Fame, that elusive four-letter-word, has never come without a large price tag. For those fortunate enough to encounter it, it's usually a matter of a family legacy, or even a few years of tireless hard work. For some these days, however, it comes attached to two other four-letter words. The first is a serious offence, and the second, an unprintable word we all know and use.
In the murky world of famous people, it appears that the line between a rape and a f*** is getting blurred. But what is crystal clear is that for some women, either of the two brings with it ' sometimes unwanted ' posterity. The list is endless: Monica Lewinsky, Faria Alam, Rebecca Loos, and, closer home, Pretti Jaiin or, as we know her from her pre-numerology days, the actress who has accused director Madhur Bhandarkar of raping her over a period of five years.
Jaiin might not have bargained for her name being plastered on every rag of note when she allegedly gave in to Bhandarkar's threats and had sex with him. In retrospect, however, events haven't turned out too bad for her. Jaiin's 'bold' film Bikaoo (For Sale), passed with an A certificate and canned for the last five years for lack of a buyer, is going to have a grand Diwali release this year. Distributors have decided that the country should see Jaiin for the first time on the big screen as heroine. February 2005, if all goes well, will see her in Main Bikaoo Nahin (I'm Not For Sale) at a theatre near you. Bottomline: Pretti Jaiin sells, and how.
'In fact, I get a lot of fan mail. People on the streets take my autograph and compliment me on my guts. Many call me 'a big celebrity' and a 'star',' she says. She reveals she's had four marriage proposals since the Bhandarkar story broke. She's even continued the good work with a defamation case against Delhi-based photographer Sandeep Roda, who allegedly claims she 'victimised' and 'blackmailed' him. The allegations and counter-allegations can't be thrown around fast enough for the media to lap up eagerly.
But what is clear through all this is that the world is not going to forget Pretti Jaiin in a hurry. She's made a name. Madhur Bhandarkar might have made his case believable enough for a bail and the media might be sometimes laughing at Jaiin for her 'antics', but it couldn't have been easy for her. Or him, for that matter.
Just like it wasn't for Monica Lewinsky, through her getting US president Bill Clinton to admit to the 'inappropriate' ties with her, give or take a few graphic details. She might have made the best out of the situation becoming public, for she's admitted countless times she didn't want that. But then she'll always be remembered as the intern who got the US president impeached, and made him the laughing stock of the world. And Lewinsky, who would have been an unheard-of intern had it not been for her willingness to discuss her sexual escapades, is still in the news. The mere fact that she is contemplating going back to college makes front-page even now.
As does Rebecca Loos, who was a little loose-tongued when it came to the details of her relationship with her employer, footballer David Beckham (she was his personal assistant). Everyone and their teenage sons suddenly discovered an angelic face willing to talk in detail about dirty mobile messaging, and they haven't stopped listening since. Loos, after massive television time and reality shows, has hit Hollywood, and by invitation only. None less than Colin Farrell, voted by E! television last year as the sexiest man alive, is said to have asked for her to be the lead opposite him in his latest project. Meanwhile, Beckham, with his posh wife and his huge appetite for scoring, is no more Mr Nice Guy.
The footage these women have wrested and revealed to the world might have been a deliberate attempt to seek the limelight. They might be cases of sour grapes, or kiss-'-tell stories. Then again, they also might be an attempt to seek justice on a public platform.
For talking about it is never easy. And while the jury is out on a case such as Pretti Jaiin's, there are several courageous women who have taken on the system ' and won. Take Bhanwari Devi, who was gang-raped by upper-caste men because she was trying to stop child marriage in Rajasthan. She fought back, and led to a landmark, groundbreaking Supreme Court directive which ordered the formation of sexual harassment committees in organisations.
The Rupan Deol Bajaj case is another prime example of how a woman's voice, if true, can make a difference. Deol, an IAS officer, fought an eight-year-long battle with IPS officer K.P.S. Gill, who had misbehaved with her in an inebriated state. Finally, Gill was held guilty as charged.
But for every Bajaj and Bhanwari Devi, there is a Shenaz Mudbhatkal and an Alisha Chinoy. The former, an air hostess for Saudi Arabian airlines whose services were terminated when she refused to give in to the alleged sexual demands of her superior, is reeling under a high court stay order on a court case she has been fighting since 1985. For pop-singer Chinoy, who had accused music director Anu Malik of sexual harassment, a defamation suit was all she got instead. And nobody even talks about them anymore.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Jaiins and Looses, who've at least got the world to sit up and watch. Jaiin's Bikaoo may or may not be a hit. But Jaiin ' with or without a couple of extra alphabets ' is not likely to fade away so soon. For everybody, after all, loves a good sex scandal.