The bold and the beautiful

The bold and the beautiful


The recent judgement by the Kerala High Court junking the opposition to a magazine cover featuring a breastfeeding woman and refusing to label it as obscene has sought to put an end to a debate raging on social media and otherwise.

A controversy erupted after a Kerala-based women’s magazine ‘Grihalakshmi’ featured model Gilu Joseph breastfeeding a child on the cover of its March edition. The backlash was swift and severe and the publication was taken to court.

Though the fact that the model is not a mother herself has been highlighted by the critics, the magazine has said that the main motive was to raise awareness about the need for mothers to be able to breastfeed in public.

Rejecting the petition, the court observed that beauty and obscenity lie in the eye of beholder and that ‘one man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric’ — talk about a literal interpretation of ‘poetic justice’ (see what we did here?) 

This is not the first time that covers of Indian magazines have raised hackles and in some cases, temperatures! In an easily offended society where unabashed portrayals of women’s bodies and sexuality have caused more outrage than searching for rape videos of children online, creative freedom is not an excuse.

Here is a glimpse of front page covers that stirred and shocked viewers. 

Sharmila Tagore for Filmfare (1996)

She was the first Indian actress to pose for a magazine cover in a two-piece bikini. The bold move led to a nationwide debate which found an echo even in the Parliament. The choice of the clothing was Sharmila’s herself and she shot for the cover just a couple of weeks before she got married to Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. Years later, she admitted to being puzzled as to why people reacted so strongly to the image. “Maybe there was an exhibitionist in me...But I thought I looked nice.”

Vidya Balan for FHM (2010)

Known for shattering stereotypes and glass ceilings with equal aplomb, Vidya showed off her curves in an undraped sari. It was the first time in the history of FHM men’s magazine’s history that a cover girl was seen in a sari. She received her share of trolling and threats as usual.

Mamta Kulkarni for Stardust (1993)
In September 1993, the then aspiring actress’ topless cover for Stardust hit the stands and became an instant sellout with it even being sold in black; at rates of Rs 100 as compared to the original magazine price of Rs 20. The Bollywood industry appreciated the bold shoot but it was a different story on the streets.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni on Business Today (2013)
The legendary skipper cum wicket keeper was stumped himself when he faced an arrest warrant for a magazine cover that portrayed him as the god Vishnu, hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus. The Supreme Court quashed criminal proceedings against him in 2016.

Pooja Bhatt on Movie (1993)
Inspired by Demi Moore’s Vanity Fair cover, Pooja Bhatt donned nothing but body paint for her cover shoot. Brickbats flew speedily of course.

Neetu Chandra and Krishika Gupta for Maxim (2012)
Not really known for her acting career, Neetu Chandra made headlines for a photo shoot with model Krishika Gupta. The ladies and their crew got into trouble with a mob of right wing activists who interrupted the shooting and tried to harm them. They alleged that the shoot suggested ‘lesbianism’.

 Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre (1995)
Photographed by the legendary Prabuddha Dasgupta, the ad for Tuff Shoes made women’s groups and animal rights associations see red. While protestors handed over saris to Sapre’s father, the two supermodels and the makers of the ad were embroiled in a legal battle. The ad was withdrawn but the case dragged on for 14 years before the couple was finally acquitted in 2009.

Huma Qureshi on Femina (2014)
Holding a mannequin in her hand, Huma Qureshi urged women to be comfortable in their own bodies and ‘be unstoppable’. While it was celebrated by many, it also received flak for promoting ‘unhealthy’ body types. Allegations of the concept being copied from an international magazine later surfaced.

Kajol and Rekha for CineBlitz (1996)
Enigmatic diva Rekha and bubbly favourite Kajol made quite a lot of readers uncomfortable when they went topless and slipped into the same sweater for the shoot.

Mandira Bedi for Maxim (2007)
More than the revealing golden bikini, it was an ‘Ek Onkar’ tattoo on her navel that caused a ruckus. These are the first words of the holy Sikh scripture – the Granth Sahib. Youth Akali Dal workers held protests on the streets of Ludhiana and burnt an effigy of Mandira and threatened to take her to court for hurting religious sentiments.