Imagine turning up at a work-related interview and the host asking you that your name is too hard for them to pronounce, so can they just call you “beautiful” instead? What might be considered sexist behaviour in other work-related environments is comedy on Indian television! But not the one to take such behaviour lightly, one emerging actor politely stood up to the biggest faces in the Indian comedy scene today and made sure that her gender and identity were not taken lightly in the name of producing funny content for family consumption.
A couple of weeks ago, the team of Anubhav Sinha’s Anek appeared as guests on The Kapil Sharma Show– where skit comedy and stand-up are mixed with celebrity interviews catered to the audience that still turns to television and wants content that can be viewed along with the whole family. Sinha appeared in the said episode with the film’s lead actors Ayushmann Khurrana and Andrea Kevichusa.
After the introduction, Sharma turned to Kevichusa and said, “Andrea I am from Punjab, muh me na naam phas raha hai. Can I call you just beautiful?” (Your name is getting stuck in my mouth, can I just call you beautiful.”
The actor didn’t waste a beat and promptly discouraged the comedian by replying, “I think Andrea is just appropriate.”
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Kapil Sharma-Andrea Kevichusa video: Flirting gone wrong, definitely
Flirting with women actors, and calling them beautiful is a regular theme on The Kapil Sharma Show. Most of it seems mutual, as the actors too seem to be in on the gig. Well, one wouldn’t expect anything else from a scripted show now, would they? However, in the case of Kevichusa, her name is a big part of her identity- a woman from Nagaland who is perhaps the first actor from her state to lead a commercial Bollywood film as a lead. For years, we have seen women from the North-Eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh abused and trolled for their appearance. They are all clubbed under one common identity based on how they look.
For years, women have fought this erosion of their identities and thus it is important to them that their names, their ethnicity are acknowledged and specified, especially when they are being introduced. In that context, it seems like Sharma took a massive misstep by telling Andrea that it was too much of a trouble for him to take her name properly and he would rather go with “beautiful”. And mind you, this happened when he was talking about a film that addressed these very issues.
While women from the said states have it worse, such erasure of identity is not uncommon. Many women from all walks of life and different regions of the country can tell stories of how their identities were reduced to being “beautiful women”. When it happens at work, it keeps colleagues and employees from taking a woman seriously and attributing all her success and achievements to her looks. Outside of work, it blinds the world to whatever qualities a woman might have.
So, telling a woman that she is beautiful is not as nice a compliment as many might make it out to be, in fact, as in Kevichusa’s case, it is outright insulting. So how do we change that? Firstly, stop calling strangers beautiful, ask their name and use it. Secondly, we need to stop laughing at “harmless” jokes that try to shrink women’s identities. Like Kevichusa, you can politely shut down a person who thinks it is funny to flirt and objectify a woman in the same breath. One hopes that the popular comedian will take some notes from this encounter and think twice before replacing a woman’s name with “beautiful”.
Views expressed are the author’s own.