The RJ Malishka-Neeraj Chopra interview that captured internet’s attention Friday is problematic on multiple fronts, led primarily by the issues of determining limits for what counts as objectification and the kind of blue-story journalism Indian media currently seems to be pursuing.
Mumbai radio jockey Malishka Mendonsa recently interacted with record-breaking Olympian Neeraj Chopra, who returned from Tokyo earlier this month, armed with India’s first-ever gold in athletics for his winning javelin throw show. Visuals from the virtual interview showed RJ Malishka and a bunch of other women putting up a dance performance on Hindi classic Ude Jab Jab Zulfe Teri for Chopra, who looked on rather awkwardly.
After Mendonsa shared a clip of the same from her studio, Twitter erupted in overwhelming disapproval of the way the interview shaped up. More here.
Yet another clip of the two has RJ Malishka asking Chopra for a hug through the screen to which the 23-year-old, visibly uncomfortable, says he would prefer a greeting from afar.
What comes under question in this entire episode is not just the degree of professionalism, or the lack of it, that a section of Indian media subscribes to, but also the disturbing matter of sexualisation that men too are often at the receiving end of. Women athletes and their bodies are viewed through a hypersexualised lens in media, and though this sexist problem isn’t as potent or virulent in the case of male athletes, clearly it is not absent.
Here is how Twitter reacted to the interaction:
If a male anchor leaned in to simulate on-screen kiss for woman sports star on video to show appreciation for achievement, esp if she indicated discomfort, it would not be ok. Consent remains same for all. Violated much more for women & gender minorities, but does not exclude men
— Rituparna Chatterjee (@MasalaBai) August 20, 2021
Navika – I am the queen of cringe fest interviews.
Malishka – Hold my Zulfen https://t.co/TwL4uvmlgJ
— Ritushree 🌈 (@QueerNaari) August 20, 2021
Neeraj chopra after snatching back his gold medal from Karishma singh forcibly holding it, answering Navika Kumar's marriage questions and saying dur se hi namaste to RJ Malishka pic.twitter.com/qbv1guMV1x
— SwatKat💃 (@swatic12) August 20, 2021
For all the times women in sports have been objectified, for all the times the objectification is normalised, for all the times any questions on the same have been laughed upon or called overreactions – I’m glad we are talking about what’s happening to Neeraj Chopra because https://t.co/naSxoJwE1p
— Doctor (@DipshikhaGhosh) August 20, 2021
RJ Malishka-Neeraj Chopra Interview: What Is Irksome
Ever since Chopra returned from Tokyo, the running commentary – both on official and unofficial platforms – about his physical appearance has carried overtones of objectification that women are very familiar with.
Journalists interviewing the young star athlete have consistently probed him about his love life and relationship status, masking this distasteful investigation under the burning questions girls of the country are supposedly dying to know the answers to. Under flimsy justifications of appeasing the alleged fancy of audiences, do mediapersons have the authority to overstep ethics and boundaries?
Does a young man’s status as a public figure warrant such breach of his personal space, as played out in Malishka interview?
Critics voicing disappointment and anger at the interview are putting forth a key point- what would have happened had the genders been reversed? About the outrage that would have ensued then. It’s a pertinent question but one that is, unfortunately, being framed cunningly in a way that it brings into question the necessity of feminism.
Yes, offence would rightfully have materialised had it been male anchors dancing for or virtually hugging a woman athlete. As it also should, and has, in the case of Malishka and Chopra. The need is to hold up the balance on both ends – which is precisely what feminism preaches.
Views expressed are the author’s own.