At the India Today Women's Summit, Swara Bhaskara read out an open letter – to sexism. As an actor, her career is a mixed bag of mainstream cinema (nothing gets more commercial and mainstream than Prem Ratan Dhan Payo) across to meaningful critically acclaimed films such as Nil Battey Sannata. As a person she comes across as intelligent, sorted, forthright and articulate. So she wrote an open letter to sexism (very original), to coincide with the release of her film (not hugely original). The letter makes some very telling points and demolishes many of the excuses proffered by men (and women) who condone or actively perpetuate sexism, patriarchy and chauvinism.
She started with a joke about stereotypes that expect women to go to the bathroom and demand tea; quickly establishing the sarcastic tone of the letter that she proceeded to read out.
In her letter, Swara wondered what is was that made these rules for women: is it religion and God? Is it the law? She spoke about the time when she was born and her grandmother wanted to know if she was fair; while her father dealt with some of his own issues, one detected a certain bitterness. But then, is that bitterness difficult to understand? ‘Society’ makes no bones about its preference for the male child over the female; the preference for fair skin over dark.
It is very insidious, how society makes women behave a certain way. Approval is doled out in dribs and drabs, only if women behave a certain way. Women must be docile, they must smile, they have to be nice; above all women mustn’t complain under any circumstances. This is what women must do, to be liked. She spoke about how women's emotional needs, such as romantic desire, biological affection, family bonding are used against them and how women who don’t toe the line, who dare to challenge sexist precepts are pejoratively labeled ‘hysterical’, ‘feminazi’, ‘man-hater’ and dismissed as such.
Swara obviously has firsthand experience of the sort of expectations that people have vis-à-vis how women should look; especially women in showbiz. She self deprecatingly spoke about how looking the part is very important and about the time and money she herself spent on toeing this particular line (for red carpet appearances and so on). She pointed to her rather spectacular shoes to humorously illustrate her point.
Women are the ones who are expected to make all the adjustments, to sacrifice and to give up on their own desires. Women are ‘worthy’ only if they are these self sacrificing, nurturers. Thinking about their own desires is not only discouraged, it prompts derision and censure. This is how guilt is ingrained in women. Swara also spoke about the secret army of non feminist women who, along with men foist inequality upon women under various garbs: we are equal but biologically different, pseudo science ‘studies’ (you know the ones… that 'prove' female ambition causes cancer).
Mincing no words, she called out the rampant sexism of Bollywood, of world leaders and the sexism on Twitter and other social media. She also spoke about how fear, and the antagonistic us-versus-them idea is used to perpetuate sexism in society.
Meanwhile here is the trailer of Anaarkali Of Aarah starring Swara Bhaskar, Sanjay Mishra & Pankaj Tripathi which takes a frank look at sexism and at exploitative and patriarchal mindsets in our society which hold women guilty for the injustices that they themselves face.
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