The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: With apology for ‘Quantico’, Priyanka Chopra is latest victim of flimsy nationalism

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more).

The Big Story: Outrage-o-rama

Priyanka Chopra has joined the list of Indian celebrities who have been forced to issue public statements of remorse for hurting hyper-nationalist sentiments. On Sunday, the actor apologised for the plot of an episode from the American television drama Quantico, in which she has played Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Alex Parrish since 2015. An episode titled The Blood of Romeo, which was aired on June 1, featured a Hindu extremist conspiracy to set off a nuclear explosion in New York City ahead of an India-Pakistan peace summit. The episode outraged Hindu nationalists, prompting Chopra and Quantico’s producer and broadcaster, ABC, to offer a public declaration of regret.

After being attacked for participating in the episode, Chopra felt compelled to reiterate her nationalist credentials. “I’m extremely saddened and sorry that some sentiments have been hurt by a recent episode of Quantico,” she said in a tweet. “That was not and would never be my intention. I sincerely apologise. I’m a proud Indian and that will never change.”

The controversy comes at a delicate time for Chopra. She is making a return to the Hindi film industry after her Hollywood sojourn. Quantico will wrap up in August after the end of its third season due to falling ratings. Chopra will be starring in the upcoming Bharat alongside Salman Khan, and is also the producer of films in several Indian languages. She is the mascot of tourism for Assam and endorses several brands.

Chopra had already stirred anger in May for criticising the eviction of Rohingyas from Myanmar. Her statements came after a trip to refugee camps in Bangladesh in her capacity as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. She was promptly trolled by Hindutva supporters, who are critical of the presence in India of a small number of refugees from the predominantly Muslim community. Chopra is well aware of the professional and personal costs she would have to pay should troublemakers threaten to boycott her.

Chopra has been the symbol of Indian global aspirations since she won the Miss World crown in 2000. Her ability to land roles in Quantico and in Hollywood productions such as Baywatch (2017) have been a matter of pride for Indians. But despite the international prominence that Quantico earned her, Chopra has been rudely reminded of the shallowness of Indian pride by her hyper-nationalist cousins back home.

Chopra’s retreat is easy to understand. Not so ABC’s note of apology. The station’s carefully worded statement emphasised that Quantico was “a work of fiction” that featured “antagonists of many different ethnicities and backgrounds”. The network’s capitulation has been criticised for being selective. Commentators have noted that ABC has never expressed remorse for depicting terror plots led by Muslims (the villains in Quantico include an Islamic terror group). Through its apology, ABC played along with the notion that that the existence of Hindu extremism simply isn’t possible – even in fiction.

The Big Scroll

  • Why the latest episode of Priyanka Chopra-starrer Quantico has enraged Indian fans.
  • Dear Mr Doval, we need to talk about Hindutva terror, writes Aijaz Ashraf.
  • Why saffron terror is not a myth, argues Ashok Swain.

Punditry

  • We need to amend the anti-defection law and forge political consensus to avert the subversion of democracy that is currently underway with speakers and governors more interested in being loyal to their parties than the Constitution, writes Kapil Sibal in the Hindu.
  • The Narendra Modi government has shown signs that it doesn’t mean to let Trump’s stance on Iran derail the oil trade with it, writes Kabir Taneja in Mint.
  • An efficient and sustainable solution for better prices really lies in getting the markets right by overhauling the agri-marketing infrastructure and its associated laws, argue Ashok Gulati and Shweta Saini in the Indian Express.

Giggle

Don’t miss

Behind the Shillong communal clashes are olld grudges, a real estate row and Khasi nationalism, reports Arunabh Saikia.

“For some, like the electronics store owner, the protests were not just an opportunity to settle old scores but a chance to ‘serve the Khasi people’. There is definitely a ‘communal angle’, he said, but quickly added that he has ‘nothing against genuine municipal workers’. He explained, ‘I have problems only with illegal migrants who have come and settled there and colonised the area.’”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.