The Pati Patni Aur Woh Controversy is Proof that Kartik Aaryan is the Hero of the Outrage Culture

Bollywood

The Pati Patni Aur Woh Controversy is Proof that Kartik Aaryan is the Hero of the Outrage Culture

Illustration: Arati Gujar

At the recent trailer launch of Mudassar Aziz’s Pati Patni Aur Woh, lead actress Bhumi Pednekar showered praises on the makers for ensuring that the movie wasn’t sexist. “The story is very empowering to both genders. I think that the makers made sure that this does not turn into a sexist, baseless film…. I have to say it is a big achievement,” she explained. Yes, this is the same movie where Kartik Aaryan, the lead actor and the wayward pati in the equation, utters these abominable lines in the trailer: “Biwi se sex maang lein, toh hum bhikaari. Biwi ko sex mana kar dein, toh hum atyachaari; aur kisi tarah jugaad laga ke uss se sex haasil kar lein na toh balaatkaari bhi hum hain.”

Well done, Bhumi, you’re right. No sexism here. Only cruel jokes about marital rape.

These lines, which, thanks to the tizzy they rightly caused among the Indian internet, now might be edited out. But marital rape isn’t the only issue here – it is that the makers are either completely ignorant or callous about ideas of sex and consent. In India, marital rape is pervasive. Eighty per cent of married women have experienced sexual violence from their husbands, yet it is not considered an offence. The Pati Patni Aur Woh joke dismisses the implications of such violence and reinforces a patriachal mindset that refuses to see marital rape as abuse. The subtle undertone to the trailer seems to disregard that men and women have equal rights in a marriage. Instead, it assumes that men own the women they marry and that married women owe their husbands sex.

Three days after the trailer released, Pednekar was back defending the makers of Pati Patni Aur Woh: The actress apologised for “offending sentiments” with the marital rape joke and claimed that it wasn’t intentional. It’s interesting that Pednekar was chosen for disaster management, given that the dialogue in question, wasn’t delivered by her. It was instead, said by Aaryan, Hindi cinema’s poster boy of casually misogynistic monologues.

Kartik Aaryan has practically made a career out of similar monologues and if he were to apologise for this one, would it imply that he was also regretful of the others?

It makes sense why the actor hasn’t yet commented on the backlash that Pati Patni Aur Woh faced. Aaryan has practically made a career out of similar monologues and if he were to apologise for this one, would it imply that he was also regretful of the others? By now, it is so essential a part of the fabric of his career that Twitter users were quick to point out that every Aaryan outing is inseparable from an Aaryan monologue. It’s a trend that started in 2011 with Pyaar Ka Punchnama, and as the years have gone by, the misogyny has only escalated.

It all started with Luv Ranjan’s Pyaar Ka Punchnama, where Aaryan goes on a rant about women and their “crazy” ways. “A happy woman is a myth,” he claims. In doing so, he assumes the role of the hapless boy-next-door who suffers at the hands of manipulative women. “I could swear that the dog in the [Vodafone] advertisement isn’t a male dog, it’s a bitch. Wherever you go, we follow… I know now why straight men die of heart attacks while the gays are so successful. It because they don’t have woman to ruin their happiness,” he goes on.

The unprecedented success of Pyaar Ka Punchnama fashioned a sequel, which meant that there was yet another breathless monologue. In this version, Aaryan squarely blames women for leading men on. “Dosti mein ab limit hi nahin rahi. Dosti mein ladki daaru pi ke ladke ki pappi lele, platonic hai… Dosti mein toh shayad sex bhi platonic hota hoga.” It has now come to pass that an Aaryan movie is incomplete without a monologue. Last year’s Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety claimed that all women are gold diggers: “Main bata raha hun yeh ladki wrong hai, Koi pyaar-vyaar nahin karti tujhse, sirf paison ke liye shaadi kar rahi hai.” 

It’s exactly this brand of palatable misogyny that has positioned Aaryan in the new league of superstars today: His next film is an Imtiaz Ali one opposite Sara Ali Khan. At the press conference of Pati Patni Aur Woh’s trailer launch, producer Bhushan Kumar, who has worked with the actor in three films echoed as much. When he was asked why he prefers working with Aaryan so much, Kumar jokingly replied “It’s because Kartik Aaryan sells right now.” 

All the criticism that Kartik Aaryan receives is drowned in the applause and the laughter he elicits.

It’s an illuminating answer. All the criticism that Aaryan receives is drowned in the applause and the laughter he elicits. Pati Patni Aur Woh has that dialogue because the creators believed that they have created an audience who will appreciate it.

Aaryan is often blamed for this tone-deafness, but the misogyny in his films isn’t solely his burden to bear. Its enduring popularity is instead a product of the times, mined as much from the saleability of the misunderstood male as it is from the outrage against it. These monologues create a talking point and in this age of short-attention spans that’s all that matters.

It’s naive to assume that the makers of Pati Patni Aur Woh didn’t predict the backlash to the rape joke. Like the success of Kabir Singh shows, in 2019, every denunciation is actually a win for a film. More outrage translates into more features, more interviews, more appearances and ultimately more publicity. The fact that we’re rewarding Pati Patni Aur Woh with our attention is its own payoff. It’s the working of this outrage economy that will also ensure the presence of yet another monologue in the next Kartik Aaryan film.

It’s a demand-supply situation and Bollywood and the entire film fraternity is the last industry we can hope will take a stand against this damaging culture.

This sentiment was echoed by filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt in a particularly fascinating Koffee with Karan episode. When he was asked about Emraan Hashmi’s serial kisser image, Bhatt justified the decision to have a kissing scene in every Hashmi film by saying that “The audience tells you what to do.” He added that having Hashmi kiss onscreen was in fact, a “distributor demand”. It’s why, he claimed, Murder 2 had a kissing scene in the first 10 minutes – once you got the audience’s expectation out of the way, you could focus on the rest of the film.

The implication is clear: Almost every thing that filmmakers choose to put in their films is derived from the demand created by audiences. Indian viewers, reared on Bollywood, want to watch Shah Rukh Khan spread his arms in film after film and for Salman Khan to take his shirt off as much as they want to see Kartik Aaryan demean women in every monologue.

Clearly, there is a method to the madness: Perhaps, the intention of the insertion of the Pati Patni Aur Woh marital rape dialogue is probably to replicate the success of a film like Kabir Singh. After all, the only way to power over outrage is to become more outrageous. Like Raphel Behr explains in this excellent essay for The Guardian, “An outrage economy is lucrative only in an outraged society. Once stoked, the anger becomes self-sustaining, addictive.”

If anything, Kartik Aaryan is the hero of this society. And our outrage is his fuel.

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