When Deepika Weds Ranveer

Finally, it’s happened: the wedding of the century. Ranveer Singh, the eccentric actor who first broke our screens and then our hearts in the 2013 film Lootera, has wed Deepika Padukone, the unassailable queen of Bollywood in the new millennium. It’s an unlikely and surprising match. Queens are known for marrying kings or princes as Deepika’s predecessor Aishwarya Rai did when she tied the knot with Abhishek Bachchan, the son of only the most powerful senior actor in the industry. But Deepika has opted instead for a jester, who not only fails to typify the conventional hero, but is known to the world as her second love after her heartrending breakup with Ranbir Kapoor.

Innocuous as it may be, Deepika’s partnership with Ranveer and now its apex—officiating their long-rumored relationship in a marriage ceremony—is the sign of a new Bollywood, where love isn’t based on power and nepotism but rather personal struggle and the challenge to reinvent oneself and grow. Both individuals in this match are known for their genuine creative talent and willingness to experiment, rather than their pocket or simply how much commercial success they’re interested in gaining—though they have a lot of that as well.

Deepika Padukone first appeared on the big screen in Om Shanti Om, playing two women in just one movie: a Bollywood actress in the ‘70s murdered unjustly in a fire by a misogynistic director, and the reincarnated millennial actress who found her big break not in a proper film, but in impersonating her long-dead predecessor as a way to seek and fulfill revenge. This same duality has followed Deepika’s career since: she has vacillated between ingénue, girl next door and warrior princess. From playing the worried girlfriend in Kartik Calling Kartik to the headstrong daughter in Piku to the gangster princess in Golliyon ka Ras Leela Ram Leela to the independent career woman moonlighting as a taxi driver in Bachna Ae Haseeno, Deepika is our heroine. She is not a heroine whose fate is conditional simply on whether a man will love her or not though she does look for and find love in most of these films just like she did in real life. She is a heroine who has goals of her own, who goes to work and expresses her opinions and isn’t afraid to find what it means to be a woman beyond dependence on a man. In this sense, she is not much different onscreen as she is in real life.

Deepika has inherited the mantle of Aishwarya Rai, a delicate and fair-skinned queen who was once known as the most beautiful woman in the world, and in Deepika’s own words, “put India on the map” through her work in Western films. Aishwarya’s trajectory was not so different from that of Deepika. Both came from the world of modeling, worked in South Indian-language films before climbing the ladder into the industry, and were favored by directors for their beauty as well as their acting acumen, which admittedly developed throughout their time on the big screen rather than being an aggressive inborn talent as it is for the likes of Vidya Balan or Parineeti Chopra.

But unlike Aishwarya with her fair skin and green eyes, Deepika does not embody an unattainable ideal. Instead, she has paved the way for a distinctly South Asian beauty where her brown eyes and dark skin are an asset and not a hindrance. Rather than exotifying herself like Priyanka Chopra successfully did when she cracked Hollywood, Deepika’s beauty is more reminiscent of old Bollywood heroines like Rekha or Shabana Azmi. She is our 21st Century beauty icon, and in becoming an icon, she represents and fulfills the identities of brown girls everywhere.

Deepika’s status as an icon doesn’t just live in her physical appearance, but is reinforced by the characterization she embodies onscreen. Just like Aishwarya, Deepika has had her fair share of rom-coms balanced with epic period romances. But the difference in each actress’ representation of their assigned roles could not be wider. While Aishwarya has represented delicate, fine-boned roles—a young woman who kills herself for love in Mohabbataein, the exquisite queen Jodhaa who struggles to make her interfaith marriage work in Jodhaa Akbar or the elusive Paro in Devdas—Deepika represents a heroine truer to the aims of South Asian women in the modern age. Like many of us Desi women, Deepika’s heroines work, remain strong in their convictions and can no longer afford the luxury of waiting for Shahrukh Khan or someone else to come save us.

In fact, Shahrukh Khan is old enough to be our father. Enter Ranveer Singh. But before we can discuss Ranveer and the unapologetic power of this brilliant man, who says he has “200 characters living inside [his] head” and pushes the bounds of creativity to the point of disrupting the heteropatriarchal and conventional, we need to talk about Deepika’s ex: Ranbir Kapoor.

 

Deepika met Ranbir on the set of Bachna Ae Haseeno. It was Deepika’s first relationship in the industry and just a year after her Om Shanti Om debut. By all appearances, Ranbir and Deepika were the perfect couple. Both were rising commercial talents of their generation, and they’d met on the set of a rom-com where the hero struggles with commitment and the independent, feisty heroine decides she needs the hero to fulfill her life after all.

Real life should have perhaps worked like it did in the movies. But it did not. While Deepika credited Ranbir with allowing her to open up and stake self-confidence—she who had discussed being awkward as a child growing up—and tattooed his initials on the nape of her neck, the relationship lasted little more than a year. The dream couple broke up in 2009, reportedly because of Ranbir’s less than filmi infidelity, sending Deepika into deep depression, the kind where even the highest-paid actress in Bollywood would “go to my vanity van and cry.”

South Asian women are often socialized to believe our prince will come and whisk us away, a fantasy reinforced not only through a culture that prizes marriage as the foundation of the family, but also the filmic conceits of the same industry in which Deepika works. We dream of a man descending in our life, running with us across fields under blue skies, and giving us the ultimate gift of monogamic commitment.

Therefore, when a woman experiences heartbreak, the movie-dream shatters. And she is the only one who can pick up the pieces of what’s left of her.

Deepika picked up the pieces, but life is not the movies. By the time she met Ranveer Singh on the set of Ram Leela in 2013, she was older, wiser, and stronger than the days of her debut. She was well within reach of the industry tiara. Ranveer was an interesting newcomer, whose inexperience and lack of access only heightened his confidence.

 

While Ranveer Singh always wanted to be an actor, he did not have the access that makes a career in Bollywood the rite of possibility it remains for industry insiders. In school, he focused on creative writing while taking up a minor in theater. After studying in America, he returned to Mumbai and worked as a copywriter in advertising. He was a man well attuned to the stagnant rozi-roti of a 9 to 5 job. Later, he was more than attuned to the hustle of getting work in an industry that guaranteed no rose-tinted promise of success.

Ranveer subjected himself to the excruciating process of auditioning, and then waiting for callbacks. Initially getting only minor roles, his big break came in the form of an offer from Yash Raj Films of Band Baaja Baaraat. In order to prepare for the role, Ranveer slunk around Delhi University’s campus, introducing himself as Bittoo Sharma, hanging out with students and doing what he calls “loaferbaazi.”

Ranveer’s wicked acting talent raises no question, and neither does his scope to take on roles that don’t fit the conventional hero archetype. Instead, Ranveer typifies the antihero, the city boy, the gangster, and the lootera in the film of the same name, who exploits a family offering him hospitality, but still falls in love with the girl. Ranveer’s representation of South Asian masculinity is steeped in the moral complexity of everyday life, subverting the traditional boy-meets-girl scenario.

Ranveer’s acting trajectory, however, peaked recently when he portrayed Alauddin Khilji, the Muslim villain in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s controversial epic Padmaavat. While the film was rightly criticized for its Islamophobia and nostalgic depiction of Rajput heroism against Muslim invaders, curiously, it isn’t Shahid Kapoor’s righteous Ratan Singh or even Deepika’s valiant Padmaavati who consumes the screen. It’s Ranveer Singh’s half-crazed, narcissistic portrayal of Khilji from which we cannot tear our eyes. Singh moreover embraces his character’s bisexuality onscreen while choosing not to play him in stereotypical effeminate fashion. In a Bollywood where actors turn down roles they feel threaten their masculinity, Ranveer’s portrayal of a bisexual Muslim villain pushes the fold.

“Naseeruddin Shah calls me the fool,” Ranveer told GQ India in 2015. “If life’s a stage, I play the fool.”

But while Ranveer’s role as a jester may seem incidental, it’s actually his biggest strength. Ranveer’s unwillingness to take himself too seriously allows him to experiment with his creativity and express himself beyond the bounds of what a respectable man is supposed to be. And to date, he is the only mainstream Bollywood actor to star in a condom commercial. Neither was he approached by Durex for the ad; it was his own idea: “I wrote the ad myself.”

 

Ranveer and Deepika’s relationship largely transpired in private, but it’s almost certain the two grew close on the set of Ram Leela.  It’s the kind of relationship where both parties claim they are very close to the person who is undoubtedly their soul mate, but don’t reveal any details or name any labels.

In many ways, it’s the relationship we’ve seen in many of our own social circles, where the boy and girl do everything together but never admit they’re together. Their relationship is common knowledge, but they keep it away from Instagram likes and prying eyes. The only difference is that Ranveer and Deepika still appeared on the covers of magazines together, co-starred in blockbuster films, and gave nods of flirtation at celebrity parties and award shows.

But they always said they were just friends, and ‘professional’ with one another. It’s a clever way to stonewall nosy journalists, and a far cry from Deepika’s exhibitionist tattoo of Ranbir. Maybe this too is a lesson from her first heartbreak. Perhaps the best way to let a relationship unfold is in private away from the pressures of family, fame and fortune.

And there’s something satisfying about not being called upon to announce your partnership and letting it blossom into a force of nature. After all, the first person to confirm Deepika and Ranveer’s relationship wasn’t either of the lovebirds themselves, but Vin Diesel, who casually called Ranveer Deepika’s “boyfriend” in an interview in 2017. Can the proclamation of a couple’s relationship status get more fabulous and natural than that?

And just like most pursuits of passion, a relationship is a struggle in creativity and reinvention, not much different from acting. But where acting demands channelling a character, a relationship asks you to be your most complete self with the person you love—a constant exercise in vulnerability and growth. It’s a fact not lost on Ranveer, who called his relationship with Deepika a transformation of his priorities and outlook in life.

Now that Ranveer, the lafunga creative who made it on acting talent alone, and Deepika, the Bollywood queen who survived heartbreak only to become the highest-paid actress in the industry and find true love again, are married, the possibilities are endless.

Where will life and movies take this power couple, and how will they continue to push each other to succeed, reinvent their roles and break the mould? Will they be able to do the same in their relationship as they’ve done in their own lives and careers? Only time will tell, but for now shaadi mubarak to this beautiful couple who struggled to make ends meet, but found it was possible to hold onto the light glimmering at the end of the tunnel.

This article originally appeared in The Friday Times.

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The Black Radical Tradition Conference – Statement on Pattern of Disruption

Since the second day of the Black Radical Tradition Conference, there was a strange but seemingly coordinated effort to disrupt the conference. BROC held a dialogue with the disruptors on the third and final day of the conference to understand what their grievances were. While BROC did not get the chance to undertake an independent investigation of what had happened, we released this statement as a conclusion of what had happened. 

The Black Radical Organizing Collective (BROC) held a powerful conference that drew from many parts of the movement for Black liberation. We understood the fundamental principle that the people united will never be defeated and our program reflected the importance of principled unity in the face of capitalism and white supremacy in crisis. We invited a diverse host of speakers because we wanted a robust dialogue of different ideological orientations in the movement. Throughout the conference, we wanted to emphasize the importance of unity and solidarity in strengthening the victory of revolutionary movements, which is foundational to the Black Radical Tradition. Inevitably, our dedication to principled unity provoked an identitarian counter-revolutionary tendency of people dedicated to disrupting the conference and undermining the unity for which we had tirelessly worked in the months preceding the conference.

The pattern of disruption started with claims that Black people were being denied seats at the conference and the community wasn’t being heard. The Black Radical Tradition Conference was free of cost, and nobody was turned away from the conference. Because the main hall could not accommodate all of the people that came to the conference, attendees were sent to satellite locations where they could watch a livestream of the conference. Conference attendees had been notified in advance of the seating arrangement via email and the conference website. Priority registrants were guaranteed a seat at the people’s assemblies, but the panels were first-come, first-serve. If priority registrants did not show up, people on standby would be seated in the 15 to 20 minutes before each assembly. Because the conference was free of cost, we had to be disciplined about seating and consistent with what we had promised.

Additionally, the conference was a force of the Black Philadelphia community with our primary sponsor being the historical Church of the Advocate of North Philadelphia, which hosted the National Conference of Black Power in 1968 and the Black Panther Conference in 1970. BROC is a grassroots collective working on a limited budget and we do not enjoy substantial institutional funding. We held the conference at Temple University to challenge its racist and colonialist gentrification of North Philadelphia and its destruction of the African American Studies program. We, ourselves, were not Temple University, and we risked Temple shutting down the conference and kicking us out at their leisure. The subversive power of occupying space at Temple had been established by Kashara White, Anthony Monteiro and Cornel West at the first people’s assembly on Friday night, January 8. The conference empowered the voices of the community and illuminated Black Philadelphia—a vilified, criminalized and oppressed people—to a national audience, and showed a racist institution that its policing and gentrification would not diminish the resistance of the people.

Nevertheless, the conference experienced a pattern of disruption. People involved in the disruptive behavior showed contempt for conference organizers and the discipline with which we facilitated the program. Whether the people involved were misguided or unintentional in their behavior, their actions were not respectful, preventing the productive resolution of difficulties. BROC firmly believes revolutionary love for the people inspires discipline, humility and respect, and that the opposite exposes a lack of love for the people. We faced groups of people that failed to practice precisely this revolutionary fundamental and exposed themselves as counter-revolutionaries.

A group of people continually asked white people in the main hall to give up their seats for Black people in satellite rooms, even though white people constituted a minority in the main hall. They did this while the panels and assemblies occurred, distracting the audience and speakers. They were asked multiple times to stop by the organizers, but they persisted. This pattern of disruption culminated in the “Challenging White Supremacy” people’s assembly. A couple of individuals began screaming outside the main hall, interrupting the assembly and causing a few people to rush out of their seats, three of whom were BROC members. Fearing that a fight had broken out or the individuals were in distress, we learned they had in fact staged a disruption over seating.

The disruption disrespected the speakers, distracted the audience and posed a safety hazard. It could have provoked a physical altercation, and if more people had rushed out of their seats, a stampede could have occurred. The safety of renowned activists in the room was also at risk. After all, Malcolm X’s assassination occurred after a staged disruption in 1965, and Huey P. Newton was forced to abandon a speech he was supposed to give in 1970 because he knew counter-revolutionaries planned on assassinating him from the audience.

While we do not know if the group staging the disruption were agent provocateurs, they operated as if they were agent provocateurs. They worked against the wishes of conference organizers and volunteers on a highly premeditated level, and they were extremely calculated in disrupting the program and frustrating our arrangements. They sought to sabotage the conference and divide the people that attended, making difficult the building of principled unity in the movement. So while we do not know if they were agent provocateurs, their behavior caused BROC to treat them as such in guaranteeing the success and viability of the conference and the safety of attendees.

The pattern of disruption reached its most intense point on the third day, January 10. The same group of people, who were disruptive about seating, staged a protest inside Anderson Hall. They used an incident of transphobia at the Queer Resistance panel to protest with chants and posters. From the beginning, the panel was stated to be a safe and brave space, making disagreement inevitable, but cultivating respect and learning amidst differences. When a cisgendered homosexual panelist said transphobic slurs, using them as examples of transphobia she had witnessed growing up, people in the audience were understandably upset. The panelist was unaware people were sensitive to the slurs and apologized many times. While BROC was not in total control of what speakers chose to say on panels, BROC member and moderator, Gabe Gonzalez, personally apologized to the people upset by the slurs. The group disregarded the apology and used transphobia as the pretext to protest the entire conference.

The disruptive protest was a reactionary and ultraleftist move that risked shutting down the entire conference and summoning the police.[1] BROC did not control Allied Barton security,[2] workers employed by Temple who make below a living wage, and Temple police. Temple police wanted to call reinforcements to remove the protesters from the building, but BROC explicitly told them not to call more police.[3] We decided to hold a dialogue with the protesters, rather than expose them and other attendees to the violence and brutality of the police.

BROC held the dialogue with the disrupters in a spirit of revolutionary love and unity. The primary grievance that arose pertained to the issue of seating and the idea that the conference should have been a Black-only space. BROC never intended to put on a Black-only conference and we were explicit in our Call to Action on the crucial importance of multiracial and internationalist solidarity in the struggle for Black liberation: “The Black Radical Tradition embraces commitments to the unity of the people. It has in the past and today stands with all victims of white supremacy and capitalist hierarchies and oppressions. It is part of the common resistance of all peoples of color, working people and the poor. It is internationalist, at home and abroad. It stands with all genuine efforts of Pan-Africanism, Afro-Asiatic, Afro-Indigenous and Afro-Latino unity. . . The Black Radical Tradition is welcoming and open.”

The Black Radical Tradition is foundational to people who are not Black, for it is only with the liberation of Black people that humanity can be freed from its chains of oppression, just as Black people cannot be liberated while humanity is in chains. The disrupters signaled an ideological split in the movement between reactionary division and revolutionary solidarity, not unlike the historical split between counter-revolutionary cultural nationalists like Ron Karenga, Molefi Asante, and US[4], and radical socialist organizations like the Black Panther Party and Fannie Lou Hamer’s Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

We view this trend of identity politics in the movement and the insistence on Black-only spaces as a re-manifestation of cultural nationalism and an ultimately divisive and dehumanizing force. We agree with Anthony Monteiro’s analysis that identity politics is the reconfiguration of whiteness and uses Western liberal conceptions of race to characterize Black identity, instead of dismantling whiteness and Americanism, and practicing a genuine politics of solidarity to liberate humanity from tyrannical systems of capitalism, racism, colonialism, patriarchy and imperialism.

As a collective, we seek to continue the legacy of the Black Panther Party, which embraced white and other nonblack allies in their struggle and practiced internationalism. The Black Panthers struggled with some Black students who opposed their coalition-building with white and nonblack people. Huey P. Newton writes in Revolutionary Suicide, “We maintained this was possible as long as we controlled the programs, but the students were opposed to working with white groups, or, for that matter, almost anyone but Blacks. While this viewpoint was understandable to me, it failed to take into consideration the [strategic] limitations of our power. We needed allies, and we believed that alliances with young whites—students and workers—were worth the risk” (182). And as Angela Davis reminded us at the conference, the contribution of nonblack revolutionaries like Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama at the prerogative of Black leaders is invaluable to the Black Radical Tradition.

BROC believes that a Black Power space is different from a Black-only space. While white and nonblack people were in attendance, they constituted the minority and Black people dominated the conference. We believe Black people dominating a space with white and nonblack people is more revolutionary than a Black-only space, which is insular and ignores the reality of the world outside the safe space. As Assata Shakur writes in her autobiography, “I believe in uniting with white [and nonblack] revolutionaries to fight against a common enemy, but I was convinced it had to be on the basis of power and unity rather than from weakness and unity at any cost” (192). The Black Radical Tradition Conference allowed the attendance of nonblack people from the position of power and unity for Black people, who were centralized and empowered at this conference.

Power and unity form the principle in our struggle going forward. We believe the Black Radical Tradition Conference marks the next phase in the struggle for Black liberation in the United States. The disruption showed us where some people were at in the movement, and it convinced us of the importance in revolutionary education for all the people. But we wish to ask: Was this pattern of disruptive behavior politically motivated? And what does that mean for the movement at large?

Nevertheless, we believe the people united will never be defeated, and our conference triumphed in spite of the elements that tried to stop it.

[1] Because the protest was inside the lobby of the building, police and security aimed to remove the protesters from the building.

[2] BROC hired an independent security force for the conference, which was distinct from the security employed by Temple University, and who were not involved in calling Temple police.

[3] Temple police disregarded our wishes and called reinforcements anyway. But they left, because we held a dialogue and the protest desisted.

[4] Karenga and US colluded with the police state and killed two Black Panthers, John Huggins and Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter. Likewise, Asante joined forces with Temple to initiate Monteiro’s firing and removal from the African American Studies department.

what gives?

everyone needs a place to think.

everyone needs a place to ruminate and write.

everyone needs the place on the mountaintop, where they can go to reflect and think and talk to God and just close their eyes and feel.

everyone needs somewhere, somewhere, somewhere things just gotta give.

it is easy to go through the motions of the life you thought you ought to live without actually feeling the life you know you’re meant to live.

and me? what is this for me?

this is a place to express myself. to feel whole and pure. to understand there is a life for me beyond the banalities which claim life, but are empty of its content.

it’s a place to unwrap my mind, and unknot the tangles on my heart, and believe – a life exists for me yet.

“I must change my life so I can live it, not wait for it.” —Susan Sontag

and how not to do that except through the creative freedom and liberation of writing and art – of carving something on a blank slate, a piece of paper, and willing it into existence?

8.10.17