Rise of the female Aashiq

Ayushman Jamwal
Actor Priya Varrier has set the internet ablaze. Thousands have been enamoured by how the young actor winked and made a boy blush, a video viewed and shared millions of times, becoming a hot topic in the mainstream news. After multiple views, once the excitement wears off, you wonder why exactly the nation has gone gaga.
Across the landscape of cinema, male actors have become famous if not infamous for flirtatious winks, and in Valentine week, the actor has become the darling of millions of hopeless romantics. In the post-Harvey Weinstein era, the male aashiqs of yester years have been pretty much driven to extinction, with the emergence of a fluctuating and highly political battle over what is the most ‘appropriate’ manner of courting a woman. The socio-political sphere is dominated by newer and newer social parameters for men regarding speech, posture and gaze, with even a focus on unspoken cues which ended up bracketing comedian Aziz Ansari with celebrities accused of sexual harassment.
While men are being sent back to romance school, does the popularity of Priya Varrier’s wink mark the advent of the female aashiq? As it sweeps across the hearts of thousands of men and women – does it show that the modern man who shudders to offend a woman and the modern woman who thinks she is no less than a man, are in agreement that women should be the romantic leaders of the 21st century? Is it the effect of the union of the gender sensitisation of men and the empowerment of women where the prince and the princess swap roles in the fairytale but not their genders?
Or is the explanation a little simpler? Are the flirtatious cues of courtship now deemed crass when wielded by men, simply considered harmless, innocent if not bold when wielded by a woman? In gender power politics, a woman winking at a man, whistling at a man and even asking for his phone number is not seen as the act of a predator. In fact, popular culture has mobilised it as an act of women embracing their sexuality and desires, an act of defiance against longstanding patriarchy and systems enforcing ‘lady-like’ behavior to be at par with the boys clubs. Take the example of cases in the United States where female teachers are caught having a relationship with male students. The first question is never, ‘Is this abuse of power?’, it always is ‘How attractive is the teacher?’. Scour the internet and its endless listicles and you will find countless articles with the standard title ‘Hot teachers that slept with their students’. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just there.
Another explanation could be the simplest one – basic voyeurism – as Priya Varrier’s memes suggest. A smiling and winking school girl followed by smiling older male celebrities – ranging from politicians to cricketers to actors, crass imagery the internet is infamous for. Is the excitement over an 18-year-old girl’s wink another avatar of a saas-bahu actress donning a bikini? Is it seen no more than a coy act evoking vulgar excitement from the shedding of innocence? Is Priya Varrier just another pretty face on the internet?