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Not too long ago, a digital portal referred to Anushka Sharma’s statements as ‘ballsy’, in a headline for a story hailing the fact that the 27-year old spoke out against sexism in the film industry.
With a touch of mirth, Ms Sharma, (who seems like the kind that would never shy away from a verbal duel), pointed out the irony in the headline. Because let’s face it, we’ve had enough of the world equating ‘balls’ to being tough. (Seriously, get over it. It’s almost 2016, for typing out loud)
The standard retort to a woman speaking up about genuine gender-related issues at the workplace, such as wage gap or the glass ceiling, is this: “If you want it, earn it. Don’t complain.” (Variants of this include muttering about maternity leave and marriage.)
But Anushka Sharma was clearly letting none of that come in her way. In early 2015, even as the sounds of the jingling cash registers in the aftermath of her film PK (the biggest grosser in Indian cinema, incidentally) had barely subsided, Ms Sharma was ready with her debut production, Navdeep Singh’s excellent ‘NH10’, in which she also happened to be the biggest box office draw. So much for that glass ceiling.
For a nation that is only just beginning to wake up to the very real problems stemming from patriarchy and misogyny, ‘NH10’ was the closest that we’ve come so far to feminist escapism. The scene in the climax, where her character Meera lights up a cigarette just before doling out the death penalty to a man who dared mess with her, may have been a cliché-ridden clap trap, but the audience merrily let themselves be trapped; and they clapped.
Then, soon after ‘NH10’, barely six months after appearing in the highest grossing Indian film ever, Ms Sharma starred in Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Bombay Velvet’. The director didn’t just become a national punching bag for a while, but the film also ended up losing a lot of money. Anushka herself received mixed reviews for her performance, with many preferring a tiny cameo by that 90s diva of incendiary rhythmic rain fame, Raveena Tandon.
But Anushka Sharma’s character and performance in ‘Bombay Velvet’ actually warranted repeat viewings to fully grasp. Her Rosie Noronha was a victim of sexual abuse that began at a tender age and continued into womanhood. She breaks free from those shackles herself, deciding to chart her own course and destiny.
When she reaches the big bad world that Bombay was in the 1960s, she has to navigate her way through lecherous scum to make a mark. (A passing shot shows Rosie swerve subconsciously but precisely, as a man walks past her on the street. Every woman knows what that feels like, no doubt.)
Even in her serious relationship with an uncouth, brash, blade-happy young man, Rosie never shies away from a confrontation with him. When he yells at her, she slaps him in response. Rosie Noronha, who goes on to become the star singer of the eponymous rich man’s club from the title of the film, represents one kind of battle against patriarchy – just put the men who don’t ‘get it’, back in their place. Quite like Anushka Sharma herself. The film may have bombed, but Anushka wasn’t done yet.
A hiccup like ‘Bombay Velvet’ was hardly going to stop the Anushka Sharma juggernaut. A month later, she appeared in the brightest of special appearances, in Zoya Akhtar’s ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’. Her free-spirited Farah was, in many ways, a combination of Meera, Rosie and Anushka herself. Independent, confident, not fearless but willing to face her fears head on, a stage performer and a true liver of life.
Farah as a character may not have tested Anushka to the full, simply because the character shared so many traits with the actor; but Farah was pure screen joy.
Anushka Sharma is plying her trade at a time that’s possibly the most open and empowered age for actresses in Hindi cinema. Everyone from the current lot, from Deepika Padukone to Kangana Ranaut to Parineeti Chopra – each of them is a role model in their own right, and each of them virtually demand for such roles to be written, which justify their talent and presence. Yet, every one of them is charting their own course and inspiring a whole generation of young minds, irrespective of gender.
In such a time, Anushka Sharma is playing her own game, running her own race. Her upcoming 2016 release happens to be directed by the king of candyfloss, Karan Johar. Simultaneously, she’s set to produce a number films that seem interesting on paper, a few of them which she may even star in.
Anushka Sharma is only 27, but she’s having an impact on Hindi cinema in more ways than one. Simultaneously, her star status is helping make a strong socio-cultural impact as well. Most importantly, she doesn’t make the world feel that she’s doing all of this ‘despite being a woman’.
Because here’s the thing about her. She may be independent and feisty, but that doesn’t make her ‘the kind of girl mothers warn their sons about’. Instead, it makes her the kind of girl who’ll inspire mothers to not warn their children about any kind of girl, ever.
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