by Deepanjana Pal Jan 8, 2015
Widely considered one of the most beautiful actresses in Bollywood, it’s no surprise that Kareena Kapoor is a favourite of advertising brands. Her face has been used to convince you to buy shampoos, eyeliner and a host of other cosmetics. Now, the right-wing organisation Durga Vahini is hoping Kapoor’s striking features will make people see love jihad, the so-called campaign to seduce Hindu women into the Muslim fold through romance and marriage, in a pro-Hindutva light.
The latest issue of Durga Vahini’s magazine Himalaya Dhwani is devoted to love jihad and has Kapoor’s face on the cover. Half of her face is in black, but for a slit through which an eye can be seen. The other half of Kapoor’s face shows the actress with a bindi and sindoor in her hair. We presume the logic of the Himalaya Dhwani cover is that anything which will cover Kapoor’s gorgeous face – in this case, with a burqa – can’t be a good thing.
Durga Vahini is the women’s wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and after decades of letting VHP have the spotlight, the Hindutva ladies seem to be stepping into the light. Last year, the organisation was the subject of the award-winning documentary The World Before Her. Taking the viewer into camps that the Durga Vahini organises, the film showed how the young women and girls who enroll in these camps are indoctrinated. They are taught a mix of skills, including self-defense exercises and shooting, but it is also drummed into the girls that their duty is to get married and support husbands, not pursue careers.
When asked about the Durga Vahini’s chosen cover girl, the organization’s northern India regional coordinator Rajni Thukral said that Kapoor was chosen for Himalaya Dhwani because Kapoor is a celebrity. An oblique reference was made to Kapoor having married a Muslim. “The youth try to emulate celebrities. They think if she can do so, why not us?” said Thukral, in anattempt to explain the Vahini’s logic.
In the past, Kapoor has steered clear of politics and commenting on political issues. However, the actress has made her position on love jihad clear. “Love is a feeling, it’s an emotion,” Kapoor had said in aninterview last year. “That’s why I don’t believe in Love Jihad. I believe in the feeling of love.” Leaving aside how much her opinion sounds like lines taken from a particularly bad Mills & Boon novel, this sentiment along with the fact that Kapoor is happily married to Saif Ali Khan makes the actress an odd choice for the Love Jihad Cover Girl campaign.
However, ignoring what the reality is and the opinion of women in particular is standard practice for VHP, so it isn’t surprising that both VHP and Durga Vahini are dismissing the minor detail that Kapoor could have something to say about the way her face is being used. “If actress Kareena Kapoor has a problem with this, the doors of Court are always open for her,” said Prakash Sharma of the VHP.
Last year, Khan had written an eloquent piece aboutmulticulturalism and inter-religious marriages in response to the negative reactions that his and Kapoor’s wedding evinced. “I don’t know what ‘love jihad’ is,” Khan had written. “I know intermarriages because I am a child of one and my children are born out of it. Intermarriage is not jihad. Intermarriage is India. India is a mix. … I am the product of such a mixed marriage and my life has been full of Eid and Holi and Diwali. We were taught to do adaab and namaste with equal reverence.” Kapoor is yet to release a statement on the Himalaya Dhwani cover, but when contacted, Khan described the effort to make Kapoor seem like a victim of love jihad “ridiculous.”
Triumphant as Durga Vahini and VHP may be feeling at the attention that their cover and campaign are getting as a result of putting Kapoor’s face on the cover, the decision to cast Kapoor as the innocent young Hindu bride who has been corrupted by the decadent Muslim man may well backfire. After all, it’s not as though Kapoor’s pre-Khan life would meet with either the VHP or the Durga Vahini’s approval. Whether it’s her wardrobe, her ex-boyfriends or the fact that she’s an independent professional, there’s a lot in Kapoor’s life that has nothing to do with Khan and would still give the Hindutva brigade palpitations. Arguably, Khan may actually have helped Kapoor meet VHP’s expectations of a good woman: she’s cut down the number of film projects in order to focus upon her home and family life and her onscreen wardrobe is more conservative than it was before the two started dating. On the plus side, Kapoor is a big fan of yoga so perhaps there’s hope yet for VHP and Durga Vahini’s love affair with Kapoor.