Join us in celebrating women from different walks of life in the pursuit of their dreams
Join us in celebrating women from different walks of life in the pursuit of their dreams
Life works out better when I
focus only on what I can do best
Actor extraordinaire Konkona Sen Sharma needs no introduction. After proving her acting prowess in Bengali and Hindi films, winning two National Awards and dozens of international accolades, she added another feather to her cap last year with her critically acclaimed, award-winning directorial debut, A Death In The Gunj. Over to Konkona as she explains how success is as much about contentment, practicality and patience, as it’s about ambition and talent.
What made you want to be an actor?
Nothing! I didn’t want to be an actor at all. I was four when I acted in my first film. I was hanging around my mom’s sets and something went wrong with the boy who was originally supposed to shoot. They cut my hair and made me do it. After that, I did bit parts here and there. But I never really wanted a career in acting.
Why is that?
When you’re young and everyone tells you you’re good at something, you have to resist it just to prove a point! Jokes aside, I already knew what the film industry was like, and I couldn’t really see myself fitting into it. I knew the kind of films I identified with didn’t really get made too often or made a lot of money.
What changed, and when?
While I was in college, I did Ek Je Aachhe Kanya, a small Bengali film that became popular. Then Rituparno Ghosh offered me Titli. Then I did Mr and Mrs Iyer with my mother. Amu and Page 3 happened. I kept thinking I’ll eventually get a ‘real’ job in journalism or advertising, but I kept getting good work.
Why did you switch to direction?
After I had my son, I was doing lesser work and had a lot of time to myself. I was living with my dad in Delhi and we’d talk about stories I’d loved as a child. At some point, I started writing. Even then, I didn’t really think anyone would give me money to make the film.
Would you have been okay if you’d never found the money to make A Death In The Gunj?
I think so. I didn’t have my dreams for the future pinned on this project. I already knew that studios wouldn’t be interested in such a story, so their rejection didn’t sting. I’ve seen my mother struggle to raise money for years to put out alternative content, so I didn’t get super excited or disappointed with each development.
You’re saying preparing for failure helped you succeed?
I think in life in general, it’s good not to have very high expectations from people. I hold myself to a high standard and have good reason for doing the things I do, but I don’t get too affected by external factors, which is why I think I’m able to carry on without it taking a toll on me.
What would your advice be to women struggling to take the next step in their careers?
I believe that trying to live up to other people’s standards is the biggest drain of your time, thoughts and energy. At the end of the day, there’s very little you can do about an unfortunate turn of events. So what’s the point of stewing in misery? At the same time, I think it’s important to know that you don’t have to enjoy every moment of everything you do. That’s a very fleeting pursuit. I believe that instead of trying to plan or micromanage everything, life works out better when I focus only on what I can do best and give it my all, once I sign up to do something.
Everyone needs to do what works for them without fear of ridicule
Tara Sharma, actress, talk show host, producer, writer and hands-on mom has made some unconventional life choices: from giving up a steady corporate job to wade into the choppy waters of showbiz to bidding adieu to Bollywood glamor and playing mommy, and finally, building a career that combines her love for family with her penchant for facing the camera. Along the way, she’s also discovered what makes her tick, what success means to her, and why she wouldn’t change a thing. Take a listen as Tara talks what kept her going when it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
What made you decide to go into acting?
As a child, I was fiercely career-minded. But my parents always said that while it’s important to be good at what you do, it’s also important to enjoy it immensely. I guess that lesson stuck. And so, two years into a corporate job, I knew I had to give my passion for performance a serious chance.
You didn’t have a very successful acting career, did that ever demotivate you?
In ten years, I did about 18 films. Some did well, others not, but they were all great experiences. When I had my first son, I realised that being around family and baby was important to me. If I wasn’t willing to be away on shoots for days – the first demand of a successful acting career – I couldn’t blame anyone else for it. I’m not a big superstar, but that’s the path I chose.
Do you ever compare yourself to your peers?
I would, if our definitions of success were the same. When I started, Priyanka Chopra, John Abraham and I went to the same acting classes. When they made it big, I was often asked if I felt bad about being “left behind”. It made me realise how much the world likes to pit two choices against each other. I believe that everyone needs to do what works for them, without fearing the world’s ridicule or judgement.
How do you define success?
For me, being successful meant having a career that allowed me to have my kids around while I worked. So, eight years ago, I created The Tara Sharma Show. Everyone may not watch it, but when someone writes in to say that after watching it, people look at their autistic son with respect, not pity, I know I’m successful.
What gave you the confidence to create a new career for yourself?
There is a saying I believe; when the fear of not doing something is bigger than the fear of doing it badly, that’s the time to take the plunge. I also think that education played a big part in giving me the confidence to forge ahead. It’s not that university taught me all the skills I needed, but it gave me the confidence to sit in boardrooms full of CEOs and hold my own, without getting intimidated.
What would be your advice to women struggling to chart their own paths?
Be honest with yourself, and don’t be ashamed of what’s important to you. Equality is about having a choice, not about doing the same things as men. As long as the choice to do something is yours, you are empowered. And there’s nothing that empowered women can’t do!
When you make peace with problems, it takes away their power
Alankrita Shrivastava, the woman behind pathbreaking film, Lipstick Under My Burkha, might be a household name today but there was a time when she lived on film sets with next to no money, with no idea of what she’d do if the industry rejected her. And her film’s success is proof that if you persevere hard enough, nothing is impossible. Read more about her extraordinary journey
What made you take up direction?
I think more than anything else, I love telling stories that are a little away from the norm. In school, I remember reading Nagesh Kukunoor’s interview right after he made Hyderabad Blues. It made me believe that it was possible to make unconventional fictional films in India… The next thing I knew, I was moving to Mumbai to follow my ‘dream’.
Given that you don’t have a filmi background, how did your family react?
When I moved, I had no backup plan. When I arrived in Mumbai, I went straight to the sets. I was an unpaid intern who lived and ate on the sets. Later, I started getting Rs 5,000 as salary. I don’t even know how things would have panned out if my parents hadn’t stood by me.
What gave you the confidence to make Lipstick Under My Burkha, even though your first film Turning 30 wasn’t very successful?
Making Turning 30 was a very fulfilling experience. It taught me that while I needed to get better, I was on the right track. It also helped me accept who I was, as a storyteller and a filmmaker. After Turning 30, I knew that I simply wasn’t interested in telling the same regular, done-to-death stories about men and for men, shot from their perspective and to please their sensibilities. I realized that unless I could tell intriguing stories of women, I wasn’t interested in making films.
How did the realization change things for you?
Oh, it was an incredibly liberating experience. When you make peace with “problems”, it takes away their power. I accepted that I would always be on the fringes because of the stories I wanted to tell… That it would always be difficult to find financiers and distributors for my films. That life would always be a little uncertain. I was fine with that. Now, when anything good happens, it’s a bonus!
Does being labelled a “female filmmaker” bother you?
Not really. Although all women filmmakers don’t want to tell the same kind of stories, we’re lumped together because there are so few of us. What does make me raise my eyebrows is when I hear, “Oh, you want to make another female-oriented film.” Is anyone asking Rohit Shetty why he wants to make one more male-oriented film?
What would you say to other aspiring women directors?
Come forward and make your movies! It’s tough, but if you’re good and have a story with merit, you’ll find people who will believe in your vision and help you. Story-telling has been controlled by men for so long that it has conditioned even the women in the audience to see films from a very male perspective. It’s the reason why so many still find stalking “romantic”. Until there are an equal number of women behind the camera, not just as directors, but exhibitors and producers, nothing will really change.
‘Everything I’ve achieved so far is purely due to my determination and hard work’
At 28, Heena Sidhu was the first Indian to become World Number One, according to the International Shooting Sport Federation. A certified dentist and world record holder in shooting, she has represented India twice in the Olympics, and has won a gold and a silver at the Commonwealth Games. Just last year, she won the gold at both, the Commonwealth Shooting Championships and the ISSF World Cup. To say she’s an overachiever is an understatement. And yet, the road to glory has not been easy. So, what keeps Heena going?
From dentistry to shooting, how did this transition happen?
As a child. I wasn’t good at sports. But I always had an innate love for guns. When I was about 17, I turned to shooting as a hobby – to destress from my study schedule. When I started winning at district and state level competitions, it motivated me to continue.
At what point did you decide to give up dentistry to pursue shooting professionally?
I got serious about shooting around 2010, which is when we had the Commonwealth Games in the country. In 2012, I got selected for my first Olympics. Until then, I had thought I’d shoot for five odd and retire, but after having tasted my first Olympics, I knew I couldn’t go back. I didn’t want to be mediocre at two things, so I decided to excel at one. I just loved shooting more than dentistry, I guess.
What has been the toughest part of your journey?
I got selected a few months before the Olympics, so had barely any time to prepare. I think one of the most stressful parts of the experience was the realisation that my own people didn’t believe in me. I wasn’t getting funding from the government even after being selected because they thought I was just a junior shooter who got lucky. I wasn’t considered a medal hopeful, so they didn’t want to waste any money on me.
How did you deal with it?
I just pushed it to the back of my mind. It was hard, and I used to cry sometimes, but I always knew that the Olympics were so much bigger than anything I was going through. I kept telling myself I’ve reached this far without anybody’s help, and that this was my war and I would fight it myself.
What motivates you to keep going?
I shoot for myself, not the world. Everything I’ve achieved so far is purely due to my determination and hard work. I’ve always felt that I’m enough for myself. I also think I’m very self-aware. I know that I’m not at my best; that I haven’t reached my potential yet, that I’m almost there, but not completely.
So not getting people’s support didn’t bother you?
If you get support in life, it’s great. But even if you don’t, you need to head out, find your way, and keep at it. Sometimes I think we use the lack of support as an excuse. It’s always easier to give up. The hard part is to persevere. And one day, when you reach your destination, all the people who didn’t believe in you will come and support you. But sometimes, you just have to go through the initial struggle on your own.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to follow your dreams
Deepa Malik’s achievements can humble and astound an able-bodied person; let alone someone paralysed chest downward. In 2016, she became the first Indian woman to win at the Paralympic Games. The accolades are many; Arjuna Award, Padma Shri, President Role Model Award, and record-making swimmer, biker, and car rallyist. She’s also the first person to receive a license for a modified rally vehicle. If anyone truly embodies the spirit of mind over matter, it’s Deepa. Over to her on her mantra for defeating life’s seemingly unsurmountable challenges with a smile.
Most abled people never find the grit to pursue a career in sports. So, what made you take up the challenges you did?
I think for me it was a loud statement about who I was beyond my disability. I was just really fed up of the world looking at me with pity, like my life was over. I didn’t want to be known as a patient, because I had overcome all my physical and emotional challenges. It was about craving a new identity. I asked myself, ‘Okay, Deepa, with this body, what can you do?’
How did you go about finding out what you were capable of?
It wasn’t easy. I was the first person in my disability category to do most of the things I ended up doing. I had to first identify my passions and then create opportunities within them. When I decided that I wanted to become a biker and a rallyist, I had to learn what modifications I would need in my vehicles and then find people willing to make those changes. I had to relearn all my skills – swimming, shot put, javelin throwing – to be able to do them with this new body. No one had created a template or a roadmap for me to follow. The only thought in my mind was that I wanted to excel at everything I did, within the realm of my disability. I researched a lot, joined spinal injury support groups, and went to chat rooms to speak to anyone who had a perspective to offer. A major turning point was when I met Mr Arun Sodhi, a Paralympian powerlifter from Sweden at the Spinal Cord Injuries Centre in Delhi in 2015. I attended his six-week seminar that taught me about how to manage my condition and pursue my new dreams.
Did your dreams ever seem impossible?
I don’t accept failure. I was very consciously looking for opportunities. I made dozens of calls daily, wrote countless emails to CSR departments of corporate houses to sponsor my vehicles, and diligently hounded experts. I think the reason I succeeded was that I simply wasn’t willing to give up and wasn’t shy of asking for stuff. When you try hard enough, some door, somewhere, is bound to open.
What would your message be to women struggling to make a leap of faith and follow their own dreams?
Nothing can hold you back if you’ve decided, in your heart, that failing is not an option. You don’t need anyone’s permission to follow your dreams if you aren’t dependent on them physically or monetarily. People keep wondering what my husband or family’s role in my success is, but the truth is, though I’m married, what I have achieved is a singular effort. I never needed permission from anyone to do anything because I created my own support and volunteer network for people to fund my pursuits if they wanted to. My daughters haven’t missed a single trip or experience of their lives because they had to help their paralysed mother. I am almost 50 now, but I can bet I have more stamina and endurance than able-bodied people half my age. The only thing that can hold you back is your own will.
It's time to bring change, even if it's in one village at a time
We've all heard stories about simple village folk leaving home and hearth in search of a better life in big cities. Rarely do you hear the opposite. Chhavi Rajawat is part of that rare breed who give up successful corporate careers to return to their roots. In 2010, after her MBA she returned to Soda, her ancestral village, to uplift the people she left behind. At 32, she became the youngest elected sarpanch in the country, and the first woman with a Masters' degree to get the job. So, why did Chhavi take the decision to change the course of her life forever?
What made you come back to Soda to become a sarpanch?
It wasn’t a part of my plan. The residents of Soda were frustrated with the slow pace of progress. In 2010, the post of sarpanch was reserved for women. The villagers were familiar with me because I used to spend a lot of time there during my vacations while growing up. They turned to me with a lot of hope, and there was no way I could let them down especially after the drought in 2009. They say charity begins at home, and Soda is home to me. My vision has been to align people to come together and create a village development model that could be scaled up and replicated.
Considering you didn’t have political backing or formal training, how did you go about dealing with the challenges of governance?
If it weren’t for the drought, I wouldn’t have known where to begin. The immediate priority was safe potable water because even the ground water—that was saline and contaminated—had been declared unsafe for irrigation. I approached the government unsuccessfully and then turned to the private sector. But since our district, Tonk, has no industries, I received no support there either. I then turned to family and friends, and finally donations started to trickle in.
We now have regular supply of non-contaminated drinking water. We’ve constructed about 40 internal roads and toilets for over 900 houses. Electricity supply is up from four hours a day to almost 24 hours. We set up a State Bank of India branch in 2011, which not only provides villagers with financial aid, but also protects them from moneylenders. It is my faith in the goodness of people that has helped me find the support to deal with daily challenges.
Has being a woman made the job more difficult?
The system is unaccustomed to having someone like me at the panchayat level. Every step I take forward, the system tries to push me back. While I can’t obviously fit into the 'men’s club', I think the larger issue is also that panchayats are not empowered in the true sense. For instance, a sarpanch in Rajasthan draws an honorarium of Rs 3,500 per month, while the panchayat secretary (a government employee) can get about Rs 50,000. Why will the secretary respect the elected representative? Besides, we’re not allowed to use panchayat funds at our discretion.
My panchayat’s very first project of constructing an IT centre was stalled for four years because of the apathy of officials at the grassroots and district level. Police officials were also unwilling to help and my father and I were once even attacked.
What kept you going in the face of hardship?
My parents never once questioned my decision to work in the social sector. The villagers’ faith in me also boosted my morale. They had shattered their own caste, religion and gender barriers to ensure I become their elected representative, so how could I fail them? It’s time we all came together to bring change, even if it’s in one village at a time.