“My body of work does not have as many films as I would have wished for,” she acknowledges during an interview with indianexpress.com. But later in the conversation, one realises the thin filmography is also because Chitrangada Singh “made a choice over and over again” to walk out of projects because she was asked to compromise.
With Soorma, her first film as a producer, running in theatres and her acting career looking better than before (she has Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster and Bazaar with Saif Ali Khan in her kitty), Chitrangada Singh looks back at her journey, the tough choices she made, the scepticism she faced on turning producer and the silent MeToo movement that she says has begun in the industry.
‘Bollywood is having a MeToo movement in its own way’
On being asked why the Hindi film industry remains silent about its sexual predators, Chitrangada says actors might not make public comments about it, given the conservative fabric of Indian society, but they have begun changing the narrative of their stories when they are put in a position of compromise.
“Yes, this is prevalent in any industry in the world, not just entertainment but corporate houses. Coming to why India isn’t the way the West is, because there’s a huge difference in the way the western society thinks and talks about the issues and the way we do it. It can’t be like we wake up one day and say, ‘We have to be like the West.’ It doesn’t change that fast. We have to understand the matrix of our society, how traditional we are still in our thinking, the way it is being run,” she says.
The Soorma producer adds, “When you say you should come out and talk about your abusers and name them, yes that’s very courageous but what needs more courage is to be able to make a choice when you’re in that place. That for me is a more important ‘MeToo’ movement. When you are willing to make a choice and you’re saying ‘I’m not going to take this and I’m willing to let go what I’ve to but I don’t allow this.’ You walk away from that and talk about it. You tell your fellow workers and people that this is the reason why I left this.”
Chitrangada further says it needs to be appreciated that women in the industry are talking openly about sexual harassment with their colleagues and “finding ways to not let this happen.”
“But it’s not about going out in the media and making a statement and calling names. I don’t think that itself alone becomes a MeToo movement. As far as that kind of a thing is concerned, it’s happening. Where internally women are putting their foot down, I know that in our industry they are not allowing this. They are discussing it with their colleagues and finding ways to not let this happen. There is a MeToo movement without a hashtag for the media. Every country and society would have their way of doing it. That is what we should appreciate instead of saying ‘oh you don’t talk about it.’ How we are going about it is completely different than the west and we should appreciate that.”
The actor also reveals there have been several times in her over a decade long-career when she stood against the offer to compromise.
“I have made a choice over and over again but I don’t want to go out and gloat about it because that’s a choice I have made. That’s my MeToo movement. That needs courage. That’s what we should appreciate and encourage more than going out and holding a flag up. Which you should, but as I said every society works differently. This MeToo movement should be everywhere. Even a housewife should understand this. It’s not just about celebrities or entertainment industry. It’s about a woman anywhere should be able to have the courage that she puts her foot down for the sake of her self respect and that’s the choice she should make. She must make,” says Chitrangada Singh.
‘It takes time for people to take you seriously as a producer’
Chitrangada was met with raised eyebrows and doubts when she announced her plans to produce films. The actor says the scepticism was stemmed in the prejudice against female producers, more so with female actors-turned-filmmakers.
“There’s this notion that she’s producing a film means she isn’t getting acting offers. I don’t deny that kind of doubt because this is what they think and it’s probably what’s been happening. It’ll take time to change the way they think and once we start proving ourselves as producers then it’ll become normal. I don’t think they question so much anyway, whether it’s Rhea Kapoor or Ekta Kapoor. There are a lot of women here who are making their place. It’s changing.”
The actor, who has her eyes already set on two future productions, says it wasn’t easy putting out her vision to people in power because of this stereotype. “Yes, it takes a little bit of time for people to take you or your intent as a producer seriously. I will allow them the doubt because when you’re doing something for the first time people will have questions. It’s a little unexpected for anyone when I walk in and I’m like ‘This is what I want to do now.’ It would take a while for them to put faith in you.”
‘Career has been patchy, but not one of regrets’
Taking a long break in an industry is a risk, one which Chitrangada was aware of while making the choice.
“It’s been a bit patchy when I have come in and gone out. So, the body of work doesn’t have as many films as I would have wished. But the journey having gone back and then come back was quite exhilarating. It’s bit of ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know when I get back, what kind of films will I get,’ but it’s always been a pleasant surprise.
Once back, the actor had to “make those calls” and she says it took some time for people to take notice of her. “You do have to make those calls and approach them because they wouldn’t know you’re back. There’s this confusion – ‘oh, is she back?’ ‘Is she working?’ So, it did take some time for people to know I’m working again. Everything’s not in your control but there’s no sense of regret. I don’t think I missed out on something so big that ‘Oh! my life would’ve been so much better.’ Personally, I’m in a happy space and everything feels like a bonus. In a place, which has sort of a short memory, people have remembered me,” she says.