touch and protect. With eyes, men world over go for the large, luminescent variety. When a woman is attracted to a man, her pupils dilate. Contact lenses give the impression of glistening eyes and permanent dilation of pupils. And sure enough, studies reveal that men find women with contact lenses very sexy! Lips, if we are to believe Freud and zoologists, are an outer manifestation of a woman’s sexuality and fill with blood and swell up when she is excited. Men find full, sensual lips attractive. Do you wonder at the silicon injects women undergo to get the bee-bitten swollen look?
For the rest, men find a woman with long neck and long hair more appealing. Long necks signify gender difference while long hair indicates good health and so potential to produce healthy offspring.
Coming to body shape, a man’s ideal for women is a waist-hip ratio of about 70 per cent – and this ratio is actually an indicator of high fertility in a woman. All men love breasts and cleavage, and find a rounded, protruding behind attractive – a symbol of fertility since time immemorial. So, ok, with a man, looks do matter. And how! To the extent that over time, women’s bodies have evolved as sexual signals to beckon men!
However, things are different when a man is looking for a long term partner. Unlike women, men, with their age-old hunting instincts, know exactly what they are looking for when their search for a partner begins. And, a man makes a difference between short term and long term partners, with criteria for both differing.
If it is a fling or a one-night stand he is looking for, he looks out for women who are provocatively dressed, sexy and a little drunk and loud. If she doesn’t drink, confesses a male colleague, forget about it! You aren’t in luck that night. For a short term affair, she must also be friendly and warm into the bargain.
However, if a man is looking for a long term relationship, the criteria changes. Now he’s looking for a beautiful girl, warm and friendly. She should be sexy but not overtly so – after all you wouldn’t want a Mallika Sherawat as long term girlfriend, would you, exclaims the colleague in horrified tones! She should be ‘different’ from others – warm, attractive and a good conversationalist. Research shows personality, good looks, brain and humour is a man’s wish list in order of priority for a partner.
A man likes a woman to say positive things to him, ask questions about and show interest in whatever he does. Of course the one thing that puts him off is a woman who clings—is too needy and wanting all the time. A woman must give him his space. A trick the colleague shares is that the woman must keep withdrawing a bit and coming back again – so as to keep him on his toes. A man appreciates a slight aloofness over a clingy attitude.
If a man needs to appeal to a woman’s vanity to be attractive to her, she needs to appeal to his ego if she is to make an impact on him. Most men are susceptible to compliments that boost their self esteem. And nobody knows this better than a woman.
Give him single-minded attention, flirt with him, prod him on to talk about his day and work, make appropriately appreciative sounds at the right places and soon you will have him eating out of your hands. Till you keep him guessing, he will dance attendance; the moment he knows you are hooked, he will relax his guard and start taking you for granted. A man somehow is convinced that a woman dresses and grooms herself for him, though research shows women dress more for other women! Men however draw a straight correlation between the amount of effort women take with their appearance and their interest in them. As a result, if somewhere along the line a woman stops looking after her appearance, a man sees it as a signal that he is no longer important to her!
And so, just like a man must never stop complimenting a woman as we discussed in last week’s column, a woman must always look after her appearance for her man’s sake. If he must always pander to her vanity, she needs to pander to his ego. When a woman looks for a sense of humour in a man, she means he should be able to make her laugh; when he seeks a woman with a sense of humour, a man means she should be able to laugh at his jokes! While a woman looks for a bit of a scoundrel in a short term relationship, he is looking for a bit of a vamp. However for long term, both change criteria and look for more mind than matter! Now she seeks a guy with potential for moving ahead, while he looks for a good home maker.
Sounds so clinical and unromantic, doesn’t it? And yet, knowingly or unknowingly, it all boils down to just that! What’s so different about the 21st century? Primal instincts are still as much at play beneath a veneer of civilization.