Veteran actor Sharmila Tagore was only a 13-year-old schoolgoer when she was cast by legendary Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray in Apur Sansar, the third installment of the Apu trilogy, in 1959. As part of the panel discussion titled “Evolution of the Indian Heroine: A Boys Club Called Bollywood” at The Imperial, Delhi, on Saturday, she recalled how she had to leave her school because the authorities felt she would be a bad influence on children. “There was a huge prejudice against working women. The money they earned was appreciated but they had to constantly prove themselves,” she said, as she spoke of the environment surrounding heroines during her early days in the film world.
The Bridge, The Caravan magazine’s event on gender empowerment, in association with indianexpress.com, was aimed at challenging conventional thinking around gender empowerment. The speakers — political leaders, entrepreneurs, academicians, filmmakers and activists — included Maneka Gandhi, Union Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development; diplomat-turned-politician Mani Shankar Aiyar; director-choreographer-actor Farah Khan; Rohini Nilekani, Founder-Chairperson, Arghyam; Supreme Court lawyer Vrinda Grover; Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian-American journalist; Nivedita Menon, professor of political thought at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and actor Nandita Das.
Eltahawy rendered possible solutions on dealing with women’s safety and on making state infrastructure more women friendly. “In Cairo, there were women-only carriages in the metro. But that is not the solution. I would like something like a curfew for boys and men as crazy, as it may sound. In some countries, it has been implemented, like in Bogota, Colombia. One day a month, after 7 pm, men must stay at home. As a result, rapes and sexual violence went down. I also want the government to take up initiatives to teach boys to not assault women, be it in a bus or a metro, instead of asking women how not to dress, not to drink or till what time they are supposed to be out at night.”
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In another panel with Farah Khan was Anant Goenka, Wholetime Director and Head of New Media at The Indian Express. Khan spoke about the challenges of women-centric films and item numbers. At another session with filmmaker and writer Paromita Vohra, Taru Kapoor, India head of Tinder India, spoke about sex, dating and the anxiety that grips the society when it comes to female desire.
Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Aiyar spoke about how policies and law work around women, the promises and the challenges. Aiyar, along with BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi and Subhashini Ali, President, All India Democratic Women’s Association, spoke about reservations, representation of women in panchayat elections and the quota-within-quota debate and what it holds for both men and women.