The other day a friend of mine inquired, “What do you think of the Ranveer (Singh) drama?” Drama, indeed.
I was asked this question because I have a weird hobby that has become a social experiment over the years. Though a journalist by profession, I sketch people in the nude, adult men and women of all age groups. Nudity is revealing, but not always.
Over the last 20 years, I have dealt with 500 different specimens of humanity in their stark nakedness. To me, “semi-nude” doesn’t make sense; either you are in the nude or not. I invite people to what I call a “private space for public nudity” where they can be themselves.
We all project to some extent and I have come to believe that clothes are the most potent instrument to make projections and fulfil our need to control others’ perceptions of us. We wear our attitude and the complex identities we bear for public consumption, be it ideological, gender, sexual, religious, professional. And what we want to portray or project may change, perhaps explaining why we dress differently for different occasions.
In a world governed by optics, nudity is the only authentic thing I have experienced. Nudity is potent only if nakedness is inconsequential. While I am sketching, I ask people to forget they are naked, just like they forget they are dressed all the time. Clothing is the second skin. Otherwise, nudity itself becomes an instrument of projection.
Ranveer Singh, arguably India’s highest-paid actor, loves to dazzle people and the attire he flaunts is just one aspect of it. He has been radical in his choice of clothing—pattern, cloth, cut, combination, choice of colours. He is an iconoclast in that sense and has established himself as the antithesis of the quintessential Indian man, who is fairly conservative when it comes to dressing. Singh does it with panache, the quirkiness of his clothing accentuating his personality.
He has an insatiable desire to seek attention; his queer-ish flamboyance is part of the deal, like a bright flower aspiring to attract butterflies. And it is not easy to do this day in, day out, for the space he inhibits has many bright flowers, all competing for our attention and adulation. Soon, to seek more attention, he is obliged to break from the past. And so, I say, Singh decided to wear curated nudity for public consumption.
Many rejoice, some are offended; an FIR has been filed against him. Everyone is talking and that’s the idea behind the whole exercise. Singh would be glad.
People are free to feel offended just as Singh is to propagate his unsolicited nudity. But no freedom is absolute. My freedom to deal with naked humanity as a source of inspiration is governed by the freedom of those dressed in probity—that’s why I have a private space for public nudity. I’m not a supporter of people running naked on the streets unless nudity is the norm like in the saunas of Finland, a nude beach or a naturist enclave.
Singh’s purported nudity, in my view, is fake, for it’s curated, his posture closed, and care has been taken to hide more than reveal. That brings us to a debate about how private are the private parts, and the distinction between private and personal. For instance, nude pictures could be considered private by many but their views on nudity are a personal matter. I guarantee my subjects anonymity and privacy even if they don’t want it. It’s not who they are but the energy they bring. It is “private” because no one will ever know their identity and it is “public” because the interaction is not bodily or sexual—two individuals are sitting and chatting, one is naked and the other is drawing. Though sexuality is present, it is not overwhelming but comforting.
What will Singh do next? Attention is but fleeting. My advice to him is to run naked in nature, perhaps by a lake or on a beach, where there is no one to witness. Or inspire my drawings and experience solitude. For then it would not be about him but about the space. That will be exhilarating.
Mihir Srivastava is a Delhi-based journalist and author.