Whether we liked it or not, certain rather loud sections of the Indian media had an entire exaggerated circus playing out in the name of news. This, in turn, lead to the arrest of actor Rhea Chakraborty. Right after, actresses Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan, Shraddha Kapoor and Rakul Preet Singh’s names made it to prime-time news for their alleged drug abuse.
What is shocking is the increased air time coverage that the supposed Bollywood drug scandal got when actual, confirmed news of the farmers across India protesting the dramatic passing of anti-farmer bills, an unravelling economic and unemployment crisis and cases of COVID-19 peaking in India were pushed to the back.
However, this article looks more closely at the media trials (or dare we say, the witch-hunting) of female actors for their alleged involvement in drug abuse as opposed to media’s response to Bollywood actors such as Sanjay Dutt who had gone on record to say that there is “no drug I have not done”.
Unlike the vilification of the female actors that we are currently witnessing, Dutt was speaking about this freely at an event in the capital in 2017, even after which at least 10 of his films released as opposed to say, Rhea Chakraborty, whose career in the industry now faces a question itself.
The common thread that ties all of these female actors is that they are prominent professionals in an industry that has actively and now evidently vilified them, along with putting them under tighter media scrutiny when compared to male counterparts. And, all this while expecting them to look like they stepped off a runway.
Women And Our Higher Moral Expectations
The constant negative spotlight put on these actresses is not a result of news anchors suddenly feeling strongly about the effects of drug abuse-an epidemic that has existed since decades. It is the direct result of years of superior morality that we as a society have demanded from women.
Be it smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol, or staying out late at night-these are all legal activities, but women who participate are often portrayed as “loose” or “characterless”. Now, in a setting like this, if a woman undergoes public trial for accusations involving illegal substances, there is no way she stands a chance. She is already a “druggie”, a “bad influence”, and a “drug mafia who entrapped her boyfriend”– and she hasn’t even gotten a chance to speak her side of the story yet.
But when the tables turn, a man is “just a man” if he enjoys smoking or consumes alcohol. When photos of Pakistani actress Mahira Khan on the streets with actor Ranbir Kapoor surfaced on the Internet, every headline read on the lines of “Mahira Khan-Ranbir Kapoor spotted smoking”, an act which would have found no relevance if it was only the male in the picture who was smoking.
It’s a privilege they can take for granted. And if a certain Bollywood actor has been involved with narcotics? Well, then he is lauded as a survivor who fought against drug addiction and is now writing his story of retribution. The history of his abuse has been glorified as “just a phase” and turned into a big-budget Bollywood biography.
It is self-evident that the sensitivity (or lack thereof) with which the media gives coverage to these incidents influences people’s outlooks. But for those living under a rock, TV news channel coverage has taken a massive dip in recent weeks and gone for the low hanging fruit of sensationalism at the cost of villainising women.
Actresses have been hounded outside police stations, been chased in cars, and ganged up on at the cost of privacy, dignity, and social distancing during a pandemic. All of this noise becomes even louder when comparatively male actors are treated to stark silences.
The media looking the other way when it comes to male counterparts is a real blessing for men in the age of cancel culture and social media trials. Witch-hunts for women are being conducted on Twitter, and character assassinations are happening through WhatsApp forwards- a phenomenon male actors are just not privy to.
This vilification happens because Indian society thrives on women being “shown their place”, on successfully squashing female-narratives, blaming the undoing of men on the women in their lives. As of today, the enabling of patriarchy fuels media TRPs in India.
This chaos around successful and famous actresses being involved in a drug abuse conspiracy makes for an extremely effective smokescreen. There are multiple pressing and more critical issues in the country right now like the ever-increasing COVID cases, farmer protests, and acts of dissent within the parliament. None of these bits is getting nearly enough coverage that they should be.
“But, when popular actresses are consuming hash and weed *cue gasp*, why would I want to watch anything else!?”
This ongoing media trial of the female actors is just a masterclass on how we have normalised putting women through the rut for making slips and mistakes when men do the same and go unnoticed all time. The slander is merciless and should make everyone feel at least a little bit provoked, if not furious.
These actresses are more than talking points to stir up a lousy dinner-time conversation. They are real women who are bearing the direct brunt of being one. Our media houses have forgotten how to treat them as humans with dignity, but I, for the sake of women all around this country, hope that we haven’t.