I ALWAYS thought of myself as a fearless feminist. With a man like my father, it was inevitable to be brave about who I am. But I soon realised that the world does not give you your due if you’re a woman. I was only 17 when I made my debut. As an actress, I never had any qualms talking about my personal life, my relationships, or the fact that I was sexually active. The lowest phase came when I found myself in a relationship with an alcoholic (Ranvir Shorey) and was beaten up by him. I had these notions, that something like this happens to women who are different from me, from a different background or from small towns. How could it happen to someone like me? The story of the physical abuse was splashed on the front pages of all newspapers and I found that instead of the man being judged for his behaviour, I was put under scrutiny. People felt that I must have asked for it somehow, that I was at fault for picking the wrong man, and should not wash my dirty linen in public. My personal life was dissected and I felt violated, cold and alone.
Fortunately, I found the strength to fight back the first time it occurred. Isn’t once enough? Most women don’t think so and it eventually transforms into a mindset where we are expected to deal with a certain degree of domestic violence at some stage of our lives. I felt it was important to speak out in order to remind women that if it could happen to me, it could very well happen to them too, and when it does, you cannot take it lying down. Do not wrap yourself in a guilt-fuelled silence where the only question that shrieks itself hoarse in your head is: did I deserve this?
Those who knew me — people from my fraternity — turned against me. It was at that time that the kindness of a stranger and the story of someone so far away, someone I did not know, helped me overcome this phase. Jane Campion is an Australian filmmaker, who was visiting India at the time. My father introduced us, she took one look at me and said, “You look like you’re going through a bad phase.” When I told her, she in turn told me what happened to Meg Ryan (whom she had just directed), who was seen as a ‘homebreaker’ after her affair with Russell Crowe while she was married to Dennis Quaid. Meg was at the lobby of Hotel Rochester in London and she felt every person’s gaze was fixed on her, looking for a hint of guilt, and all she wanted was to scurry into the elevator. When the elevator came, Meg did not get in, instead she stood in the lobby, looked everyone in the eye, till they all looked away, as if to say, “This is my life, and yes, I’m bleeding, but so what?”
After hearing this, I found that I could get up the next morning, face people, go about my work. People don’t expect you to talk about these things, they’d rather you gloss over them. They freak out if you’re upfront, but there is a need to talk about it. If someone hits me, I hit right back. Why should I cover up for someone else? No matter how strong you are, what you achieve or don’t achieve, the life of a woman is summed up by some basic parameters. After this incident, I realised I could be bigger than any relationship, bigger than a man, bigger than even this truth (that I was physically abused). I feel that it’s important to hold to light that uncomfortable chapter of my life, not bury it, the way women are expected to bury uncomfortable truths, put it away somewhere so that no one can access it, not even you. Whatever our truths and however uncomfortable, they should not hold us to ransom.