The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Highly inflammable, keep hands off
- sex siren shatters stereotypes

How much more can a man take' First she acts like a slut in all her films, in her latest Jism particularly, where she has men for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The depth of her necklines gives men vertigo and a look from her smouldering eyes turns them into jelly, if not stone.

Then she dares to go to the disco in a dress that cries, “Look at me”, and expects to be treated decently.

So this man decided to teach Bipasha Basu a lesson. Last weekend, when the actress arrived at a happening suburban nightspot, he made a grab at her. Bipasha, very unlike the predator she is on-screen, broke down completely, while her actor-boyfriend John Abraham, who was escorting her, beat this man up and sent him packing.

This was not the first time this was happening to Bipasha. Recently, when she was in Jaipur for a promotional tour of Jism, a man from the audience had tried to pounce on her.

Bipasha is not too keen to make an issue out of the disco episode and the story should have ended here, happily with her knight-errant of a boyfriend rescuing her from the monster’s clutches, but it leads to a question: Do Indian men deserve their sex goddesses'

Mahesh Bhatt — whose daughter Pooja Bhatt is the producer of Jism — says the episode has been blown out of proportion as the media has portrayed Bipasha as a sex bomb and because she over-reacted.

“I was there with her in Jaipur. A man just wanted to touch her. She has an edgy personality and she over-reacted. This has happened to all actresses all the time. This happens to all women, too. Singling out Bipasha is simplifying and falsifying the issue,” he says.

But others feel this proves yet again that while there is lip-service being paid to an open, assertive portrayal of women’s sexuality in contemporary media, men are not yet ready for it in real life.

“Our men are not ready to handle the new women. The Bipasha episode proves it,” says Vina Gowda, a lawyer on women’s issues.

“We are bringing up our girls, not perhaps to become models or actresses always, but to claim for them public spaces. But we don’t work on our boys enough to make them ready to handle these girls.”

An incident like this pushes the women, who have come into the public space on their own, a few paces back. “This goes much beyond Bipasha. This is a question of stereotypes men still have in their minds. The woman is equated with what she is wearing, whoever she is,” Gowda says.

Women’s activist Chayanika Shah agrees that it’s the stereotyping, even while Bipasha would stand for a liberated female sexuality. “If she is wearing this, it’s okay for me to do it to her is how the boys would think,” she says.

“Every time you think some space has opened out, it also closes up because of some norms which are born out of this very space. Even a disco would have its code of what’s permissible for women and what’s not.”

Anima Lahiri, a researcher, points to the irony of it, too. “Bipasha’s role in Jism may show women as a negative stereotype, but the whole point of the role was ‘I am not a vulnerable woman’. She has that kind of an image. But such an incident subverts the message.”

She adds this is the typical use of the three P’s — prostitution, promiscuity or pornography — against women. “You use any of three P’s, and you can bring down any woman and her achievement crumbling down to the ground,” she says.

Sex goddesses are fine. Only on screen.

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