Ranveer Singh is often in the news for a bold outfit – but this time, he’s trending for the lack of it. Singh’s nude photoshoot for Paper Magazine is doing the rounds online, with unsurprising reviews. Shared on his Instagram, the photos attracted mixed responses. Some found it sexy, while others read it as a cry for help and tried to donate clothes to him.
But the most extreme reaction yet might spell legal trouble for the actor. An office-bearer of an NGO filed an FIR against him, claiming that the photoshoot hurt women’s sentiments. The Mumbai Police registered it under the multiple sections of the Indian Penal Code: 292 (sale of obscene books, etc), 293 (sale of obscene objects to young people), 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman), as well as provisions under the Information Technology Act.
Male nudity, although discussed less than female nudity, is not new to creative expression. Take Michaelangelo’s sculpture of David, or the carved images that adorn the walls of the Khajuraho temple. Neither is this the first time that a popular celebrity has posed naked for a photoshoot. Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre did it for a footwear brand, and faced similar obscenity charges. More than twenty-five years later, it would seem that nothing has changed. If anything, our attitude towards the nude body has only grown more severe.
If these critics have suddenly decided to become flagbearers for women’s sentiments, there are better places to start. Most women I know are more offended by their objectification through Bollywood songs, or the romanticisation of sexual harrassment in films, than by this photoshoot. The fact that no one has filed an FIR against the degrading lyrics in item songs or the depiction of abusive behaviour points to disturbing double standards. But of course, Ranveer Singh cannot be objectified in the same way that female actors and models can. That makes his nudity unnecessary – offensive, even. Their agenda of censorship doesn’t quite hide well under the flimsy disguise of concern for ‘women’s sentiments’.
Lately, it seems exhuasting to harp on about freedom of expression, but it must be said. Singh has faced ridicule time and again for challenging toxic notions of masculinity by wearing skirts, makeup, and generally being his unfiltered self. He has hardly let spiteful comments get in his way. That kind of bravery scares and unsettles those who criticise him.
Moreover, many rightly took issue with how many hours this controversy has hogged on news channels and panel discussions while the rupee plummets quietly in the shadows. At worst, this is a personal inconvenience. Given the shame and stigma associated with the bare body, it is natural to be rattled by Singh’s photos. However, to impose one’s personal beliefs on the rest of the nation, and to speak for all women while at it, is plain ridiculous. The flamboyant Ranveer recently shared that he received the Brand Endorser of the Year award from the International Advertising Association. Good on him for not giving baseless claims more fodder. He has moved on, and so should we.