Mumbai: One of India’s most-loved beauty queens has recently been in the eye of a social media storm. Ms. Sen was the first Indian winner of the Miss Universe pageant in 1994 and a successful Bollywood actress.
The 46-year-old starred in around three dozen films. She recently played the lead in a popular and highly-acclaimed web series, Aarya.
Smart, witty, and intelligent, Ms. Sen has won several prestigious cinema awards. She is considered the poster girl for a “woman of substance.”
Some people forgot all her achievements when Lalit Modi – a 58-year-old businessman, announced he was in a relationship with Ms. Sen.
This opened a floodgate of crass and misogynistic jokes. Lalit Modi is the founder of IPL, the Indian Premier League, the world’s richest cricket competition.
Modi, a public personality, is the architect of the wildly successful IPL. Modi made headlines a decade ago after India’s cricket board accused him of financial irregularities and suspended him.
Mr. Modi has always denied the allegations against him and has lived in London since. Modi shared romantic photographs of their recent vacations in the Maldives and the Italian island of Sardinia.
He described Ms. Sen as his “better half” that set off marriage rumors and edited it to read “my better-looking partner.”
Modi, who lost his wife to cancer a few years back, described his relationship with Ms. Sen as “a new beginning, a new life finally.” He didn’t fail to mention he was “over the moon.”
The post went viral immediately and was carried by news websites, bringing in congratulatory messages and trolls.
The trolls came in droves – highlighting their age gap, criticizing Modi for his looks, calling him a “fugitive.” Some even mocked him for tagging Ms. Sen incorrectly on Twitter.
But the actress got the nastiest commentary, many calling her “greedy” and a “gold digger.”
The often criticized Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin made the nastiest comments. She wondered why Ms. Sen spent time with “a very unattractive person.”
Namita Bhandare, author and gender editor for Article 14, a news website, said, “This sort of commentary is very problematic.”
“What happens between consenting adults is no one else’s business. It’s also bad news for women as it shows how easy it is to heap indignities on women and point fingers at them.”
The relationship’s attention was not entirely unexpected, considering Ms. Sen is a celebrity whose fans and the press track every move.
Ms. Susmita Sen has often made news for her “unconventional” choices. At 24, she adopted a daughter as a single mother and another a few years later.
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The first adoption was just a few years after winning the Miss Universe Crown. Ms. Sen regularly posts pictures of her daughters.
Ms. Sen has never hidden her relationships; she has recently dated fellow model Rohman Shawl. The couple announced their break-up in 2021.
However, as Ms. Bhandare points out, news of her relationships was restricted to tabloids and gossip columns. Modi could not have anticipated the interest in their relationship in India would develop.
“His tweet on Thursday night set the ball rolling. But he’s been leading a quiet life in London, and all the attention has been on her. Everyone is talking about her.”
Ms. Sen has also gotten a lot of support on social media. Many people pointed out that in the past, she dated men with little money and that no one called these men gold-diggers.
But with the undue scrutiny and comments about their relationship continuing – memes and jokes question her motives. This ridiculous commentary is shared not just on social media but also on WhatsApp.
Ms. Sen responded with an Instagram post on Sunday night.
“It breaks my heart to see just how miserable & unhappy the world around us is becoming,” she said.
“The friends I’ve never had & the acquaintances I’ll never meet…. all sharing their grand opinions & deep knowledge of my life & character.”
To those who claim that Ms. Sen was dating Mr. Modi for his money, the actress once endorsed a line of diamond jewelry and is worth an estimated $10m herself, a response to the accusations.
The response has won much applause and appreciation in India.
“All these WhatsApp jokes and the comments are disgusting, and they’re perpetuating the traditional notion that it’s okay to make fun of women,” Ms. Bhandare says.
“But she has responded with so much grace and maturity. She has sent love to those who’ve supported her and wished well to those who don’t.”