Known for her celebrated and risky acting choices, Bhumi Pednekar is also a force to be reckoned beyond cinema. Time and again, the 31-year-old actress has raised her voice against extensive gender and power imbalances in Bollywood and around the country.
In this conversation, Bhumi, who has genuinely made a conscious effort to increase representation of different kinds of women on screen through her films such as Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Sonchiriya, Saand Ki Aankh and Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, has delivered honest and blunt jabs at the industry’s treatment of female-led stories, pop-culture’s distorted depiction of women. She also spoke about her recent association with Whisper’s #KeepGirlsInSchool campaign which aims at deepening awareness on how even today, girls across India drop out of school on hitting puberty.
On radical underrepresentation of women in Bollywood
We definitely have a long way to go but I don’t think we should be satisfied or okay with where we have reached. We are making a lot of films that are led by women but it’s not just as actors, we need more directors, producers, technicians. We need good budgets. We need our films to be promoted well. We need our films to be treated like mainstream cinema. It’s really sad if you have a woman-led story everything is just automatically cut down. But I really hope that eventually the conversation shifts from a woman-led film or a man-led film to just a film that’s led by a character. I think that’s what needs to happen. I don’t think we are anywhere close to it. Yes, we are in a better place than maybe the generations before us. That’s why an actor like me has survived and that’s why I’m here because cinema has changed drastically but it’s not enough.
On importance of sisterhood in Bollywood
I’m not going to make it very specific to show business. I’d like to comment on the idea of sisterhood generally. The notion that two women can’t be friends is something that was made by a man. As I said, there are certain experiences that women go through that are common irrespective of their class, caste and creed. The pain is equal. The humiliation is equal. The unfairness of that situation is equal. So, I feel that a woman is the only one who can understand me. Therefore, we need to empower each other. We need to stand up for each other in our own ways. That’s what real sisterhood is.
On living a socially aware existence and lending support to public causes
I think it’s something that I truly want to do. I don’t do it because I have to do it as I’m a public figure. Even if I wasn’t an actor, I’d be doing the same. There are many women who maybe aren’t the public figures and don’t have the kind of following that I have, who have been walking towards the cause maybe harder than what I have been doing. So, I think it comes from within. I don’t think it’s about taking a stand but doing the work that you do towards the change that you see in the world.
On her contribution to #KeepGirlsInSchool campaign
I think my contribution to the cause comes with a fact that I can reach out to so many people through various platforms. The biggest tool that I have is my voice and I’m very fortunate that there are people who trust me because of the work that I have done and I constantly try to be an advocate for any kind of gender-related biases.
On how men can be great allies to women
The kind of change that we want cannot happen alone. Men need to be equally sensitised. I think that’s where the real change will happen. Unfortunately, men are the policymakers. Men are the ones who have made these rules that we all have to abide by and that’s what needs to change and that will only happen through enough conversation, education and us standing up for our rights and making enough noise about what we feel is right or wrong. I feel men need to be okay with the idea of a woman getting a period. It is the way we are made. This is the reason we reproduce kids and I don’t think people understand that. There are so many girls who are unaware of the fact that this is even going to happen to them. I had enough education in school and in fact even in home, we were constantly told about menstrual hygiene education and yet the first time I got my period, I was so scared and felt so vulnerable. So what about the girls who have no idea about how to deal with it? That’s why we need campaigns like #KeepGirlsInSchool because it really gives the girls the tools to understand how to protect themselves.