“I was in Aarah to meet Munni, an orchestra singer. As we were about to leave to watch her group’s show, Munni started calling someone frantically. She was searching for two girls who had not returned after their performance in a nearby village two days ago. Their phones were unreachable but she was able to reach someone who she kept arguing with, about advance payment. She seemed to have no concern about the well being of the missing girls. After disconnecting, she casually mentioned that it was a general practice to keep the orchestra girls captive in case of disagreements. She mentioned that every year four to five girls die while performing due to accidental firing or other such mishaps. Many of these girls were in their teens.
The sheer casualness towards the safety of the girls shook me deeply. I was shaken by the ease with which these performers accepted violence as a part of their life and profession. Munni may seem like a powerful fighter but the fact was that being a woman made her prone to violence.
Munni was full of contrasts. When I asked her to sing her new compositions, she insisted on singing a Nirgun and not her peppy numbers. All said and done, she considered herself an artist. Learning these shades and understanding the intricacies of the lives of women performers made it possible for me to bring Anaarkali alive on the screen.
We underestimate how vulnerable the women artists are in our country. Even as a well known celebrity, while shooting crowd scenes, my mind stays split between my work and my safety. I stay alert and very much aware of my surroundings, ready to raise an alarm should something fishy seems to crop up. The biggest power these offenders have is that women don’t talk about their harassment. Women need to understand that the biggest deterrent to being harassed is to talk about it openly.
I have always chosen to speak about the issues I believe in not because I want to be positioned as a rebel. I have certain advantages in life and I believe that I must use them for sensible goals. I grew up amidst females who kept their voices strong. My grandmother and my mother and my house help continue to inspire me every day with their strength and their confidence in themselves and other women around them. Observing them helps me draw the strength that I require as an actor to play the strong female characters like Anaarkali.”