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Why are actresses referred to as actors now?

Monojit Lahiri |

Updated: December 9, 2012, 11:25 AM IST
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Why are actresses referred to as actors now?
This entire farce about referring to actresses as actors is clearly the spasmodic working of unbalanced minds.

New Delhi: It was Kabir Bedi who set the cat among the pigeons recently when he tweeted, "I mean the demise of the word, Actress. It has great mystique. I find it hard to refer to legendary actresses [Garbo, Dietrich, Crawford, Leigh, Monroe, Taylor, Hepburn, Kelley] as actors!" At a recent party, my opinionated friend - the original argumentative Indian - took off precisely where the hunk had left.

"Kabir Bedi may not be as devastatingly handsome as he once was and nor does he appear to be on the radar of too many banners in B-town, but his intelligence, sophistication and focus remains intact and spot-on. This entire farce, dramabaazi and nonsense about referring to actresses as actors is clearly the spasmodic working of unbalanced minds! What's the big deal? This is nothing more than over-enthusiastic and grossly misdirected activism scaling new heights of ludicrousness! What does it hope to achieve - a new burst of lost female pride and identity?

Are these gifted individuals so paranoid and insecure to believe that a gender-shift in terms of terminology - will bring back all the ignored respect due to them, along with self-belief and confidence? If so, it is a tragic commentary on the state of our heroines' sense of self-worth!"

Another joins in with "Actor in a female role sounds so sexless and insulting, like referring to a robot!" While, yet another lays it on the line with "another example where political correctness has gone overboard and absurd! Hey c'mon, men and women are not the same so why use terms that forcefully and artificially attempts to put them in the same page and mould? Even the Venerated Academy awards go to Best Actress, so why this unnecessary attempt to re-write some basic, fundamental rules that is neither degrading nor sexist?"

Film Critic, Mayank Shekhar begs to differ. "I think it was veteran actress Shabana Azmi who first introduced this term and I think it makes total sense both because from where it is coming - an intelligent, evolved and progressive activist - and what it implies." Shekhar believes that language, terms and reference points need not necessarily be looked at something that is sacrosanct that cannot and should not be touched lest you rot in hell!

"The movie business, like most, is a male dominated one and if this is an attempt for gender-equality and gender-neutralisation, what's there to scoff, ridicule or dismiss? Today, the term Ms is used for many married women too - because of individual identity, a personal choice of the ladies concerned - so what's wrong with female actor? Chill, it's a post-modern throw at rectifying gender identity, that's all!"

Film historian, scholar and editor Rauf Ahmed is amused. "Frankly, I don't see any reason for this sex-change because I don't see anything undignified, condescending or patronizing about the term, Actress. It seems to be more of an aggressive statement of individual identity from a feminist whose work as an actress I've always admired. Can you imagine referring to Madhubala, Nargis, Nutan or Meena Kumari as actors? Feels weird, huh?"

Kolkata-based Medico, Ms. S Pal believes it has largely to do "with the newly-awoken female empowerment movement and self-assertion! There is a belief among a lot of today's liberated and progressive women that the term actresses has a negative connotation, showcasing a persona who reflects dumb, glamorous looks with permissive nature in terms of morality. An actor does not suffer this image perception at all.

Since both are performers, why not go neutral-gender and be fair?" While she has no great problem with actresses being called actors, she personally feels that "it somewhere takes away the essence of what she is about - femininity, grace, elegance, beauty, the entire aura and mystique of being a woman ... but that's my take. Others may differ.

Director Sahiba Faiza Ahmed Khan (Malegaon ka Superman) has her own take. She believes that although Doctors, Lawyers, even Film Directors don't have any 'ess' attached, this move is "a symbolic gesture towards equality among the sexes in movieland. It seeks to address this differentiation between male and female performers in a way that is thought-provoking and debate and discussion-generating.

Whether it does (or does not) impact on their fees, clout or weightage in projects is another matter but it's a glove thrown into the ring suggesting that its an issue whose time has come, a sweetening pronouncement that demands serious focus."

Dazzling senior actress Moon Moon Sen is up next and straightaway tornadoes into this debate with all cylinders firing. The still gorgeous daughter of the legendary Suchitra Sen and mom of beauties, Raima and Riya, terms it as nothing more than 'affection' and goes on to explain what she means.

"We seem to live in a time when aping the west, pretentiousness, posturing and posing appear to be fashionable. I can't understand why! Kabir is bang-on when he says that he finds it difficult to describe legendary actresses as actors. What is this great image make-over or perception change that it hopes to bring if Suchitra Sen and Madhuri Dixit are called actors? What is the value-addition and how does the traditionally accepted term actresses, suddenly lose dignity, prestige, status or aura by not changing to the term actor?"

Moon Moon also laments the haywire use of terminology where "Diva for example is used left, right and centre! It is a term derived from the opera and usually has no bearing on film stars, past or present." Respected and hi-profile director Aparna Sen (36 Chowringhee Lane, Mr. & Mrs. Iyer, The Japanese Wife) however is totally comfortable with the term and considers it both appropriate and necessary.

"At a time when the new-age woman is multi-layered and multi-tasking with such stupendous success, why should gender appropriate any profession? Kabir Bedi's comment refers to divas, who were stars - not perceived as serious actresses. It needs time for getting used to, that's all."

Ace Ad-Film maker and feature film (Delhi Belly) maker Abhinay Deo brings his own take. He doesn't consider this issue a big deal at all and while he personally can't figure out why some people are hell-bent on stepping on the gas and insisting on this terminology-change like their life depends upon it, he's okay to go along.

"If an actress is determined to be called an actor - not actress - sure, I'll go along. I have tons of more serious issues to engage with than something as cosmetic and unimportant - for me - than this!"

So, what gives? For new-age actresses seeking to reclaim their rightful place, prestige, status and stature as professionals in a gender-neutral calling, this move is a telling gesture of intent. It reflects the fact that they will not take any crap that comes their way and whenever - in this chauvinistic and male dominated planet - there is need, scope and opportunity to raise one's hand to be counted, they will definitely pull the trigger.

So, post 'Barfi!', 'Cocktail' and 'Heroine', should Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone and Kareena Kapoor be referred to as 'actors' in ball-busting roles?

First Published: December 9, 2012, 11:25 AM IST
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