(This column was published in DNA edition dated July 31, 2009.)
Some years ago, during a particularly slow-paced ‘silly season’ newsday, the editorial board meeting of a publication that I shall not name was seized of a momentous matter. A senior editor, evidently besotted with actress Mallika Sherawat after watching her newest film, was pitching for a leader article arguing that Mallika’s breasts – of which she’d put a fair share on display in the film and its promos – should be declared a “national treasure”.
Since the editor had a well-earned reputation for putting completely whacky and over-the-top story ideas on board, the suggestion gained no traction and no one else took it seriously. But it did make for one of the merriest editorial meetings ever, with much time and attention devoted to a lively discussion on the manner in which such precious “public assets” should be handled, and which babu was best qualified to head the Bureau to Oversee Oomphy Breasts (BOOB).
Now, I yield to no man in my appreciation of feminine beauty, but I’m secretly glad that that article never made it to print. For while appearing to acknowledge and honour Mallika’s arrival as the new face – and much else – of the Modern Young Indian Woman, it would have reduced her to a sexist, depersonalised caricature cast in a mammary-fixated male fantasy. There’s more – much more – to Mallika than that; and as 10,000 or so of her fans who are following her on Twitter have discovered in recent days, her postings there – called Tweets – have even more oomph than, well, the part of her that rhymes with ‘Tweets’.
Mallika has evidently been enlisted by Twitter to popularise among Indians the microblogging service that represents the newest fad in Social Media; and although the medium isn’t exactly lacking in celebrities – many famous politicians, poets, and princes are on board, and some of Hollywood’s biggest names have an identity-verified Twitter presence – and although Mallika isn’t the biggest name on Bollywood, it’s fair to say that she has enhanced its glamour quotient in recent weeks. She’s also using the medium to promote her newest film HISSS, in which she appears as a sexy Snake Woman who – as she said in one of her mischievous Tweets – “swallows whole”.
But as much as what Mallika has done to Twitter, it’s what the medium has done to her persona and public perceptions thereof that’s striking: it has ‘humanised’ her and endeared her to her fans in a way that goes beyond just admiration of her sex appeal. Even people who’ve seen her media interviews and knew her as a sassy woman with attitude concede that her Twitter persona shows up her depth of personality. As a self-confessed “Mallikaholic” noted in the space-saving text style that’s common on Twitter, “Sexy is the 1st thing u notice about (Mallika) but she is so much more; no shallow sexiness; so much depth + sexy.” Another follower crowned her the “Patron Saint of the Witty Twitty”.
Like Mae West, whom she liberally quotes, Mallika comes across as a supremely self-confident woman who can bring gushing men to heel with a withering double entendre, particularly when – as she says – they tell her things in the anonymity of Twitter that they wouldn’t if they met her in flesh and blood. Yet, she dishes out dollops of sexuality – just enough – to keep her flock panting for more. And curiously, even women are drawn to her in “sisterhood” and claim to draw strength from her poise and self-assurance, and the ‘agony aunt’ wisdom she dispenses.
But men being men, there’s enough cattiness out there on Twitter – and in the larger world beyond. But recently, when Mallika called out an article (which whipped up a minor Tweet storm by claiming that she was “messing up” on Twitter), “Mallika’s Army” even gave a call to arms against the news organisation in her defence.
‘Twallika’, as she playfully calls herself, has been leveraging this enormous goodwill she has with her followers to do a spot of ‘do-goodism’, by sending out alerts for blood donors and bone marrow donors, and Tweeting environmental and anti-video piracy posts. And when she endorsed a fan’s efforts to organise a Twitter poetry contest – in 140 characters – in honour of Mallika, many inspired amateur poets set about their rhyming quest in earnest.
All of which perhaps just goes to show that in order to get today’s youngsters enthused about anything, it might help to “sex it up” a notch. Perhaps she could inspire her “Mallika’s Army” to undertake ‘clean neighbourhood’ initiatives or ‘each one, teach one’ campaigns – with the reward of a personal audience with her. That would effectively channel all those gushing male hormones – which sometimes swell into a roar in the echo chamber of Twitter – into doing a spot of good. Perhaps then her Tweets might be declared a national treasure.