Product Nirbhaya? No thank you!

How many of us have heard about Raj Shetye? Not many, I’d say. Well, at least not till a few days back. In fact, even I wouldn’t have known about him had some purportedly controversial photographs clicked by him not taken media by a storm. By storm I literally mean a storm. From leading national dailies to International sites like Jezebel and Buzzfeed, everybody is talking about him. Indian celebrities are tweeting about him. Overnight, Raj Shetye has burst into the average, educated, young, urban Indian’s consciousness and sparked off outrage, debate and such.

The pictures look familiar, don’t they? A bus. A woman. A group of men. Brings back memories of December 16, 2012. A chilly winter night in Delhi when a young woman was mercilessly raped and fatally assaulted by six beasts in the garb of men. A heinous act that had triggered outrage across the world, it broke the taboo on the discussion of sexual violence in a hypocritical society where women, till date, are treated as second-class citizens who are at the mercy of men and subjected to inhuman atrocities every now and then. Of course, that isn’t to say that every man here is a monster, but the rate at which women are being raped and/or killed would show that we’re nothing but little toys for men to play with. But, this isn’t the time and place to go into a lengthy harangue about the condition of women in a society full of double standards. Today is about Raj Shetye and his ‘art’.

Now, my knowledge of photography is limited to the basics. I’m yet to even progress beyond my phone-camera! But, being an artiste, I’m used to the idea of trying to communicate with people through a plethora of emotions like joy, anger, love, and shock. So, when I saw Shetye’s photographs, I was unmoved. To me, it seemed like an obvious attempt at shocking and, a mildly disturbing attempt at milking memories of an incident which has left an indelible mark on almost every middle-class Indian’s psyche in order to grab eyeballs. His intention, I believe, was far from pure. But, it wasn’t because he set out to disrespect the young girl. What he wanted was to rattle the media and piggyback on it for his twenty seconds of infamy! I certainly didn’t think either he, or his pictures, deserved my attention, and I dismissed them with an air of absolute indifference. So, when I woke up yesterday to front page news about him, I was nonplussed!

Raj Shetye had, very smartly, played us. All of us. Thanks to instant news-sharing, hardly any quality control can be exercised when it comes to making news. We, the smartphone generation, only need an excuse to go online and start talking. Shetye had tapped into just that and made his way into living rooms across the country. From actors like Purab Kohli to models like Carol Gracias, industry biggies are adding their two-bits to this ‘controversy’ and helping Raj Shetye achieve his goal and how! To my untrained eye, his pictures look average. From the clothes to the lighting, nothing seems extraordinary. Keeping aside the sentiments attached to the incident allegedly depicted, the photographs by themselves wouldn’t have given him the sort of mileage he was looking for. Ergo, the distasteful idea of tapping into the zeitgeist of a society that finds itself face-to-face with the most brutal assaults on women every second day.

What disturbs me is not the fact that a newbie artiste, hungry for fame, has taken a route that reeks of cheap publicity and is, quite honestly, in bad taste. After all, people do all kinds of things to grab attention. Shetye is just another wannabe trying to hustle his way to stardom. And, so far as art is concerned, honestly, who are we to judge? Sculptor Daniel Edwards got away with passing off Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ child Suri’s ‘bronzed’ poop as art! Clearly, there are all kinds of crazy out there!

What worries me is the fact that Shetye has fooled an entire nation (and, beyond!). In the cool confines of his home, he must be jumping from one website to another, poring over newspaper headlines, feeling chuffed to have hit bull’s eye. If we have even half a brain, we should, collectively, just ignore these pictures, and let him go back to where he came from- obscurity. Certain things and people ought to remain trivial. Shetye is one such. Let’s not give him undue importance. We have one Rakhi Sawant to deal with. Let us not create another!

Malini Banerjee is a snotty single child, mountain junkie, playback singer, Austen addict, hopes to soon finish writing her debut novel, and dreams of singing alongside Buddy Guy.
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