I was groped at the airport during Prem Ratan Dhan Payo: Swara Bhaskar – Swara Bhaskar on the issues women face in society today, feminism and its misuse…
Swara Bhaskar’s last release — Anarkaali of Aarah — saw her playing a victim of sexual abuse and violence, who finally takes revenge. It’s just a reflection of the society we live in, albeit that it’s not any film and everyone doesn’t have the courage to fight it out, thanks to the societal pressure. In this interview, Swara speaks about the different issues that plague society, especially Indian women today, explains her take on feminism and how people misuse it as well. Over to her…
You played a woman who’s sexually abused in your last film. Have you ever faced something like that?
You tell me who hasn’t been? It is somehow a rite of passage for a passenger in India to be molested. People actually chat about the first time they were molested. Usually, all girls have faced molestation by the time they are around 14-15. That’s how dangerous our society is. I don’t believe you can grow up in any part of the world, and especially in India, without ever being molested by a man. It is not possible. I have been molested. Interestingly, I have been molested and eve-teased in Mumbai as much as I have had to deal with it in Delhi.
The biggest challenge for a woman in a society where you have to be ashamed for what has happened to you, is to fight your impulse. I have done that, I have fought my impulses to make myself react. I have been groped during Prem Ratan Dhan Payo when we landed at Rajkot. I was travelling with Salman Sir and nobody realised, but there were around 2,000 people at the airport to see him. Despite the fact there was security, people got in and it was Anupam Kher who made sure I got into the car. It was crazy. As a female artiste, you know the feeling of being vulnerable in front of a crowd, which is why I connected with my character Anaarkali. You know that when we were shooting the Holi scene in Ranjhanaa, the production has put five boys from the AD team around us in that get-up, to protect us from the rest of the crowd.
Have you ever hit anybody?
Yes, lots of times! The first time, I slapped a guy for pinching me in Old Delhi. There used to be a Sunday book bazaar there, so I caught hold of the guy. These people don’t expect women to react which is why it’s all the more important for women to react. Because the whole mentality of a molester, groper and an eve-teaser is the anonymity and the confidence that the girl won’t react. The moment you instill that fear in their head that the girl may react and she can beat the s**t out of them, they tend to stay away. I have hit people in Delhi, Chennai and sometimes, I have chased people. I have beaten someone with my umbrella in Mumbai. I was in a train alone — this was my first year in Mumbai — going somewhere to collect a cheque. I was in the first-class compartment and it was in the late afternoon so it was empty. A drug addict got in and when I turned around, I see this man masturbating. For one second, I was scared. It took me a second to realise what was going on, I started yelling at him, and beating him with the umbrella. I tried to catch hold of his collar because I knew the moment the train stops, he will run. I knew I can get him to the police if I hold him back. But the moment the train slowed down, he realised I was holding him to get him to the police, and he jumped off from the other end of the compartment.
Do you think victim-shaming is something that women are scared of and hence they prefer to not report serious incidences…
(Cuts in) Absolutely! Frankly, Indian women inherit this collective cultural unconscious — this sense of guilt, shame and dishonour. What do we teach our girl child today? We teach them to be guilty of their own desires, if they shop for themselves it’s wrong. But spend on your husband, your kids, be obedient and think about everybody else’s good except yours. I remember for the longest time, especially when I was growing up, the first time I kissed a guy, I felt ashamed. I felt I did something very wrong and imagine, I was 18 years old then. It wasn’t that I was too young as well. I think Indian girls need to become shameless and a little selfish too. It’s not about individuals, it’s about girls in general. We need to lose that burden of guilt and that ‘haww’ feeling. That is the stupidest feeling ever.
What was the situation in your house when you were growing up?
My parents actually have always been very liberal people. They are very decent, nice understanding and empathetic people. I was 14 when I was just going around with a boy and at that time, going around meant just saying hi to each other during the lunch break. My parents were shocked when I told them ‘I was going around with so and so’. They were like what, where are you going? They were very upset but like I said, when you put something on the table, it suddenly doesn’t become wrong anymore. There was nothing to hide so when the phone calls would come, I would tell them about it. I was a very proper ethical kid and my boyfriends were literally warned to not give me blank calls because that was the scene that time. Papa ne hello bola toh phone rakh dena is not happening, I told everyone. You have to ask for me and you need to have the balls to do that. My dad won’t say no if someone called for me. So, it became normalised and as a daughter, I have told my parents everything. I know a frank conversation can solve everything. This is how the policy of total honesty started with my parents.
They must be really happy about it, given how kids usually are with parents today…
No. Now they feel bad because I feel they don’t want to know so many details about me. (Laughs) If there’s anything that they have to know or the world gets to know about me, they hear it first from me. That’s a rule I follow in life. Now, maybe they are a little sick of it, I guess. They have that ‘do we need to know everything?’ look and feeling nowadays. I tell them all the awkward things through email.
What’s your take on feminism? Or do you think it’s misinterpreted by most women today?
I think there’s a lot of misuse of the word feminism. I don’t think if people even understand it. It’s not about getting special rights for women or getting more rights than men. Not about cutting the balls off men. That is all bullsh**.
Feminism believes that men and women should be free of gender constraints. Their sex should not determine what their aspirations, personalities or their opportunities are in life. So, a woman shouldn’t always be pressured to be a woman, a man also shouldn’t constantly be asked to ‘Be a man’. Feminism is equally fighting for men — to be free of masculinity. If there’s a pressure of patriarchy on women, there’s also a huge pressure that patriarchy puts on men — to be manly, masculine in a certain way. I don’t think feminism is about being a nasty person. It’s about getting rights for women in general collectively. If you don’t have any feeling of sisterhood about women, how are you even a feminist? You have to be able to be friends with other women. Equally, feminism is not about just burning bras because these are all symbolic things that happened in the ’60s or something.
It’s done, it’s over with. It’s much misunderstood term.
Are you a feminist?
Yes, I am a feminist. I’m a balanced person, I don’t want special rights for women. And I know a lot of people call out feminists for fake dowry cases. But all I will say is a truly feminist person will never ever file a fake dowry case. There can be nothing more damaging for feminism than to misuse laws that are meant to protect women.