Actress Deepika Padukone at the launch of the `NDTV Fortis Health4U` campaign in Mumbai on September 12, 2014. Image Credit: IANS

Dubai: Top Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone’s outrage at a leading Indian daily for publishing a tawdry web gallery of pictures of her sparked an India-wide show of support on social media on Monday, with her film industry peers leading the campaign.

#IStandWithDeepikaPadukone became a trending topic after the award-winning actress sent out three tweets on Sunday night rebuking the Times of India for a photo gallery that focused on her cleavage, as well as that of Bollywood actresses Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Anushka Sharma and Kangna Ranaut.

“YES!I am a Woman.I have breasts AND a cleavage! You got a problem!!??,” tweeted Padukone.

She also posted a screen grab of the gallery and tweeted: “Supposedly India’s ‘LEADING’ newspaper and this is ‘NEWS’!!??” and “Dont talk about Woman’s Empowerment when YOU don’t know how to RESPECT Women!,” [sic].

On Sunday, the daily tweeted a photo taken last year with a link to its online photo gallery and caption: “OMG: Deepika Padukone’s cleavage show”. To further compound problems, the daily put out a tweet following the outrage, urging Padukone to consider the gallery a compliment: “@deepikapadukone, It’s a compliment! You look so great that we want to make sure everyone knew! :)”.

The Lunchbox actress Nimrat Kaur hit out directly at the TOI Entertainment team by tweeting: “Dear @TOIEntertain...with this ‘compliment’ , I shudder to think who this ‘everyone’ is you’re reaching out to ?”

The white Anarkali dress Padukone is wearing in the video, from which stills for the gallery appear to have been taken, isn’t particularly revealing. But the footage used by the Times comes from a YouTube channel that specialises in sleazy videos of actress’ bodies, and the video appears to be purposefully seeking a shot of her chest, as it’s filmed from above with her face barely in focus.

The newspaper has since removed the original tweet about Padukone’s dress, which she wore to a film launch last year. When contacted, Times of India said they would not be commenting “at this time”.

Padukone, who appeared yesterday at the music launch of Happy New Year, her upcoming Diwali blockbuster with Shah Rukh Khan, did not comment either. Her secretary told Gulf News the actress had said what she wanted to on Twitter.

Speaking at the music launch, Shah Rukh told reporters that what Padukone said “was wonderful”:

“We don’t have the guts to do what she has done, but we believe in it and we support it,” the Bollywood superstar said. “What she did was fantastic and it would be stupid of us to talk about that. All of us have to stand by her… but we should not trivialise it.”

With women celebrities being regularly objectified by segments of the media, sleaze websites and hackers, Padukone’s outburst has brought back fresh focus on media ethics and morality. “This is not something new to the world of media. There’s always that ‘yellow journalism’ that thrives on sensational news about celebrities,” Dr Mohammad Ayish, head of mass communications department at the American University of Sharjah, told Gulf News yesterday.

“I am sure Times of India has one of the best ethical codes in the world. But at the end of the day it’s not about theory, it’s about what you apply in real-life situations. We are not short of ideas and standards, we are short of belief in how important it is to apply these ideas,” he said.

Reacting to the controversy, Bollywood producer-director Karan Johar was “appalled....shocked and disgusted at the level of disrespect shown… Deepika or any women in the world cannot and should not stand for this!!”.

Padukone’s Happy New Year director Farah Khan tweeted: “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. @deepikapadukone doing just that!! (N THATS how u pay a compliment).”

On the morality behind the controversial gallery, Ayish of the American University of Sharjah said: “Ethics is ethics, regardless of whether it is applied online or in print…virtual space is becoming part of our lives, as important as physical space. We need to configure this back. Many people spend a lot of their time online, which means that their communications and interactions and relations are part of the virtual world. We have to think about the implications of this. What applies in the physical world must apply in the virtual world.”

Padukone isn’t the first India celebrity to take on the media for publishing objectionable photos. Last year, actress Katrina Kaif wrote an indignant letter after paparazzi photographs of her on a Spanish beach with actor Ranbir Kapoor were printed by several news outlets.

Nonetheless, some also questioned the timing of Padukone’s furore, with her Finding Fanny running in cinemas now and Happy New Year well on its promotional path.

“Yes #IStandWithDeepikaPadukone but why do I get a feeling that this was a publicity stunt..may be its the timing #FindingFanny ??” tweeted Jyoti Shelar.

Some mentioned the fact that Finding Fanny has had a slow burn at cinemas since its release on Friday in India (it released in the UAE on Thursday) — although the low-budget film directed by Homi Adjania wasn’t expected to draw in the crowds, even with the presence of Padukone, whose most recent films have broken the fabled 100-crore barrier at the box office.

With inputs from Natalie Long, tabloid! Editor