I’m often compared and confused with my namesake Ekta Kapoor. Every time I am asked my name, I gear up for the inevitable “Not THE Ekta Kapoor?” follow-up question. Though I’d never heard of her for most of my growing up years, ever since Ekta has achieved fame, she has been a part of my life.
Admittedly, we do have a lot in common besides our names. We’re both Gemini – she’s exactly one year younger than me. Though my mother spelled my name differently in English when I was born, our names are the same in Hindi. We both have one younger brother each, with exactly the same age gap (a year and half). We’ve both experienced single motherhood. We’ve both had unconventional personal journeys. We’re both in the business of content creation. We both launched a new brand in 2017 (ALT Balaji in her case, eShe in mine).
But the similarity ends there. Ekta had already built upon her parents’ film production company in the years when I was a depressed homemaker, struggling to find myself. By the time I did that and got my first job in the media, she had grown by leaps and bounds, and had become one of the most powerful women in India, a Padma Shri awardee, and the undisputed baroness of Indian TV.
In comparison, I am still building a magazine slowly and steadily with my own hands, working from home, grappling with all the lockdown cooking and the demands of my family, and don’t even have time for TV.
But being confused with THE Ekta Kapoor on social media has been something of an amusement all these years. Aspiring actors often tag me and leave endearing messages, hoping for a break in her films. I merrily ignore them. The relative internet anonymity suits me – a search for my name will have Google asking, Do you mean Ekta Kapoor?
It’s almost a gift in today’s no-privacy, data-driven world.
But the case of mistaken identity on social media has taken on a darker undertone these past few days. It’s to do with an episode of XXX, an erotic comedy-drama directed by Ken Ghosh and produced by ALT Balaji. I haven’t seen this web series but apparently this episode was about a soldier’s wife having sex with another man while he was away on duty.
Considering India’s double standards on matters of sexuality and gender equality, a story about a woman in a consensual extramarital relationship is a tinderbox to begin with. Add the sauce of Army matters, and you have a bomb waiting to explode especially in these days of chest-thumping nationalism and toxic machismo.
This is not to say Ken Ghosh or Ekta Kapoor should not have made this kind of show – it is strictly for adults, and is only available to view once you are a paid subscriber to the streaming channel so it’s certainly not meant for mass consumption. Besides, what is art without freedom and entertainment without spice?
But the backlash for a bit of romping has been unfairly disproportionate. An FIR was registered against Ekta and two others in Indore and Madhya Pradesh on charges of obscenity, hurting religious feelings, and improper use of national emblems in the second season of XXX. Then, the All India Cine Workers’ Association filed a complaint against her with the Mumbai Police.
It is another matter that none of these complainants had any problem with the regressive, sexist programming and gender violence on Indian television and in Indian films all these decades.
Ekta’s production house withdrew the offending scene, and Ekta released an official statement: “As an individual and as an organization, we are deeply respectful towards Indian Army. Their contribution to our well-being and security is immense. We have already deleted the scene that is being spoken about, so the action has been taken from our side. We fully apologize for any sentiment that is hurt unintentionally. What we don’t appreciate is the bullying and the rape threats by the trolls.”
Ekta had probably been referring to a Bigg Boss 13 contestant Hindustani Bhau also known as Vikas Pathak who had called for her to apologize to the Indian Army in an aggressive post that went viral.
She was probably also referring to the hundreds of other trolls who suddenly crawled out of India’s rural and urban woodwork, excited about the juicy opportunity to curse, criticize and name-call a single woman who dared be successful on her own terms.
I would know – I am often tagged too, and Ekta isn’t kidding about the bullying and rape threats.
In fact, truth be told, I have never heard such hateful, vile language in my life.
I have never had to click on an Instagram video that I am tagged in, only to have a man sitting in crowded jeep use various Hindi cusswords for prostitute as prefixes for my name while threatening all kinds of revenge. I’ve never blocked and reported so many tweets from accounts with eggs for profile pictures and zero followers.
And if the XXX controversy wasn’t enough, the very gifted Sushant Singh Rajput committed suicide around the same time, and the anti-Ekta brigade went on charge again, blaming her along with other powerful film personalities for his death. And, of course, her namesake was tagged too.
I’m no one to defend Ekta’s filmmaking or stories or choices but I certainly defend her freedom of speech and her rights as a woman and human being. If you don’t like her shows or films, don’t watch them. But you have no right to abuse her personally or threaten her with rape just because one of her shows has upset your hypocritical values — or has her success rattled your fragile egos?
Your threats and abuses say more about you than her. The male chauvinist, sexist Indian man just fell another notch lower.