From Nazneen to Naina: Making a Political Statement on the Indian Scenario
A book that charts Kareena Kapoor Khan and contemporary India
A Canadian journalist of Indian origin has used his infatuation with Bollywood diva Kareena Kapoor Khan to make a strong political statement about the prevailing scenario in India.
British Columbia resident Gurpreet Singh while following the actress on social media and the media reportage around her has taken up issues ranging from the controversy surrounding the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, politicised by the right wing and its embedded media, to Kareena Kapoor being hounded for her choice of marrying Saif Ali Khan and the naming of her child.
He also describes the example she has set by taking a stand on issues of equality, gender and the need for preserving a pluralistic society.
Singh is candid when he writes in his book From Nazneen to Naina, named for characters Kapoor Khan has played in her films:
“I want to declare with full honesty that I am really enamored and dazzled by Kareena’s beauty, and won’t hide my infatuation for her.. As a journalist, the least I could do was write a book. As it happened, all these attacks on her prompted me to write something sooner than later.”
The chapters are arranged so as to explain the importance of Kapoor Khan’s story in India’s contemporary history, and how the country has changed since she began her journey as a Bollywood star, having acted in over 50 films that cover two decades of the gradual transformation of Indian society.
Beginning with the controversy around Rajput’s death, the author recalls how Kapoor Khan was among several others who came under attack by trolls who tried to portray her as ‘dumb’ while using the narrative of nepotism in Bollywood.
As they tried to drive a wedge between ‘self-made’ actors from outside the industry, and those born into and brought up by the families who already control the industry, Singh says they simply lost their objectivity, overlooking Kapoor Khan’s talent and contributions to society through performing art and other acts of philanthropy and civic responsibility.
“This is not the first time that Kareena has to bear so much hate. She was hounded by the trolls for marrying a Muslim man and adopting Khan as her last name, and then for naming her son after a controversial Muslim historical figure and standing up for a Muslim girl who was raped and murdered by Hindu fanatics in 2018,” says Singh about the horrific crime in Kathua.
“One can connect all these dots together, to understand that there is a pattern behind the vilifying campaign against her, which has polarized the Indian entertainment industry,” the writer points out.
He underlines that the “spirit of secularism that Kareena has inherited from her mother and also Kapoor family is more enthusiastically cherished by her in-laws. Sharmila being a Hindu woman not only married a Muslim man, but retained her Hindu identity. Similarly, Kareena without giving up her Hindu surname adopted Khan as her last name.
“This was the idea of real India Gandhi, Tagore, Prithviraj or Tera Singh fought for and not an illiberal Hindu India where minorities would be treated as second class citizens. Standing up for an inclusive India that respects its neighbours does not make anyone less patriotic.”
The book recalls how during the Covid lockdown, Kareena Kapoor Khan was one of those rare Indian actors who used Instagram to support the Black Lives Matter campaign and condemn the brutal murder of George Floyd by White police officer Derek Chauvin.
Not only that, she denounced the racism and bigotry within India against Muslims and the so-called Untouchables. She also made a statement against the brutal custodial murder of a Dalit father and son by police in Tamil Nadu, and made repeated appeals to help artisans and migratory workers suffering due to lockdown.
Going a step further, Kapoor Khan became part of One Love, a Unicef initiative to help children during the pandemic. “She clearly used her privilege for others, instead of just posting self-gratifying images of herself and her family,” the author points out.
The book has a very interesting chapter on The Tale of Two Sex Workers, where the writer through the characters of Chameli and Rosie played by Kapoor Khan in her films Chameli and Talaash takes up the plight of sex workers in India, particularly since the lockdown.
“COVID19 has forced more poor women into prostitution, and their lives have become more difficult in the absence of social safety nets and stringent regulations to ensure physical distancing. India, which is at present the second most affected country in the world after the US, is unable to deal with the financial crisis and health risks faced by its sex workers. Chameli and Rosie not only speak for themselves, but others in their profession,” Singh writes.
He says the case of Rosie “specifically highlights the issue of violence faced by sex workers across the globe and the indifference of police toward their concerns. Being a Canadian, I can see the linkage it has with the stories of thousands of missing and murdered women in this part of the world. Most of these women came from poor backgrounds and were forced into the sex industry. The police are frequently accused of ignoring these cases either because of systemic racism or class bias, as a majority of them was from impoverished indigenous communities.”
The book doesn’t just hold bouquets for the diva. There are some brickbats too.
He is offended by Bollywood’s wrongs in ridiculing people of African descent. “Among the many examples, Kareena owes an apology for painting her face black in Khushi (2003) to appear like an African for a funny song. It’s not funny to pretend to be a black person by applying some silly make-up.”
He also expresses his disappointment at Kapoor Khan’s participating in a run in Bhopal in December 2018 to coincide with the 34th anniversary of the world’s worst industrial disaster, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy that claimed more than 10,000 lives.
He questions Kapoor Khan’s “ambiguous” position on the marketing of fairness products. He asks her to be an agent of change and show her solidarity with the dark-skinned women actors who are more vocal against such products.
He also asks her to stand up for the farmers agitating against the controversial farm laws passed by the Indian government last year.
“The only saving grace is that she wasn’t part of the Bollywood campaign aimed at silencing international critics. However, that isn’t helpful. One needs to take a position if a crisis of such huge magnitude is brewing in your own backyard.
“Quoting Desmond Tutu, ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,’ I would argue that Kareena needs to speak out,” he feels.