After courting controversy for starring in a biopic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi smack in the middle of election season, Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi finds himself in hot water again. In a now deleted tweet, Oberoi compared Aishwarya Rai’s relationships to opinion and exit polls, and final election results. Oberoi and Rai were rumoured to be dating in the early 2000s.
Oberoi credited the meme to Twitter user @pavansingh1985, who likened Salman Khan and Rai’s relationship to an “opinion poll”, Oberoi and her’s to an “exit poll”, and her marriage to Abhishek Bachchan and the birth of her daughter Aaradhya to the “result”.
The original tweet has been retweeted over 250 times and ‘liked’ over 1,600 times.
Oberoi reposted the meme on his own account saying, “Haha! Creative! No politics here….just life Credits: @pavansingh1985”.
However, after being slammed for supporting an insensitive and sexist joke, Oberoi apologised on Twitter in a series of tweets and deleted the reposted meme. His apology was mostly well received.
He said, “Sometimes what appear to be funny and harmless at first glance to one, may not be so to others. I have spent the last 10 years empowering more than 2000 underprivileged girls, I can’t even think of being disrespectful to any woman ever… Even if one woman is offended by my reply to the meme, it calls for remedial action. Apologies tweet deleted.”
However, Oberoi told ANI that he believes he’s done nothing wrong.
“I have no problem in apologising, but tell me what wrong have I done? If I have done something wrong I will apologise, I don’t think I have done anything wrong,” he said.
Brickbats on Twitter
Twitter users in India made no bones about expressing their dislike and distaste towards Oberoi posting the meme. Critics said Oberoi was shaming Rai for having multiple partners and capitalising on her romantic past for a political joke.
The National Commission for Women (NCW) also issued a notice to Oberoi asking for an explanation. NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma took to Twitter to condemn Oberoi, saying his joke degrades Rai.
Even celebrities and well-known personalities concurred.
Sonam Kapoor tweeted “Disgusting and classless” after Nidhi Razdan responded to Oberoi saying, “Distasteful. Move on Mr. Oberoi”.
Oberoi took a shot at Kapoor saying, “Stop overacting in your films and stop overreacting on social media”.
Journalist Rana Ayyub and badminton star Jwala Gutta also agreed that Oberoi’s joke was in poor taste. Male public figures, namely film critic Rohit Jaiswal and comedian Papa CJ came to Rai’s defence and asked Oberoi to delete the tweet, as well.
Papa CJ said, “Best delete this @viviekoberoi. It may not have occurred to you at the time of posting but you posting this is in poor taste.”
After his apology, most people appreciated his words and thanked him for admitting to a mistake. However, some, like comedian Atul Khatri, said Oberoi only backtracked after the heavy criticism to avoid more negative publicity around the Modi biopic.
Supporters of Oberoi and the meme began making similar formats with other female public figures, namely Sonam Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif, and even Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi.
Why Vivek Oberoi’s poll meme is problematic
Rai has not publicly confirmed her relationships with either Khan or Oberoi, but the entertainment media has widely speculated that she was involved with both in a love triangle of sorts around 2003.
Celebrities, especially women, tend to be tight-lipped about their private lives, because it invites online trolling and bullying. So, one issue is Oberoi seeming to confirm both, his and Khan’s relationship with Rai without asking for her explicit permission before doing so.
Also, Rai’s connections with Oberoi and Khan reportedly ended bitterly. Khan was allegedly violent towards her and their fallout made national headlines.
India Today reports that, in 2001, eyewitnesses place Khan at her apartment, banging on her door till his hands bled, demanding to be let in. He apparently threatened suicide and created a ruckus until 3 am, when she finally allowed him inside.
In an interview in 2002, after Rai called it quits with Khan, she said he had turned physically violent with her and had a drinking problem.
“He would call me and talk rubbish. He also suspected that I was having affairs with my co-stars. There were times when Salman got physical with me, luckily without leaving any marks, and I would go to work as if nothing happened,” she said.
Khan denied the allegations. In conversation with NDTV, he said that had he hit Aishwarya, his strength would have killed her, implying that her being alive is proof she was unharmed.
“If I hit somebody… I’m going to be angry, I’m going to give it my best shot… I don’t think she’d survive it,” he’d said.
Hence, Oberoi’s reposting of the meme also makes light of Rai’s allegedly dangerous and harmful relationship with Khan.
Another problematic aspect is Oberoi endorsing the narrative that Rai’s relationships can be reduced to jokes and likened to hot button topics like election polls. Moreover, the meme shows three of her partners and harps on her multiple romantic link-ups—something that Indian women are especially slut-shamed for.
Amidst all the chaos surrounding Oberoi, Rai graced the red carpet at Cannes, where she makes an annual appearance. After winning the Miss World title in 1994, she has become one of the world’s most recognised faces and beloved public figures.
She walked the carpet with her daughter, Aaradhya. Rai also saw success in 2016 with her films Ae Dil Hai Muskil and Sarbjit and in 2018 with Fanney Khan.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.