Lalit Modi-Sushmita Sen’s Obsession Reveals Our Sexist Attitudes About Money and Love
Malicious jokes masquerading as irony have been circulating on WhatsApp ever since IPL founder Lalit Modi effusively declared himself a man in the arms of his love, India’s first Miss Universe, Sushmita Sen. In an image posted to Instagram, a smitten 58-year-old Modi stares adoringly into Sen’s eyes, after which a quote attributed to Robert Mugabe has been passed around and laughed at thousands of times: ‘No girl will choose a six-pack rather only six cars. so stop going to the gym and get to work”. As a 46-year-old woman around the same age as Sen, I must admit that there is some truth to this practical advice; at this stage of life, frankly, it would be pathetic to place greater importance on physical attributes than companionship and, yes, money.
It’s no surprise that two singles whose paths have crossed many times during their illustrious and controversial careers have decided to embark on a relationship. However, the level of discourse on this coupling reveals that as a society, our opinions remain hopelessly tied to gender stereotypes. From salacious memes shared, men believe Modi scored by shaking up a famous beauty, fueling the age-old notion that if a man has money and power, he can have a choice of litter, in love . Women tend to view the Modi-Sen saga with a roll of their eyes I told you, wisely nodding their heads in approval at the wisdom of their choice – an older man in love guaranteed to shower her with Chanel and Dior.
Currently a London-based fugitive, Modi’s fortune is estimated at over Rs 4,000 crore. It’s important to note that Sen, though relatively meager at around 100 crores, is entirely self-made – without the sword of impending arrest hovering over her. It depends on her worldview: to anyone making sarcastic comments about women swapping, I’d say she’s better off than her much richer beau.
This lustful fascination with the Modi-Sen love affair stems from the fact that all of humanity aspires to progress in wealth, power and fame, but 95% of us lack the skills, the appearance, luck and track record to change orbit. Needless to deny it, the idea of big bucks is wildly alluring because it is destined to remain an unattainable dream. The world’s all-consuming obsession with wealth means we view anyone who hits the jackpot through a romantic affair as a cold-blooded opportunist. Indeed, we are a cynical generation. Ask anyone what they’re looking for in a partner, they’ll tell you honesty, being understood, even someone to watch TV with. Ask them what they think other people want and the tone immediately turns sour. We tend to think of our own motives as honorable, but assume that the rest of humanity is capricious and superficial. In fact, everyone, rich or poor, wants the exact same things from romance – basically, intimacy and good company.
That’s not to say that money and love aren’t intimately linked for women; only in the past 50 years has marriage become a matter of finding soul mates or falling madly in love. Historically, marriage was the most important financial decision women could make because they lost inheritance from brothers and dowries were controlled by husbands. Marriage alliances to gain land, gold and influence were an important feature of politics in ancient India. For most of our existence on earth, marriage has nothing to do with love. Any evolutionary scientist will attest that careful consideration of a man’s bank balance is a survival instinct. So blame systemic misogyny for creating, over time, the many weighty truths that continue to plague modern relationships.
More than 200 years ago, Jane Austen wrote wryly: “A big income is the best recipe for happiness that I have ever heard of”, while a few decades ago, Marilyn Monroe sang: “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Yesterday Sen stopped the trolls by joking, “I dig deeper than gold and have always preferred diamonds!” Progress? Definitely. For too long, romance has been represented in the media by picture-perfect couples like Ranbir Kapoor-Alia Bhatt culminating in an idyllic, happily ever after. It’s time to change that narrative, because love can take many forms, and emotions don’t fade or dry up with age. We are happy for those who have the courage to submit to the wonderfully intoxicating feeling of infatuation, however fleeting.
Writer is director, Hutkay Films