New Delhi: On Your Call, Sharmila Tagore discusses the prevalent attitude towards women in the society and how it can be changed. She also reminisces about her acting career and time in the film industry.
Here's the full transcript of the interview:
NDTV: Good evening and welcome to Your Call. Joining me this evening is someone who is truly a woman of substance, Sharmila Tagore. Sharmila ji thank you very much for joining me this evening. We are in a new year, a time to celebrate and look forward with hope, but we saw the events, which we ended last year with. A lot of anger, public protest on the streets, but how much do you think we have actually achieved with protest and anger and actually changing the attitude we have towards women in India?
Sharmila Tagore: I think protest from civil society is very important in a democracy. It keeps the pressure on. Obviously we have a right to express our concerns, our dissatisfaction and in some cases it pressurises the government to do something. But of course it has to be peaceful, it has to be expressed properly and no way we must allow anything to happen so that the issue is hijacked. Having said that we have to go beyond the protest and we have to address the issue, because the issue has been there for so long. And even when the entire Capital is talking about it, everybody is agitated and so much is happening in the media, private homes and everything. Despite that, everyday reports of rape, everyday something is happening, gang rapes. 11year old, 7year old in Kerala, acid being thrown. Even that day the couple in a car, man and a woman, the man was stripped and beaten and the woman was raped and she called for help, somebody heard her and let her out. So nothing has differed. When you are talking about chemical castration, you are talking about all kinds of things, death penalty. Despite that this is happening, so we have to really reflect and understand what is this in our culture. I think somehow the value of rapists, rapists, what they are saying and somehow in our culture it kind of endorses that, if I may use such a very strong word, but I really don't know what to say. Because the son preference that we have and the way we bring up our men, our boys with this sense of entitlement, sense of privilege that they are superior to their sisters. And I cannot do that and expect my daughter to be treated equally on the street
NDTV: It's interesting what you are saying. Because then you looking at police saying and penalties are just one part of the issue, because the larger problem is also with the society we are living in. What do you think, and you have been a young film actress on your own in Mumbai, you have got two young daughters, what has changed over the years? Is it because now Indian women are more assertive, we are seeing rapes reported which may not have been earlier, is it that there has been a degeneration of values? What do you see it as?
Sharmila Tagore: It seems as if hurting women is entertainment. It's a kind of feeling, making them feel good about it. We have to get our men to think, the equality has to come in, the change in perception has to come in. The way they look at themselves has to come in. They can't look at a woman and say she's vulnerable; she needs her subjugation to make us feel masculine. There are more and more women going out to work these days and they are not submissive. They have enough confidence to spell out what they want and I think men sometimes feel threatened. Again I'm generalizing, but they have to look at it carefully because in families, in work place, in marriages, this equality and this power structure, I think that is what we need to address
NDTV: You talked about the culture and the fact is, that given the fact we have seen the traditional power structure, whether it is politics, whether it's corporate boardrooms, is traditionally towards men. And you hear statements like, just recently the President's son has made a statement about these protesters are all dented, painted, in fact all made up, they are not all real students. There's a patriarchal mindset. Crimes against women, except for this instance, haven't been taken seriously by the power structures either, whether it's a government or the police
Sharmila Tagore: Yes because these people haven't really dropped in from the moon. They are also part of society. The perpetrators, the neighbours were shocked, the family members were shocked. They didn't know. They led a normal life. The background more or less is the same, isn't it? It's as you say, patriarchal construct. When we started working we were the first generation of working people, working women and that also from films. It wasn't a very good profession. Girls from good families didn't go to films, so it was a double thing. And we have seen it from then to now and yes, the clothes have changed, the language has changed, but the gaze, the way men look at themselves, the way they feel superior, the way they feel they have to protect women, I think in 60 years we have failed to bring in that equality.
NDTV: That's very sad. I have got some questions from some young girls who would like to ask you these questions
Question 1: Hi ma'am. My question to you is you are one of the forerunners in propagating western clothes in Bollywood film industry, if not the first. What do you have to say about the fact that people still continue victim blaming, and the victim is always blamed for wearing short clothes and going out late at night? What do you have to say?
NDTV: As far as clothes are concerned young girls celebrate their youth, they celebrate their body and they want to look good and they want to wear smart clothes.
Sharmila Tagore: It's the gaze, the person who is actually committing the rape is all right, but the victim is told that she has now lost her honour. Outraging modesty, eve teasing; all these sorts of cuddly words just have to be dispensed with. We have to get out of that discourse. We have to say, 'hey there is nothing wrong with us; it's you who are looking at us like that'. So this sense of honour etc has to go.
NDTV: Do you think sometimes rape is dismissed, by politicians, as a women's issue and that's really where part of the issue is?
Sharmila Tagore: Men get raped; trans-genders get raped. It's not just a women's issue. Women are vulnerable and trans-genders are more vulnerable than men. But young boys are continuously being abused in some places and as you know 90% happens, according to the experts, within the family and boys are not exempted, so I don't think it's a women's issue.
NDTV: When we look at the society, how we deal with crimes against women, and you made the point of eve teasing being this cuddly kind of word. Now what we have seen in Hindi cinema often and especially recently, it's this kind of somehow aggressively harassing a girl and then she falls in love with you. You see it in kinds of songs; you see it in the kind of aggression, which the heroes will have, that's also the message, which comes across in the country, where cinema is such a powerful influence.
Sharmila Tagore: Yes I'm hearing what you are saying, because the films reflect life and it's a commercial medium. They are reaching out to many people and they want to keep everybody pleased, everybody happy, for the movie to be big hit, and a women is not threatened by this man's strength. She kind of accepts. Even lots of women also bind into that image, but if you reverse it, if you make the women aggressive or equal even then there is resentment. So the powerful role, the decision-making roles will always go to a man. Even the villain's role will go to a man and even the elderly man will continue to get roles or roles written for him especially
NDTV: But as a former Censor Board Chief, when you were there what were the kind of roles or scenes that you found most disturbing? Because you did, in a sense, take a very sensitive look at these movies, which were demeaning to women or showed excessive violence. What was the kind of attitude that you found disturbing when you came across cases like that?
Sharmila Tagore: Let me tell you a story that I was offered when I was working in films. It was a movie where this woman has two children, two boys and one of the boys is very naughty and behaves badly. At one point she is feeding the child, she is standing and this grown up, about 12 years old or 13 years old boy is eating, and she is standing there. 'Beta yeh lo, beta vo lo', and at one point he throws the entire plate off the table. Instead of giving him one tight slap she starts picking up things and a little later he takes out the gun in the school and shoots in the air. The father is very annoyed with him, justifiably so, and he takes out his belt and he is hitting him and the mother is outside wringing her hands and looking so helpless and crying 'mera beta, mera beta'. I refused that film. I was laughing throughout the film and the producer got very annoyed with me and at one point the guy commits murder and the mother is still shielding. So I said, 'but why is she shielding him?' So that's the sort of thing I would be very against. I said I'm not that kind of a mother and most certainly will not work in this film and somebody else did. It was from the south and I was getting a lot of money, so that was a huge sacrifice.
NDTV: Because I remember like, ironically they talk about women's empowerment in cinema, and many have said we have come a long way because we can show a women is a sexual being even in Hindi cinema, and even heroines will now take on item numbers in a sense. Many item numbers like 'Munni badman hui', 'Sheila ki jawani', which conversely are also used as songs to harass women on the actual streets. Is this empowerment of Bollywood heroines because they are not considered vamps if they take part in item numbers? And yet when we see how it is played out in popular culture, there is a very different aspect of how it is used to harass women
Sharmila Tagore: It's a bit like a labourer who uses his body to earn and with that money you are emancipated, that your options are increasing but the effect of that elsewhere is not so positive. So yes, it is a debate and we really have to look at it. But you must remember this is just an entertainment and commercial enterprise, and what is in society, Hindi films reflect it, and they just want to sell as many tickets as they can. So item numbers, sex and violence sells and that's a fact.
NDTV: Well you are here and I can't miss the chance for actually just playing some excerpts of some amazing movies you've given us, contributed to Indian cinema. Let's just have a look at a quick montage we made.
Wow, some of the movies, which stood out. Of course if we go back from where it all began, you were a Satyajit Ray heroine, just 13. Tell us about that, because starring as a Satyajit Ray heroine at 13 must have been an experience. Let's just play that clip.
So a strong minded heroine, even at 13. Tell us about that because in a sense the import of really the role you were taking on, the Director you were working with couldn't have hit home for a girl of 13.
Sharmila Tagore: The trilogy is a book and everybody had read it. He was advertising for a young person in the papers and I grew up in a joint family. In fact we discussed amongst us children, because we had about 10-12 children in the same house, so we had a lovely time. We were discussing and somebody says why don't you apply. Lo and behold one day the phone rang and there was Ray on the phone asking my father 's permission to cast me. So that's how it happened. He must have seen me in front of my school or God knows where. So he rang up and there was a screen test and I passed the screen test and I was cast. It was wonderful.
NDTV: And I read that you then had to leave school because at that time being a film actress and then in Hindi films was really looked down upon, so you actually left school? And then you went on to Hindi films and then 'Evening in Paris', which then created a sensation of a completely different kind. Were you in two minds at all about taking on that role, especially because you came from very illustrious family, Satyajit Ray film heroine and then a very different kind of a role completely?
Sharmila Tagore: I did 'Kashmir ki Kali' when I was 16 1/2, around 17, and I think 'Evening in Paris' was in the next year, so I was very young and felt very liberated. I was staying on my own in Mumbai and just felt on top of the world and I just embraced Hindi cinema. I didn't bring any luggage from Bengal like Aparna Sen, she was acting and she left. She said 'I can't deal with this Rinku. I don't know how you do this', and she wrote a wonderful letter to Shashi Kapoor and just left. But I did it, straddled both. I never lost touch with Bengali cinema so I loved it, and yes, 'Evening in Paris' created a lot of stir and did very well at the same time in the box office. But having done that I just met Tiger, and I got engaged during the making of 'Evening in Paris', so I couldn't have been 17, I must have been about 20-21. So that's when I realized I didn't want to be remembered as a glamour person, because I thought there will be more longevity if I was taken seriously. I wanted to be taken seriously; I wanted to be remembered as a good actress. So I made an effort to change my image. So I signed films like 'Aradhna'. I signed different films and within a couple of years I had what I wanted to, because I suddenly felt that this was not satisfying me because I was not really worldly wise, and I was just having fun
NDTV: In fact it's interesting, because many of the roles you have discussed, in 'Aradhna' you had very strong roles. We often talk about the lack of roles for heroines in Hindi films but you actually got very strong roles and 'Aradhna' was a super hit completely
Sharmila Tagore: Yes we saw it recently. FM had organized on the big screen and big screen is big screen, so that was wonderful. Yes the pregnancy, the dialogues were quite forward looking for that time. I remember the first time this old woman appears on the screen. Everybody started laughing, the whole auditorium starts laughing. Shakti, we were all watching the first show, he just walked out of the theater. He said they haven't accepted her as an old person. The makeup was terrible. You could see it was a wig, you could see lines and everything, but after that 1 minute scene in the jail everybody was sniffling. You could sense the change and somebody ran after Shakti and said come back, it's all right, its okay. They accepted me despite the flaws and everything, but the story telling and the emotion of that caught on.
NDTV: I think the chemistry between Rajesh Khanna and you in that movie, especially in that song 'Roop Tera Mastana', which in a sense defined, at that time, the sensuality in cinema without being cheap in any sense and the chemistry was striking.
Sharmila Tagore: That also happened because I think Kaka had to go somewhere, there was less time and Shakti said why don't we just take it in one shot and that's what we did. We just rehearsed many times and we did it in one shot and that became such a cult thing and everybody remembers it and talks about it, but it was just a matter of convenience. And yes the chemistry that time was the time of pairs. Rajender Kumar- Saira Bano, Hema Malini-Dharmendra so I guess that as well
NDTV: What was your husband's reaction really to you acting, to you been such a huge star, your popular pairing with Rajesh Khanna? What was his reaction, because I have always remembered him as a very dignified private man? Did he watch your movies?
Sharmila Tagore: No he didn't. He liked Meena Kumari and Vyajanti Mala and was a great fan of Lata ji, of course Talat and Rafi Sahib, but he didn't watch my films and he always reminded me that there are many actors, but there is only one cricket Captain. And when the cricket was in season then there was no doubt who was the bigger star.
NDTV: There was so much talk even now, that should a Bollywood heroine retire after she is married, if she has a baby then it's a death knell, but you did it all then.
Sharmila Tagore: I never thought about giving up films. And in fact I got a lot of advice and most of my friends, including Shakti ji, and all said don't get married because you are really on top of your profession, and this is not the time to get married because you will lose your popularity. I just felt there is a body clock, I felt at this point we should be married and like similarly I felt at a particular time that I want to have a child, because there is no point doing things when you are much older. There is timing in life and I was pretty conscious of that and I wanted to eat my cake and have it too and I made that effort.
NDTV: So do you find it ironical in a sense that Kareena is asked these same questions so many years later? In a sense mind sets haven't changed as well because she is still asked, 'oh will you work after your marriage?' We now see producers with no pregnancy clauses. Do you find it interesting how mindsets sometimes don't change?
Sharmila Tagore: Nobody else has done it really. Everybody has delayed their marriage or not worked after, whether it is Madhuri Dixit or whoever. They have given up work and then they may have come back later, but nobody has continued. So I got married and continued, had Saif and continued; Saba and continued and Soha and continued. So I have not really given up working in films and I haven't really made a comeback or anything. I just reduced the number of films. So it's an individual call what you value. Kareena is a wonderful performer, she is young and attractive so I don't see why she shouldn't. I think at the end of the day you have to choose films, you have to do what suits you. You just can't keep going back, you have to keep doing different kinds of roles so audience don't tire of you, so little bit like that. Not be too exposed and doesn't matter as long as you work. Who the hell cares whether you are number one or two, I mean these equations are so silly.
NDTV: Well I have a question for you from Kareena. Let's just hear what she has to ask.
Kareena: So well I would like to ask my mother-in-law, of course she is gorgeous and beautiful, but I have also heard that she is a good cook but she has never cooked for me. So I want to ask her that when will you be cooking for me soon, and some nice Bengali food and will you ever do that? I'll be waiting.
NDTV: She is glowing I have to say. She really is.
Sharmila Tagore:Mashallah yes. She is a vegetarian, she didn't tell you that and my vegetarian is not very good, but yes of course I'll cook for her, but she is allowed to eat fish now, so she has decided that she will eat fish. So I will make her some fish.
NDTV: Their wedding actually was private in a sense. It must have brought back some bittersweet memories for you also? You organized the whole thing yourself
Sharmila Tagore: We missed him a lot and I even said what he would have done, he would have just taken Daboo in some corner and they would have had their own private party somewhere else, because as you know he was not a very big party person. So yes, he was hugely missed and he was my spell check also. Like I didn't know how to address some people. Yes I did everything myself if I may say so, and the reception here, which gave me something to do and it kept me occupied. Actually I liked doing it. I have lived in Delhi for so long, I have such wonderful friends. Although Saif wanted it to be very private, which he did in Mumbai, but here I couldn't exclude all those people that I have lived with for so many years, and who have been so supportive. So they were part of my invitees.
NDTV: I remember also when Saif became the Nawab of Pataudi. How have you seen your son change, because it's very different when your father is alive?
Sharmila Tagore: In my family it's the father preference, that's also the kind of gender thing. Don't you think because I'm slogging over them, doing this that, but the father. At one time I jumped into the river, the crocodile infested river, he's fallen, so I jumped in and saved him. So he said, no you cannot save me you don't have any muscles. I love Abba because he is strong and I love you because you are good and he was 2 years old. So what would you say to that mindset?
NDTV: I always hear him talk about his Ammi also, to be fair to him. Again, when you look back at those times when both of you were married, it was really the story of the decade I would say, in a sense, because beautiful film actress marrying the Indian cricket captain and the Indian cricket star. When you look back at those memories, and I remember reading when you talk about the fact that you never looked at other considerations, the fact that both of you were from different religions and some CID sleuths had come to ask if you need security when you are getting married, and it was interesting. It's a different time yet the issues also raised then were interesting.
Sharmila Tagore: We got engaged in '66 and I met him sort of '65ish, end of '64 and times were very different. Then living in Mumbai, we were on our own and we were young. Thank God for young people. As long as there are young people, they'll continue to fall in love, they'll continue to defy society and norms and they have this energy. And call it being naive or stupid, they don't, but when you become a parent, when you suddenly become part of establishment, then you are accessing pros and cons and you become a responsible person.
NDTV: Sharmila Tagore thank you so much for joining me tonight. Thank you very much.