Monday, 23 October 2017

#MeToo



Hashtags are the new war-zones. For the past two weeks I have been interacting with the Press a lot due to promotional activities for an upcoming film. Nowadays actors get asked to comment on subjects they may know too little about, like the projected fourth quarter growth of our economy. But over the past five days my inbox has been flooded with questions about the #MeToo campaign or about the Harvey Weinsteins in B-town. Sadly, that’s something all girls would know about.

For a country where violence against the girl child starts in the womb, I am surprised at the number of people surprised at the enormity of the #MeToo campaign. Unless you have been in hibernation in the Himalayan caves for the past millennium, there’s no way you would not know that sexual assault- verbal or visual, and gender violence are the rites of passage for the average Indian girl. 

As children, we learn the ‘good and bad touch’ with first-hand experience unfortunately and not through a sex-education class. Sex education is a luxury in a country where education itself is a privilege. The disparity between the education, health and mortality ratio between men and women is huge. Again, what can one expect when the gender ratio itself is a 1000 men for every 940 of women in India, as per the 2011 census.

Rape is defined as ‘izzat lootna’ in Hindustani, or robbing one’s dignity. In whatever form one is assaulted, what do you think happens when prejudice like this exists in society - does it get easier or more difficult to report a gender crime? 

This piece is littered with trick questions. 

Each time we are outraged at a woman’s modesty being outraged, a slew of insensitive, irresponsible and downright moronic comments echo from all quarters of our political leadership. Governments change but the attitude doesn’t. Bhaktroll or Libtard, Right or Left, sexism is the one thing that unites our  leaders cutting across barriers of region, religion, caste and class. Why don’t we start a new party called United Sexist Front - a revolutionary re-imagining of governments and the opposition. Women can join it too and then everyone can watch porn in the Parliament with glee. 

“What was she wearing? Why was she out so late? What was she doing with a boy? She asked for it. Why didn’t she report it sooner? What took so long? Why didn’t she just request them not to? What did she expect?”
When our leaders ask these questions, the media plays them on a loop and people listen. 

Do folks that pose questions such as these ever read the paper? Do they know that infants are raped in India, as are grandmothers? Pre-teen girls are molested, as are women covered from head to toe in a burqa.  
We are afflicted with a sickness that’s a larger problem than patriarchy. A sickness borne out of perverse conditioning, struggle for power and viewing the woman as a thing to be abused and disposed. There exist tips on how to deal with ongoing rape. If this doesn’t reflect the horrific state of affairs, what does?

Here’s one for instance - they may let you live if you don't protest violently. Case in point ‘Nirbhaya’ whose intestines were pulled out of her body after a gangrape. To check, one would have to speak to rape survivors like the girl 5 year old girl with a slit throat left on the highway for dead. Or shall we ask the young girls hanging from a tree in U.P ? 

When someone does live to tell the tale, its their image that’s blurred and identity protected.  Not surprising, given the burden of shame society bestows. 

Why not shame the oppressor? Should he be behind bars or ever get a job again? Should he be allowed to function normally in society after paying off settlements? And again how about the very investigation of rape? In this prevalent culture of victim shaming, does it get easy or more painful to report a gender crime?

The navratras are a special time in the culture of our great country. Navratras also bring with them, the glorious garba in Gujarat and the Durga Pujo in Bengal.  It is a sacred time when the Goddess is worshipped all over the country, in myriad forms and traditions. 
Growing up in Delhi, I have fond memories of ‘kanjakein’ or Ashtami. It’s a day when pre-pubescent girls are worshipped symbolically as Goddess Laxmi. I would cherish this day, awaiting the vast number of pencil boxes with 5-Star chocolates inside, hairbands and other knick-knacks that I’d receive along some great food from neighbours and relatives. Coins would jingle in our pockets as we sprinted home. The navratras make me feel proud of belonging to a tradition that acknowledges, reveres, worships and in fact CELEBRATES the feminine. 
I was raised to feel equal, even special on some days. Then I grew up.

This year the onset of navratras was marked by women protesting sexual harassment in the BHU campus. (Just like girls in Haryana who said they couldn't walk to school because they were harassed everyday, which explains the dropout rate). The protests turned violent, there was arson, the VC blamed the women who were beaten and a thousand have FIRs to their name.

The BHU issue was politicised , as I am sure some will this blog, as is practically all else these days including songs, students, movies, academicians, the army, language, awards, monuments, currency, cricket, tax, TV journalists-that-are-closet-actors, food, and even colour. 
Mera orange, tera kya?

Are you a #Hindu? Did you pray to your Devi Ma these navratras? How are you not offended by atrocities committed every minute against women?

The denial of the ‘feminine’  could cost us our progeny. The mother gives life. Mother Earth, Mother Nature…et al.  What have we done to it? Food for thought. 



Women in fact have to face a double whammy and become targets of the worst caste and religious atrocities. What’s a few gang rapes when it comes to settling scores?
We live in a nation where women have to fight- to be born, then educated, then marry when and who they want, to have children or not to in most cases, while doing almost all of the house-work. Women work post-marriage if they are ‘allowed’ to by their in-laws and husbands. Women who work outside the home have to carefully decide what they will wear keeping in mind their occupation, (traditional  and covered options safest), mode of transport (public transport means avoid sleeveless, wear higher necklines, longer bottoms unless you want to be asking for it…actually whatever you wear, you are asking for it) and what time they will return home (always preferably before sunset). Private transport? You can be followed or worse. 

These observations are specific to class, but virtually every decision taken by the woman is dependent on the male.
Hell, I’d like to be born a man to simply feel free of all this cumbersome responsibility. I could say, do and be whatever I want. I could take a bike ride late in the night without being a bait, stand and smoke under a tree with my buddies, loiter and laugh loudly, even pee in the open, use cuss words with abandon, walk tall without a book across my chest, man-spread, be whatever version of myself I want to be. 
Boys will be boys. Cute. 
When will they grow up? What happens if they never do?

If half of the population is hugely disadvantaged one way or another, how will India EVER be a superpower? 
Are you an #Indian? How are you not worried?

Dear all, don’t blame ‘Bollywood’. That is too simplistic a deduction. In the Mahabharata, Draupadi was traded as property in gambling and Goddess Sita was abducted by another man in the Ramayana, (assuming you think of mythology and history in the same way), which was before the advent of films. ‘Bollywood’ hasn't invented rape, torture, stalking and assault. This also happens in countries where there is no film industry. ‘Bollywood’ is not blame-less either. Films reflect the reality of society and also shape popular culture. But my colleagues are taking charge of the narrative. Our content is evolving a little every year which is more than what I can say for most.

Don't say I have a film releasing in a week, hence this is for publicity. The people this blog will resonate with are hardly a first-day-first-show kind. 
Also, it would only serve to highlight the point I put across. Misogyny is to society what nitrogen dioxide is to the air we breathe - no matter what we do, we ingest a little.

Don't say I omit my privilege. It’s from that vantage point that I use my voice to reflect. (But also, how can one know conclusively of another’s life and struggle ?)

Don't say ‘ghar pe ma-behen nahi hai kya’. Don't say change is necessary because you have a daughter to raise. Don't exclude your complicity. Don't absolve your responsibility. Don’t ask women to share their horror stories so some experience them vicariously. Don’t do it for female relatives, mothers, sisters and friends. Do it for you. Because the survival of the species depends on both the male and the female. Because in the end we all belong to each other. 

Dear Fourth Estate, if you truly care, encourage and create a safe atmosphere where open discussion is possible, where people can share their experiences with dignity and without being judged. Please don't jump on to a trending topic. For every woman who speaks up, there’s several that don’t or can’t. You’d be doing all of society a huge favour. 

Dear legislative bodies, please check for rapists in your midst?

Dear Judiciary, marital rape is rape. And victims shouldn’t be asked to marry their rapists. Also, please hurry. A woman is raped every twenty minutes in this country, and that’s just those that have the courage and means to report the crime.

In addition to the omnipresent everyday sexism, experiencing first-hand sexual assault is the tax women have had to pay for centuries to live in India. 

Should it be this way? Shouldn’t we all be ashamed?

I agree with #NOTALLMEN. Surely, not all men are the problem here, many are part of the solution. That’s what keeps the world going. There are patriarchal women that participate in their own subjugation and feminist men who point it out.
Not all men, but #ALLWOMEN I know have experienced gender violence or molestation one way or another. This shouldn’t it be the only way of life women know. 
Are you human and hence born from a woman? How are you not embarrassed ?

This is not a problem, it’s an unfolding tragedy and an everlasting nightmare. 


Hope we heal. 





Monday, 14 September 2015

Cancer

Cancer
After finishing my education, I moved to Mumbai to pursue my dreams of becoming an actor. I still am in pursuit of that happiness, though I am grateful. I have made several close friends in Mumbai, of which one was a boy called Rupinder Inderjit Singh. A spirited young cut-surd from a village in Punjab, Rupi moved to Mumbai to write Hindi feature films. He had a peculiar penchant for desi humour, and binged on chocolate every second day. He was perpetually on a diet to shed the extra kilos. So when he unexpectedly and suddenly lost a lot of weight a few years ago, he was thrilled. And so was I. Only, he started experiencing excruciating pain in his stomach. We egged him to at least go see a doctor, instead of popping painkillers. The doctor recommended an MRI and, as you can probably guess, also owing to the occasion, no surprise that his kidney had a malignant tumour. It was a shock, to discover that one of our own, a non-smoker and a teetotaller, had developed cancer. At 24, we were all broke, ill-advised and helpless.
Cancer, and what happens once you realise you or a loved one have it, is not what I am going to focus on here. The fact that cancer is growing at an alarming rate, though, is a cause of concern. The high level of toxicity in our bodies and minds is what is causing cancer to become a monster. It's the gas in our deodorants, and the smoke of our cigarettes, the teflon coating of our non stick pans, and the stuffing in our sofa, the pesticide in our apple and the detergent in our milk, the toxins in our colon and the gutka in our cheek, it's the guilt we harbour about sex and the unclean toilets we use, it's a nuclear power plant and lead in our water, it's the radiation from your cell phone and the stress in our system. Its all of the above, or maybe none. But really, it can happen to anyone and at anytime. Truth is, this is one unhappy return gift of the post industrialised developing society. What can we possibly do?
Let's look at some basic facts. Women are more prone to it than men. Breast cancer has the largest share of them all. Oral cancers caused due to tobacco are more common among men.
I am a firm believer in naturopathy and Ayurveda. I do believe there will come a day when people start evaluating the root cause of a disease in order to eliminate it - when we begin to give our ancient wisdom the respect it deserves in this "modernised" society and not wait for a nod from the west, when we treat and respect our body as a self-healing instrument of magic. And that day isn't far.
Yuvraj Singh, Lisa Ray, Manisha Koirala and Lance Armstrong amongst others have spoken publicly about their battle with cancer. They have been celebrated for the same. They are all beautiful and brave. What cancer brings with it, is difficult. And it takes great courage to fight the disease, because the enemy is within. Your beauty lies in your smile, in your eyes, as much in your glorious skinhead as in your lustrous hair.
In my opinion, one should immediately run from people that make you feel like you have a suspended death sentence once they discover that you have cancer. Don't we all begin to die a little bit every day, as soon as we are born? Do we need people to pity, patronise or terrorise us about possible fatal consequences ? Research has shown that a positive and peaceful attitude towards one's disease helps combat it effectively. But if you are here, you already know that. Can a disease not be looked at as dis-ease, but simply a body that's ill at ease? Can it not mean that one has a real shot at starting over? At adopting a lifestyle and emotional attitude that supports life and well-being? If we were not created to experience everything that we do in all its entirety, what really is the purpose of us on this planet? Is life about the pursuit of happiness or really the happiness of pursuit? The world I know is one of films. Hrishikesh Mukherjee made the cult film Anand in 1971. In the climax, Rajesh Khanna dies in the arms of his friend, and in that teaches him what a gift life really is. Anand means joy. Lets take a cue from that and live each day celebrating what it truly means to be alive.
Oh! And I had breakfast with Rupi yesterday. I ate an egg white omelette. He had nutella pancakes...

Sunday, 6 July 2014

SWEDEN


Disclaimer: this post may sound partly like a travel blog. 






Memories are a strange thing. Like life.  When you are living them, that's all you care about- the current, the necessary. Afterwards, they fade away, like old ATM receipts. 
So I decided write about Sweden before the wonderful details entirely fade from memory. It's been several months but almost everyday, I miss the country. 
:-) 


Although I am about nine films old now, the first film of mine to be shot almost entirely overseas for a long haul picked Sweden. A welcome respite from all the dark, tedious, rustic and village roles I have done so far... (hope the audience doesn't feel the same way).

Sweden is a Scandic nation, which to my mind, embodies the best of Europe.
We made the port city of Malmo, in the south of the country, our base camp for the filming.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Raseela


It was March 2012. Due to excessive drenching and debauchery on Holi, I had invited a viral fever. A really persistent casting director called and woke me up one noon. A not-so-big part in a huge film beckoned. The reference was a performer who could look like the late Smita Patil, specifically her from Mirch Masala. 

Initially ignorant and disinterested, I tried to convince her that I wouldn't be able to do much since I was sick and purple-eared from Holi.  Yet, there I was, an hour later, sans make up, waiting in a nondescript Aram Nagar studio with a tissue held to a running nose. 

There was to be a look-test. Basically, specific costume and make up was put to be put on to check if you looked the part or not. But this one was unusual. Unlike other places, my complexion was largely celebrated, in fact I  wasn't made pale at all. 
 While I waited, I scanned the competition. Reknowned  TV actors, models and a few Veejay type of girls filled the room,looking freshly sun-kissed. This was a few months before Gangs of Wasseypur released, and I was at best, just another wannabe-actor in the burbs. It was permissible for me to peer anonymously.
I looked on curiously at how a simple look-test was carried out with so much attention to detail. A reference folder was brought out to determine how the character would wear the jewellery and tattoos. The costume was authentic and beautiful. Assistants scurried about the room to shoot the ready actors from different angles. It reeked of perfection. 

It was done. And that was that. 

A few months later I signed the film, the first time ever without reading the script or knowing "screen-time". It was a powerful yet supporting role. The director was an 'auteur'. Everybody and their mother, from within the industry or outside, wanted a chance to feature in a single mis-en-scen he created. A multi-multi award winner,he was reserved,yet always spoken of,revered and often-imitated. 
Genius. 
The first day on set was my first day on a set. Previously, all the filmmakers I had worked with mostly shot at real locations. The locations were obviously tweaked for the narrative but this was a little piece of life constructed and created solely for the purpose of story telling.
Each day of shoot reminded me that I knew nothing and there were miles to go. And humility is a tremendous feeling. A year passed during the shoot and I still felt that the next time around,I would  improve on aspect x or y. 
...
In less than five days,the film will release. It shall be my first proper- mainstream outing. I will at best, be remembered as a satellite for this one. A memorable, luminous satellite. Am often asked if that upsets me. 
Hell no! 
The journey is the destination and I don't even have a map... 
It's not how I will be remembered, it is that I shall always remember of this.

:-)k

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Jiah

For Jiah

When we're 16 or 18, there's a certain plan we have for our  lives. Its an innocent timeline, reflecting our ambition, notion of self-worth and deep-seated desires. Mine perhaps read like this... Degree at 20, first job at 22, world fame at 25,first mansion at 28, private jet at 30, married to an awesome person with the face of Barbie's Ken and Salman Rushdie's intellect at 31.  

Unfortunately life doesn't work on our time-table. Perhaps free-will is debatable, perhaps an Entity or God pulls the strings, perhaps life is a dream that we have in a deep-divine slumber. 

Basically, there occurs what I have come to understand as, a quarter life crisis. And when one places ones young self in the tumultuous context of the film industry it gets even worse.
An actor faces more rejection in a single day than most people do in the course of an entire year. It could be our nose, body weight, sense of style, the car we drive, the accent we have, the texture of the hair, whether we giggle too much or seem too approachable or aloof or the people we work with. There is a mask of diplomacy and an exterior one creates to defend ourselves or our perception. 

And there is the hopeless loneliness of the 20s. Friends  assume that one would  change after success, and detach. Relationships get harder to keep. Relative anonymity gives way to being always being seen and heard. Theres no dearth of alcohol ready 'buddies' or fake 4 am friends or booty calls. If for some reason,your bond with family or loved ones is weak,there's trouble. Theres now-or-never adage at play when it come to careers. A constant race of some sort is always on. The mind is active, even as one sleeps. It's a world where we're all victims of victims, and one that's seductive and destructive at the same time.  

 We were in Jalandhar promoting a film, when post midnight, while checking twitter trends someone read out this devastating piece of news. 
Jiah's  departure stunned me. 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Africa


A lot has happened since I blogged last...  a few films, a massive feminist movement in Delhi post the rape of Jyoti, new friends found while old ones moved on,new relationships, new lessons in patience, new losses, new skills acquired and  a life changing award.

Much to be grateful for. 
(life in pictures will be posted in the next blog... The current-one is going to be disjointed, I can feel it. Getting the groove back will take a bit of time )

While my laptop has about seven unfinished passionate blog-buds that never flowered, my mind has a hundred.
 My teacher at Adishakti in Pondicherry, Vinay, had once said that the mind is often hyperactive during travel.  So here, after about a total of 16 hours of travel, 10 of which were in air, then first momentous blog post has bloomed...in Durban, South Africa.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

It's time- Gangs of Wasseypur

  If life was 'American Beauty' everything would flash past my eyes right now.  Only I am not dying.  I have been awake twenty hours and worked happily through those. But sleep eludes me.  It's 4.08am on the 22nd of June, 2012.    A very reliable and intellectual friend of mine suggested that I write a blog before the big day, "because life is going to change in a major way."  For the last many weeks, this film has been the only thing on my mind. Before that, it was always on the back of my mind. Every single day,in one way or another, it presented itself to me.  And since August 2010, it's been somewhere in the container of my body. Always. In a few hours the first show will happen. In less than 24 hours, it will be lauded ,dismissed or tolerated. I just got back from a screening and I think that in all likelihood the first option seems the most plausible. And I am not being optimistic,just observant. What if it's not enough? Not everyone loves everything? What if it's not understood? What if.....? What if? What if? This is endless. Scenes from the recent past emerge. The anxious first day of the shoot,the Hotel-Motel-less town of Obra,Sardar Khan,breakdown scenes,Nagma,tiff with colleague,reel-love,Ok international Hotel in Varanasi, Varanasi,Varanasi,Varanasi,Ganga,Filr cafe,cow,prosthetics,crowd,pack up,tears,Mumbai,the wait,Luv Shuv..., casting,banners, Cannes premiere, Croisette, Maggie Lee, promotions, small town,big town,flash lights, live interviews, newspapers, clothes,flights, Anurag Kashyap. Anurag Kashyap :-) I wish I could project straight from my brain on to the screen what is flashing past my eyes.  My mother patiently dropping me to Kathak classes, my first play, brother, attention seeking behaviour at a knee-high age, Father, mimicking teachers to hone skills,the Shivalik world of Delhi shoots,sweeping the Prithvi theatre stage, Barry John, Saurab Sachdeva and watching a houseful screening at PVR Juhu, 11pm. You don't have to be dead to watch your life in rewind mode. If you are nervous, it does anyway. Goodnight. Good morning maybe? It's 440 am already. The Gods must be waking up for the day. Time to say a little prayer and disappear.  Like an Olympic runner works four years for an 11 second 100 meter race, the fact the a new future is hours away dawns on me. We're Olympic runners.  It's time. And I think it's on our side.