“I face sleaze. Often. It comes disguised in different forms – work offers, project discussions, accidental bumping on crowded sets. When faced with sleaze, I have two options – act naïve and steer the conversation back to work, or collide head-on and risk everything. I have always chosen the former. Sometimes it can mean losing a project or two, but Mumbai can never be as harsh to me as it was when I first arrived here.
I left Orissa on a wing and a prayer to land in Mumbai with my husband and son. I had heard that Mumbai has space for everyone and I was determined to find mine. I looked good and I had performing skills and I thought that should see me through in show business but my Bollywood dream fell flat. A sewing machine and a pair of scissors defined my fate line, as I started sewing to make ends meet. In a few years, severe back pain left me unable to continue long hours of sewing work. It was a desperate time and I just had to find another means to survive. Unknown to me, this was a blessing in disguise.
While figuring out my next turn, I managed to get a couple of modeling projects for some low budget brands. Sadly, they came with strings attached. I was under extreme pressure but decided to quit and explore other avenues. Life got nasty, both at home and professionally. The constant struggle for livelihood had made me and my husband bitter. After an argument, we parted ways for some time. In that period, I had to find work immediately because my child was with me. I had no option other than working as a house maid and send my child to an ashram for childcare. Life can’t go worse than working as a house helper in the same city I once wished to be a star in.
Fortunately, even though my situation was dire, I never lost faith in myself. I had trained as a hairstylist long back. I used it to approach make-up artists and managed to get an assignment. My first big break came when I was called to style Swara Bhasker a few years ago. There has been no looking back since then.
Even today, when I have work in the mainstream, there are times when sleaze raises its head. I think it raises its head at every level of Bollywood hierarchy. Different women fight it differently but the struggle to keep the sleaze away is constant. This stands true for women performers all over India. I came across one such story while styling Swara Bhaskar for a movie called Anaarkali of Aarah. In this fact-inspired film, the heroine, a street dancer, fights against sexual harassment. While working on the sets of this movie, I realized that I am not alone in this battle. My way to fight is different from that of Anaarkali. Mine is silent but I know that it is steady. I am like a fish trying to survive the pond without giving in to the alligator.
A deeply sleazy remark carefully wrapped in gentlemanly care sounds like – 'Why don’t you come home to discuss this further?' My strong No wrapped in well-acted naivety sounds like a casual mention amidst a crowd of people – 'Oh sir, you were calling me home for the project but sorry I could not come.' I choose to ‘sound silly’ than ‘be unsafe.”