I’m a professional actor and I can tell you that I give my best performance when I feel confident and free to explore my role openly and improvise when I act. In the course of the films that I’ve shot, I’ve discovered that acting and love are very similar. Both are at their best when the expression is free, confident, in an environment where the principle actors are safe and having fun, exploring themselves. Desire is at the root of all fulfilling experiences of love, and desire is also the seed of creativity and performance.
Desire in India, however, is shrouded in guilt and shame. I don’t know how it was in the age when the famed Kamasutra was written, but there is a strange collective unconscious that we Indian women inherit when it comes to matters of love and sex — that acknowledging desire is an act of guilt, a matter of some shame. I remember my first kiss ever in an abandoned part of the playground after school hours. It was pretty mundane and banal — I was a little over 17, nervous, and didn’t really know what to do. The young man in question was the Casanova of the school, but he kind of missed my mouth when the moment of reckoning came! Nevertheless, the first kiss is the first kiss, even if it succeeds only the second time around. Apart from the excitement and the momentous implication that I had forever lost the threat of the “never-been-kissed” tag, I keenly remember the acute feeling of guilt that possessed me as soon as the moment had passed. So much so, that I rushed home immediately and got to my math tuition homework — as if finishing my homework was an act of penance. I felt less guilty after that.
It’s not just love and sex that are packaged in guilt in the emotional landscape of Indian women. I’ve known friends, successful working women, who feel guilty when they shop for themselves or spend money for their own pleasure; I’ve known older women who are unable to keep to a diet because “how can I make something only for myself?” This guilt towards one’s own desires is a leech that finds a way to silently suck the joy out of the Indian woman’s quest for self fulfillment.
I’ve often wondered where we, as a culture, caught this collective malaise, and I’m sorry to say that, after careful consideration, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the root of this is Indian parenting. I don’t mean individual parenting — but collectively, culturally, generically — Indian parenting has a flaw. It imparts different values to its girls and boys. And, yes, let me say it before you do, I’m generalising grossly. I would also like to acknowledge that I’m blessed to be the daughter of two very loving, liberal, progressive parents. Yet, I say Indian parenting is flawed. Flawed because it gives us girl children values that train us to become such that we are able to live with disappointment, a sense of duty towards everyone but ourselves, a need to obey and please others and a tendency to blame and criticise ourselves for every small pleasure. It’s possible that we imbibe these values unconsciously, just like our parents impart them unconsciously — but they exist in all of us — a silent pact among men and women, as we go about the business of living.
So, let us take a moment to reflect upon these skewed values and recognise the sense of guilt that we women burden our desires with. And let us recognise what happens when we try to forget that guilt and shame. Institutions like the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) jolt us back to reality. So, on this Women’s Day, let us enjoy the delicious irony of the reasons listed by the CBFC when they refused to certify Alankrita Shrivastava’s film, Lipstick Under My Burkha. In their official communication to the producers, the CBFC said, “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contentious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society, hence film refused under guidelines…”
Meanwhile, The All India Muslim Tehwar Committee in Bhopal has disclosed plans to take legal action against the movie for hurting the sentiments of the Muslim community apparently.
So yeah, Happy Women’s Day, friends!
Swara Bhasker is an actor. Her film, Anaarkali of Aarah, will release later this month.