When I first came across a photograph of the actor Alia Bhatt dangling upside down from a hammock, her hands in the prayer gesture, her figure lithe and not a hair out of place, I sighed out loud and tut-tutted in my head. Bhatt had delivered a baby via Caesarean section less than two months earlier. The yogic feat she was capable of so soon after this major procedure was definitely not only the result of prior training but just as much the result of long-term capital privilege: the access to paid care and support that enabled recovery and rest that most postpartum mothers do not have access to, as well as the physical strength that comes from genes and the nourishing diet that being raised affluent and continuing to be so allows her.
So I’m not going to lie: I judged a little. I wondered if Bhatt was promoting body negativity by sharing the image online, even if the caption came with a cautionary line or two (“Listening to your body post delivery is key. Do NOT do anything your gut tells you not to”). I thought about how it might make others with newborns feel in comparison, and whether the aesthetic and fitness levels Bhatt presented were setting more unrealistic standards for post-childbirth life. Many celebrities before her had contributed to the same, after all.
Then I remembered that Bhatt herself has not only been privately judged, but also publicly criticised, from the moment she announced her pregnancy. To this day, there are rumours that she was pregnant at the time of her wedding to actor Ranbir Kapoor last year (so what?), fuelled not only by the date of Raha’s birth but also by ridiculous extrapolations such as a random photo of her not smiling for one second during the wedding. As a woman in cinema, she has never not been analysed (even right here). So when contextualised, what she was doing with that aerial yoga post was probably about taking her power back. She did it in a public way, certainly – but there’s little she can do otherwise.
There is pressure that we as the general public feel through the strange and shifting and often extremely strategic mixes of algorithmic trends, manufacturer-driven tactics, publicity-forward virality, and the complicity of celebrities, industries, our peers and ourselves. There is also pressure that people with influence experience, because of constant scrutiny and demand. Regardless of which category we are in, so much that we see, and much that we feel, are distorted by capitalistic aggression as well as by the natural play of human unfulfillment and desire.
Maybe Alia Bhatt did make some or many new parents feel lousy. Maybe she inspired a few. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but it does – we can’t help it, but neither can she. We’re all inside a system, buffeted by its forces. After all this pondering, I see the photo again and now it seems to suggest other things. Like the Hanging Man card of the tarot that says: be patient, pause. Or maybe something less philosophical, like a friendly nudge that says: hang in there, we’ll be okay.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in January 2023. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.