In a conversation with the cast of Lipstick Under My Burkha, many issues of everyday feminism and problems faced by women came up. The podcast was produced by All India Bakchod. Even so, it was different from their usual podcasts. It was hosted by Sumukhi Suresh and Kaneez Surka, two prominent ladies in the Indian comedy circuit.
All other AIB podcasts in the interview format had been hosted by any or all of the four male founding members: Tanmay Bhat, Rohan Joshi, Ashish Shakya and Gursimran Khamba. Their decision to back off and let women handle the conversation with the cast of a movie dealing with women’s issues was a welcome and rare occurrence.
Who can forget The Bollywood Diva video with Kangana Ranaut, the closest thing to a feminist icon that Bollywood has given us in recent times? It highlighted most, if not all of the sexist representations, that actresses have been exposed to for decades. This commonplace filmy sexism was traced in a previous video as well, called Sexual Harassment Through the Ages, featuring Richa Chadha.
AIB is definitely in tune with the recent rise of feminism in pop culture. In their Honest Indian Weddings video series, for example, there is a great awareness of the specific kind of pressures a woman getting into arranged marriage goes through. There is a clear statement of a disregard for her wishes, dowry is spoken about, and the commodification of weddings especially tailored to attract consumerism from the bride is also tackled.
The girl in the video also states that she has been forced to break up with her boyfriend so her parents can arrange a better suitor. All these portrayals of the society and families working to control the woman suggest a certain amount of awareness.
Even other videos in their Honest series, such as Honest Indian Flights indicates the workplace harassment a woman air hostess may have to go through. The Honest Bars and Restaurants video is observant in the reluctance of a waiter to give the bill to a woman at a restaurant, even though she is alone. The waiter ends up assuming she is pregnant and insists on giving the bill to her unborn male child.
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Another AIB video series that stands out, in contrast, is A Woman’s Besties (parts 1 and 2), which talks about female reproductive organs, virginity, sexual pleasure and the burden of unplanned pregnancy in a way that has never been done before in India.
But how progressive is the comedy company? AIB’s notorious roast featuring Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor had a sum total of one woman. Even though they let women take control of the Lipstick Under My Burkha podcast, their other podcasts have been with male stars having a faux-bromance with the male founding members. What merits mention is that the interview with the cast of Lipstick Under My Burkha did not get as much screen time as the interviews with Ranbir Kapoor and Shah Rukh Khan.
They did not feel the need to include women in the interview process while speaking to a superstar like Shah Rukh Khan. Neither did they invite any women to interview Ranbir Kapoor, where the men apparently ‘mansplained’ mansplaining to the man.
The most notable absences of women, however, are in their videos relating to politics and professional careers. In the farewell video to the Congress after the NDA government came to power in 2014, AIB felt no need for featuring any women at all. They may have evolved since 2014, but one of their 2017 video series doesn’t provide much hope.
There is one noticeable woman, who doesn’t have much to do in the Engineering and Placements series. In the viral part of the video where a job interviewee (Naveen Polishetty) is ranting about the problems of the particular career, he casually slips in how men with the best placements ‘get’ the best girls. This implies that ‘acquisition’ of women is a part of what engineers expect from society in return for graduating.
AIB has been crucial in opening up the conversation about female sexuality and basic feminism to the internet savvy youth. The comments by many men on A Woman’s Besties series wondering what a clitoris has even highlighted the lack of knowledge about pleasure for women. It would be ideal if women are included as a normal part of every production of theirs, even when the conversation is not about sexual abuse, female body parts, or sexuality.
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Featured Image Credit: Bollywood Life