Shahrukh Khan-Priyanka Chopra Scandal Sheds Light on India’s Gender Problem

Forget the alleged affair. Gender politics are the takeaway from the SRK-Priyanka scandal. (Photo: Hindustan Times)

Forget the alleged affair. Gender politics are the takeaway from the SRK-Priyanka scandal. (Photo: Hindustan Times)

That trouble is brewing between Shahrukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra is Bollywood’s worst kept secret. Following the release of “Don 2″ in December, the actors were soon thrown under media scrutiny for an alleged on-set affair, subsequent fallout and ultimately contributing to the film industry’s stark division of ‘camps’. The Indian media has fervently pursued the very idea of this celebrity dalliance–seeking to determine what actually transpired between the two and possible repercussions. Both Khan and Chopra have remained mum on the issue, with Chopra most recently telling one aggressive reporter, “By being extremely loud, doesn’t mean I’ll answer your questions.”

But as rumors dominate the headlines of India’s leading newspapers and tabloids alike, an untold story transcends the pages and presents an age-old problem the world’s largest film industry would much rather ignore: The role of gender in an evolving society and ever-present double standards toward women.

Seldom has Khan, arguably the global face of Bollywood, been rocked by allegations of a dalliance with any co-star. The 46-year-old actor is considered Indian royalty, and his commitment to wife Gauri has long been a part of Khan’s mass appeal. And so while members of the media have mostly kept a respectful distance from Khan amidst all the rumors, they’ve nothing short of harassed Chopra with regard to the same issue.

Many outlets have reported the possibility of a Khan-Chopra affair as somewhat of a denouement to the starlet’s prolific rise to the top. In the last few years, Chopra emerged as one of India’s leading actresses, garnering critical praise and awards aplenty for her work in “Fashion”, “Kaminey” and “7 Khoon Maaf”. Though rocked by a similar scandal involving Akshay Kumar six years ago, Chopra chose instead to let her on-screen performances determine the direction her then young career would take.

But now, there have been rumors amuck that the actress is in the process of being shunned by Khan’s camp–which includes most of the industry’s leading directors and actors–to the extent that she could very well be on many a production company’s “no-sign list”. Which leads to the all-important question: Why is a woman–and a very powerful one at that–being scorned for so-called illicit behavior, while the other half of the scandal remains virtually untouched?

Whether Khan and Chopra actually engaged in an affair remains unknown and at this point irrelevant. What is more apparent and telling is the aftermath–a shocking display of gender politics at the hands of the media and perhaps the industry itself. A celebrity’s personal life is hardly ever private, but to publicly decry an actress for a situation in which two would be in the wrong speaks to the embarrassing reality of how India perceives women.

If rumormongers have their way, Chopra would give a press conference tomorrow wearing an ‘A’ reminiscent of “The Scarlet Letter”–solidifying the notion that she is in fact the temptress who seduced the country’s most coveted actor. And the idea that the actress’ career is effectively over, at age 29, is a testament to how quickly an increasingly ‘modern’ society is willing to lend itself to hypocrisy.

To shame a woman in this day and age, regardless of any circumstance, shows India has a long way to go with regard to solving gender inequality. And though the country at large is not to be blamed for the media and industry’s glaring double standard, the public perception remains that the male need not face the fury. Chopra, on the other hand, is the female end of this scandal, and so the brunt of it falls on her dainty shoulders. And all the while, not a soul seems willing to speak up against the mistreatment and media bias that form the true conundrum of any alleged liaison.

Sabrina Siddiqui is the editor-in-chief of Divanee.com.

@sabrinasiddiqui