Who loves a bit of gossip? Or should I ask who doesn’t? Let me re-phrase. Who loves some verbal mudslinging like the one Priyanka Chopra recently engaged in against Mallika Sherawat?

Well, Mallika, who described herself as a “fallen woman,” found herself in a spot when she called India what it is — regressive for women — on a global platform. And Bollywood’s leading lady decided to play the knight in shining armour to save the country from disgrace and declared she was “very offended” with the comment.

Mallika, of course, managed to do what she does best — generate controversy. And jumping on to the bandwagon in Priyanka’s footsteps other leading lights of Indian society, such as Sherlyn Chopra and Poonam Pandey (whose credentials are…what exactly?) also managed to pick a few rocks to throw at the ‘villainous’ Mallika.

But what, exactly, was the problem with Mallika’s statement that elicited such chauvinistic patriotism in so many?

Following the statements, part of an interview given by Mallika to an international magazine, many “news” reports derided the lady in a number of ways, such as her fake accent, fake…ummm…anatomical parts, for being dumb etc. But none of that actually explains the extreme discomfort the country felt.

Mallika shot to fame for bold movies, scanty clothes, and unapologetic sexuality, or for marrying the vamp and heroine roles — an extremely uncomfortable space for mainstream Bollywood, where women have traditionally defined functions as either the sweet as sugar, ‘morally’ pure girl with almost no ounce of sexual freedom or the opposite — the wayward, sexually promiscuous, tainted seductress.

Mallika was right. She immediately became a superstar and a fallen woman because India is, indeed, regressive. It can drool over bikini-clad (or unclad) women in the confines of the bedroom. But in public space it has to disparage the same women for being giri hui, or fallen (as Mallika said) or ones who have no morality.

Forget about real, live women in bikini, such is the moral construct that even the lingerie-clad mannequins have started appearing giri hui and dress code is soon to be applied to them. Strange, given the hundreds of years-old beautiful sculptures of ours Gods and Goddesses, which celebrated the human body in its natural form and hint at a much more liberal attitude towards sex and sexuality.

Mallika’s flawed English may not have stood the test of our convent-educated journalists and she may have over-compensated with a newly acquired accent. The fact that she said something to the effect that the lead character of her upcoming movie was “kind of” raped and molested is sad, more than reprehensible. Our generation seems to be strangely afflicted with language killers such as 'kind of', 'like' and 'you know'. In fact, much of the valid media attacks on her have been based on such language slips than the social points she made, though the offensive was obviously motivated by the fact that she dared to call a spade a spade on an international platform like Cannes.

But why does someone like Mallika Sherawat become an easy target? Exactly because of what she said — she is seen as a fallen woman who has, more or less, been disowned by her own film fraternity and even family.The film star, who hails from Haryana, one of the worst states in India as far as the status of women is concerned, is probably best suited to make the statements she did. She may not be a gifted actress, but she is right. Let us, at least, have the courage to accept that.

She may not be a women’s rights activist, an academician or an intellectual, but the people of a country who fought the State — water cannons, lathis and all — should know what the status of women here really is.

And as for Priyanka Chopra, who got where she is for something that could be argued to be the ultimate fight and victory against feminism — a beauty contest — and who is the UNICEF goodwill ambassador should know the reality. Not so far back she had herself said, about her work with UNICEF, “I hope I help create an environment where girls could be safe. With UNICEF, we are trying to create actual physical environment for girls where they could be safe.”

Her opposition to Mallika and her will to make India safer for women seem to be in sharp contrast. Where does your heart lie, Ms Chopra?