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Deepika Padukone. Photo: AFP
Deepika Padukone. Photo: AFP

Lounge Web Opinion | Deepika vs Times of India: Round two

Will filmmakers go back to the old days when they participated in, rather than, controlled, the production of entertainment news?

Stand-up comedian Tanmay Bhat’s tweet perfectly captures the problem that lies at the heart of the Times of India versus Deepika Padukone controversy. Bhat tweeted, “Pretty sure Deepika can pay Bombay Times to carry a rebuttal to their piece about her."

The Times of India newspaper’s Mumbai supplement, whose content includes advertisements designed to look like genuine news stories, rattled teacups on Monday morning by calling attention to previous photo shoots in which Padukone has posed in what is deemed as ‘skimpy clothing’ -- a description that needs drastic revision.

The controversy started earlier this month when @TOIEntertain, the Times of India newspaper’s Twitter account for movie news and gossip, posted a video of Padukone with the tweet “ÖMG! Deepika Padukone’s cleavage show!". The tweet, posted by an unidentified grunt who was following the general tone of other tweets on the timeline, invited irate responses from the actor and wholesale strafing from the Twitterati. Padukone responded: “YES! I am a Woman. I have breasts AND a cleavage! You got a problem!!??"

Obviously angered that Padukone had gone hammer and tongs against the previous tweet objectifying her, the newspaper has resorted to the argument that if you wear skirts with dipping necklines or pose in a bikini, you can kiss any aesthetic representation of yourself goodbye. Indeed, there’s not much distance between this attitude and the other one of, “If you have a ‘sexual past’, it is okay to be raped".

The editorial sends out the clear message to Padukone that unless she apologises profusely and publicly, she will be made to stand in a corner. She might also be expected to forgo any dreams of Filmfare covers or awards. And what about the promotions for her upcoming multi-star movie, Happy New Year? Unless there are back-channel diplomatic manoeuvres in progress, which Bombay Times readers will not be privy to, just in the way that they are not privy to which article in the supplement is the result of journalism and which follows a handshake and a contract.

Will the row encourage Bollywood to end the practice of buying editorial space in the Bombay Times or, for that matter, other such entertainment supplements? It is highly unlikely, since such supplements are usually part of media groups that runs newspapers in several languages and radio stations, and, in the Times of India’s case, news and entertainment channels, a magazine and an annual film awards function. Whether hard-core mainstream or offbeat pretending to be indie or indie dying to be mainstream, no filmmaker has been able to resist the act of buying front-page space in the Bombay Times and running articles that extol the virtues of the film, its makers and its cast. Will filmmakers go back to the old days when they participated in, rather than, controlled, the production of entertainment news?

Padukone and her handlers—and the rest of the movie trade—got a sense today of just how battle-ready the Times group is, and the lengths to which it will go to protect its brand image. More curious than today’s Bombay Times front page will be tomorrow’s. Will it still carry press releases masquerading as news, publicity photographs pretending to be exclusive photo-shoots, and targeted leaks posing as scoops? It probably will. Business is business, whether Padukone apologises or not.

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