September 7, 2002
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Manisha Koirala
Where is your dignity, Manisha?
Working in a peeping Tom movie contradicts the actress' call for upholding all womanhood

Deepa Gahlot

Manisha Koirala's battle with Shashilal Nair over the film Ek Chhotisi Love Story took a nasty, and possibly dangerous, turn when a mob of goondas claiming to be from the Shiv Sena and acting on her behalf, used violence to stop the public screening at several cinemas in Mumbai (to which this writer was a witness.)

Ek Chhotisi Love Story, plagiarised from Krzysztof Kieslowski's A Short Film About Love, is disgusting, cynical and perverted, and Koirala agreed to do it. How does she have the moral right to later object to a few scenes? How dare she talk about upholding the dignity of all womanhood, when she starred in a film about a peeping Tom and his 'prey'?

The film shows a teenage student spying on a woman living in the apartment across his building using a stolen telescope. Strangely, the woman goes about her life in full view of the world, so to say. There are no grills or curtains on her windows. Stranger still, in a huge suburban apartment complex, there are no neighbours, servants or securitymen.

The woman goes about dressed in tight, very brief and definitely vulgar clothing (this is an overweight Manisha, not a double). When she finds out that the boy is spying on her, she says, "I'll show you real fun," and shifts her bed so he can watch her making love to her boyfriend. (Here the body double's legs are seen waving in the air.)

She laughs as her embarrassed boyfriend quickly pulls his clothes on. This scene is vulgar, and would remain so even if the couple were fully dressed.

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Later, she invites the boy to kiss and touch her and go away on a holiday with her alone as well. Then she goes on to seduce him. When the bewildered boy slashes his wrists, she gets obsessed with him and starts watching his apartment. (There is a totally unnecessary shot of her undersized panties with the double's behind clearly visible.)

Both Nair and Koirala knew perfectly well what they were making. Koirala must have seen the original and known what her role was like. When she consented to the use of a body double, she must have known the kind of scenes that would be shot. What is being shown is obscene, not how it is shown. Even if there are no explicit sexual scenes in the film, the content is sordid.

A film lifted from a European source and transplanted onto Indian soil without any change in context, without keeping in mind the differences between the two societies and cultures, makes the Hindi copy look far more depraved than the original.

The boy's voyeurism is a disease not some cute quirk. He makes blank calls to her, steals her mail, stalks her at work and, at one point, wickedly calls the fire brigade to disrupt a bedroom session with the boyfriend. A young man like this ought to be punished or at least offered psychiatric treatment.

This film seems to encourage peeping Tom behaviour, and suggests that women like being spied on --- the reward for a voyeur is a fulfillment of his fantasies.

The average Indian viewer is not an urban sophisticate. If the woman is seen living alone and having a sex life without marriage, they would immediately see her as 'bad' and hence a deserving victim of sexual harassment --- which is what the boy is doing.

Manisha Koirala Women, especially single women living alone, have enough problems to contend with in a still repressed society like ours. A film like Ek Chhotisi Love Story recklessly puts more ideas into men's heads.

It is not only a bad copy, it is an irresponsible film.

Manisha Koirala's hypocrisy is astounding --- climbing on a high horse and shrieking about injustice after doing such a film. A few semi-nude shots are not the issue here --- in our films actresses routinely wear skimpy clothes and do rain dances. The character Koirala plays --- an amoral woman who flippantly seduces a teenager to demonstrate that there is no such thing as love, only sex --- is disgusting.

When she did it, Koirala already compromised her dignity, which she now wants to salvage.

If an unknown skin flick actress had done the film, it would have been included in the category of those low-budget, soft-porn films with corny titles made specifically for an audience of lowlife, small-town males. Koirala's star presence lent some respectability to the film.

Now, after doing it, she sends goons to attack audiences watching it. People were hurt in the stampede and it might have had serious consequences.

If anything, Manisha Koirala should be sued for breaking the law, causing damage to property and endangering human life.

'The 'scenes' were really tough'
'My brother soiled my reputation
'Manisha's the most beautiful woman on earth'
Manisha's plea for stay order should be examined
'I hate the film industry'
Readers' take on the controversy
Manisha objects to crudity
Stay order granted
Body double to sue Shashilal Nair
Manisha takes Nair to court
Ek Chhotisi Love Story will release

Earlier column
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