What the Pori Moni fracas reveals about patriarchy in our society
While commenting on Dilip Kumar’s rise to fame as a superstar in a series of documentaries called Classic Legends, the prominent Indian poet, author, and cultural crit-ic Javed Akhtar maintains: “Hamare samaj-mey agar dushman banane hey-toh, kuch karna jaruri nahi, sref kamiab hojai-a,” meaning: “In our society, if you want to forge enemies, you need not do anything. Just be successful.”
Yes, just be successful, and there will be no dearth of enemies in your life. The same may be the case with Pori Moni pulling the attention of people and the media due to the recent Boat Club incident in which she was reportedly maltreated by a businessman Nasir U Ahmed and his aide and Pori’s friend, Tuhin Siddiqui Omi.
Dilip Kumar is arguably the greatest superstar in the Indian sub-continent and recognized as such for his “method acting.” I am not likening him with Pori Moni, and this is not my intention either. But this instance is illuminating and hence, may help us to have a better understanding of Pori’s success stories, as well as the hostility and blame she has been experiencing from the get-go.
Before I forget, it is not my purpose here to show that Pori is innocent and her supposed perpetrator Nasir U Ahmed is a criminal who is accused of an attempt to rape and kill her. My aim here is to show how the Boat Club incident has revealed our patriarchal mindset deeply ingrained in our social psyche.
Pori Moni has become a sensation for many a reason since her inception in the world of entertainment: At times, for her dazzling and quirky look and lifestyle; at other times, for her pleasure trips to exotic cities like Dubai; and most times, for her overpowering beauty. But she really shot to fame when she was featured on Asia’s 100 Digital Stars, released by Forbes magazine on December 2020. How successful Pori is in terms of her contribution to local entertainment industries can be the genesis of a hot debate. However, she soon came to the limelight by showing her talent and acting prowess in many films, TV dramas, and shows.
As recognition of her work, she also won Babisas Award for Featured Actor (Female) and Meril Prothom Alo Special Critic Award. On top of that, her success in pulling a huge train of netizens in social media like Facebook, with followers reaching millions, is truly enviable. And this success reached its culmination with her making a room in Forbes’s 100 Asian big shots.
This type of recognition from Forbes can usually be coveted by the people living in the upper echelon of Dhaka city. Oh, hard cheese! They could not make it this time. Quite the reverse, it was Pori, the Cinderella, a remote village girl from the grass-roots, clinched it in the long run.
Enemies outside and within
The day she bagged the title of being one of Forbes 100 most influential persons in Asia, she might have given rise to a huge number of enemies in Bangladesh. Her success created rivals both inside and outside the film fraternity.
However, the rise to fame from a humble background is not a unique case in that many celebrities, like Demi Moore, Keanu Reeves, Oprah Winfrey, Celine Dion, JK Rowling, and many more, grew out of penurious and humble upbringings. Thus, one has to be identified with one’s deeds, not by one’s birth. One’s work is greater than one’s genesis.
For all the feathers in Pori’s cap, the recent Boat Club incident has been poised to, as some ill-speakers tend to believe, considerably diminish the grandeur of her various achievements. Even her fellow workers did not spare her.
Moreover, they expressed their willingness to extend their support to various clubs planning to forbid her. Members of Artists Association should remember Sanjay Dutt being convicted and later sentenced to six years in jail by the court under TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act) for keeping illegal arms and ammunition.
Despite that, the whole Bollywood film fraternity, including Salman Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Ajay Devgan, and the like, extended their moral support in solidarity with Sanjay. Pori has not been convicted yet. She might be engaged in vandalism and nuisances in different clubs and places, which are yet to be proved.
But she did not do any harm to anyone belonging to her film fraternity. They could have been more empathetic and considerate to Pori Moni, an illustrious colleague of theirs. Is it too premature for us to call them prejudiced or jealous?
Patriarchy is all-pervasive
The Boat Club incident also shows us how patriarchy is all-pervasive in our society -- not only in men but also in women. A successful woman entrepreneur, businesswoman, the chair of Joyjatra Television, and also a founder member of Boat Club, Helena Jahangir, blamed Pori Moni for the Boat Club incident.
I have been completely taken aback by her idea of beating women, if need be: “He (Nasir) gave her (Pori) a couple of punches/slaps, his slapping her was valid, I would say it was valid,” she maintained.
What is more, Helena went on to posit that she would not even mind being beaten by her own husband: “If my husband gives me a couple of punches when I go crazy, I won’t keep that in mind.”
We are not sure if she would stand her husband beating her in reality. But her supporting (supposed) physical violence against Pori by a man (Nasir) who is not her husband is a case in point that reflects the pervasiveness of patriarchy even a woman like Helena Jahangir is not free of.
Why is it not safe for a woman like Pori to venture outside after midnight? Who might harm or attack her? Certainly, Pori will not be attacked by her female colleagues Nusrat Faria or Mahiya Mahi or any other women.
I am sure Helena Jahangir made this comment with a man in her mind -- a vicious man ready to violate a woman. Now, how can we relate the behaviour of a man to the deepening of a night? Simple! The deeper the night the worse the man; the deeper the night the crueller the man; the deeper the night the more violent the man.
If it is so, then it is the man who must be restrained. Exerting one’s manhood does not necessarily make one a man; rather, it is one’s asceticism, not hedonism, that makes one a man. If Pori’s charge against Nasir is true, then he missed a rare opportunity of being a man that night.
He could have been more patient and restrained. Sadly, Helena doesn’t even see how her victim-blaming, based on speculation and mis- and second-hand information, can diminish the victim’s quest for truth. With her patriarchal mindset internalized, she is a man, or more than a man, in the garb of a woman.
Whose fault is it?
Pori is stunningly beautiful, people say. Is it her fault? On the other hand, men are physically much stronger than women. Is it their fault? In both cases, the answer is “No.”
Physically, women may not be as strong as men, but they have other ways they can press into their own empowerment. And beauty is one of them.
Female beauty can be an element of empowerment in a society like ours that has been hegemonized by men for ages. Some people may argue that women hook men with their beauty; in a market-driven economy of corporate culture, it is a mere exchange. And this swapping is value-laden that incurs, at times, costs on both parties in various forms.
Social media’s role
The trend of victim-blaming and patriarchy is also ubiquitous on social media. If you just look at the comments of netizens on Pori’s Facebook page, or those of any other female artistes, journalists, and professionals, you can discern how deeply patriarchy and victim-blaming are embedded and entangled in our very social fabric. Not only are they blaming the victim, but also disparaging them simply because they are women.
That being said, the Boat Club incident can be a lesson for us all, including Pori Moni, having been exposed, more or less, to the norms of patriarchy that we need to question. Along with patriarchy, Pori’s take might be a different one. Pori knows she is a human “fairy” without wings, as rendered in her most famous, viral song she lipped: “I am a wingless fairy.”
Winged fairies can fly or swim in the sky, but human fairies without wings have to tread carefully, keeping their feet on the ground. Deserving stardom is one thing, but preserving it is another -- being far more challenging than the former. We hope Pori Moni is aware of this challenge.
Zakir Majumder teaches English at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) as Adjunct Faculty.