Deepika Padukone was lauded for her role in 'Chhapaak', her latest film based on the life of an acid attack survivor and she has since appeared in several awareness campaigns and initiatives to start a conversation about the the issue of gender violence and illegal sale of acid in India. However, the actress seems to have crossed a line with her promotions after a TikTok video shows her encouraging a makeup artist to transform into Malti, the role Padukone essayed in the film, for a makeup challenge.
In the video which has gone viral on Twitter, a giggling Padukone can seen speaking with celebrity TikToker Faby_Makeupartist and challenging her to recreate the looks of three characters played by her in films. The first look was of the character of Shanti from her 2007 Bollywood debut 'Om Shanti Om'. The second was Piku from the 2015 film of the same name. However, the third look Padukone requested was of Malti from Chhapaak.
Now as the world knows, the character of Malti is inspired by the real-life acid attack survivor, gender rights activist and television host Laxmi Agarwal. It isn't just a "look" but the representation of someone's actual face.
In many cases of acid attacks, the scars that remain are often the cause for lifelong trauma to survivors. While efforts to destigmatize acid burn scars by redefining beauty standards have helped thousands of survivors, Padukone's video has been called out for being "insensitive".
Just a few days ago, the actress along with Chhapaak's team conducted a social experiment where actors dressed up as regular customers and attempted to buy acid from shops. The idea was to show the ease with which acid can be obtained in Mumbai, despite a ban on the sale of the corrosive liquid unless the buyer complies with certain rules. While Padukone's video was appreciated them, the latest promotional video has drawn the wrath of netizens. Many have called the video "disrespectful" to survivors.
This is really disrespectful to acid attack victims, @deepikapadukone. How disgustingly low are you going to stoop to promote yourself? pic.twitter.com/zP9MAcRFNT— Ishita Yadav (@IshitaYadav) January 18, 2020
Telling you this as the son of an acid attack victim: @deepikapadukone you are one sick human being. My mother had to undergo years of surgery & emotional trauma. The victims are strong & beautiful, your commercialisation of their suffering is disgustingpic.twitter.com/2tOvkJqyU9— Abhijit Iyer-Mitra (@Iyervval) January 18, 2020
The problem with Deepika Padukone endorsing a makeup challenge on Chhapak is that she treated it as one of her “looks” and dismissed the entire trauma behind it. She proved that it was merely makeup for her & she clearly doesn’t understand the depth of what survivors go through.— x (@krownnist) January 18, 2020
Padukone has been in the eye of controversy ever since she decided to express her solidarity with protesting students following n incident of violence in Jawaharlal Nehru University on Jan 5. The act invited intense trolling on social media and several politicians also questioned her stance. In fact, her film's performance may also have suffered due to Padukone's move. While it is commendable of Padukone to take a stand against violence in all forms, be it through her endorsement of the students' protests or through her work on films that highlight the difficulties faced by survivors of violence, the actress must realise that the makeup challenge video was tone-deaf and in poor taste.
While promoting films through and based on causes that affect real-life people, actors and filmmakers may sometimes forget the lived experiences of the people that inspire their work. It is important to treat these people not just as fodder for brain juice and a ticket to fame.
While the look of an acid attack survivor may just be a "look" to the actress, many survivors struggle for years to come to terms with their "look". A far better Tik Tok challenge would have been to get acid attack survivors to recreate her looks from films other than Chhapaak to help these artists gain visibility.
Padukone may take notes from TikTokers like the young US-based teenger Feroza Aziz who used a make-up tutorial video to talk about the Uighur Mulsim crisis in China.
While social media has given people the ability to connect and influence, it becomes incumbent on those using it to create discourse to be careful of the pitfalls of rampant publicity. Tools that can help connect can also often lead to a disconnect, much like the one Padukone's fans are currently experiencing.