Bollywood actress nidhhi agerwal

Nidhhi Agerwal.

by Awanthi Vardaraj

Let’s be honest: Sexist double standards have plagued women since time immemorial. Whether we’re banging on that glass ceiling, fighting for equal pay or demanding equal opportunities — or simply wondering why we’re slut-shamed for dating more than one man in a three-month period (even though, when men do exactly the same thing, we’re told they’re just “boys being boys” or that they will “play the field” or even that they’re “legends”) — we’re up against these double standards everywhere: personally, professionally and everywhere in between.

So, yes, as usual, it seems to be that there’s one rule for women, and one other vastly different rule for men.

However, when a 23-year-old actress is made to sign a “no-dating clause” as part of her contract, but her male co-star doesn’t have to, that seems to be taking sexist double standards to a whole other level. Because that’s precisely what Nidhhi Agerwal has had to do. The 23-year old model is breaking into Indian cinema (Bollywood) with Munna Michael, opposite Tiger Shroff — and she found herself reading a contract that stipulated, very clearly, that she wasn’t allowed to date.

Bollywood actor tiger shroff

Tiger Shroff.

The contract doesn’t just specify that she can’t date her professional colleagues from the film; it extends to her personal life as well.

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While Nidhhi seems to be taking the diplomatic route, insisting that she doesn’t “really have a problem” and that she doesn’t “have a life beyond work,” the producer of the film, Viki Rajani, justifies the entire fiasco with this:

“Tiger is already a star, while this is Niddhi’s launch film. She is a bright girl and we don’t want her to get distracted. Sabbir (Khan, director) and I have seen real potential in her and this will do her good.” He further makes it worse by adding, “It’s not like we made her sign [the contract] at gunpoint. She agreed to it.”

While this isn’t the first time Indian television and movie stars have been made to sign no-dating clauses, this is the first time the clause has been applied to the female lead only. Trying to pretend that it’s for the good of the actress only makes it worse, because what the producer and the director appear to be doing is curtailing and controlling the actions of an adult who should have the freedom to make her own decisions.

Referring to her as a “girl” reduces her, as does the entire clause. As for not forcing Nidhhi to sign the clause, we all know that’s utter rubbish. An aspiring actress will sign almost anything to break into mainstream cinema, especially opposite a seasoned star like Tiger Shroff.

It may not have literally been at gunpoint, but let’s not pretend that Nidhhi Agerwal actually had a choice; she didn’t. She had to choose between her personal freedom and her career, and she chose her career. She isn’t the first woman faced with such an impossible choice, and as long as these double standards continue, she won’t be the last.

Awanthi Vardaraj lives and writes in the port city of Chennai, in the south of India, where she runs her own small artisanal bakery, and keeps a garden full of jasmine plants and herbs she still cannot name. As a freelance writer, she focuses on food, food history, feminism, mental health, and poverty, and nurtures a deep love for the Oxford comma and the semi-colon. Find her on her website or Twitter