‘Bollywood Still Stereotypes Women’ – Lipstick Under My Burkha’s Ratna Pathak
She’s definitely one of the most respected actors in cinema and has left her mark in all projects that she has been a part of. Ratna Pathak leaves her most recent on-screen persona of Maya Sarabhai as she assumes a very different role in the controversial film Lipstick Under My Burkha that released this week. On the occasion, she spoke to us about the women of Bollywood, trends in Hindi cinema and also how not many women would like to have ‘young’ men in their lives. Excerpts:
You’ve been in the industry for a long time. How do you think the scenario has changed for women?
Well I’ve been on the periphery of the industry. I have hardly done any films but I have been around and have seen how things operate and what happens. One of the first things I noticed is that there are many more parts for women being written today and they are not entirely stereotypical as they used to be. I’m of course not talking about the mainstream cinema, there I have observed that the stereotypes have survived much longer, but in the more independent kind of film-making, the stories for women and the parts for women have become simply more interesting, more nuanced and much more to play.
How was it working with Alankrita Shrivastav? What was your experience like?
It would be hard to describe that in a very short answer because Alankrita and I have come a long way; I did not know her very well, oh! Hardly at all, before we got into making the film. It is a very personal and very intimate kind of film and therefore, there needed to be a good deal of trust between the two of us. She needed to feel that I could deliver what she wanted, and I needed to feel confident that she will not talk about these issues in a superficial manner. But I have to say that as soon as I read the script, I was totally blown away because I realised that Alankrita is coming up with much more, expanding and depth than an average film-maker or even a woman does, partly because these stories are coming out of her own engagement with life.
So the script was wonderful and I felt extremely excited about doing it. Alankrita was constantly supportive and had a very quiet presence on the set. I really appreciated that. All the people, whether men or women felt very comfortable with each other and were able to do scenes that were highly intimate in nature. There was not a single bad vibe which is quite extraordinary, thanks to the kind of mood that Alankrita had managed to create on the set. And after the recent troubles that she has faced, I’m impressed Alankrita has come out of it like tempered steel. All the difficulties in her way, rather than making her crumble and crush, have made her stronger and more determined to deliver the story. They have given more power to her. We really need directors with that kind of conviction and story-telling abilities to operate in the industry.
How different is your approach to a role in a play as compared to a role in a film?
There’s no real difference between how you act, whether you’re acting on stage or on screen. The process of creating a character is different, and the techniques differ between the various media.
There are a lot of men who act with actresses half their age but when actresses do that, people’s eyebrows are raised. What is your opinion on this hypocrisy that exists?
It’s a hypocrisy that exists in our society, like many other hypocrisies. We’re very happy to live with double-standards in India. We say one thing and do another. So it’s very much a part of that hypocrisy. An elderly person who lusts after young women and who marries young women is considered a ‘stud,’ a ‘cute old man’ or at least a ‘naughty, funny man’ and he is treated with a great deal of acceptance. A woman in the same position isn’t given the same kind of acceptance. And I don’t think that women are trying desperately to look for young men. If you ask me personally, I certainly don’t want to get involved with a young man. A young man is very hard work, and I’m done with all this work that men have demanded from me (laughs). I’m very happy to not have any young men in my life. And I think a lot of women my age or even younger might share that opinion.
What has been your favourite women-centric film of all times?
I can’t pinpoint one. I’ve never thought of it like that. I don’t look at films as male-centric and female-centric; ideally I look at a film as a story and what the film is trying to say. Some films work, while others don’t, so it really doesn’t matter who the protagonist is.
What do you think about the boom of Hindi cinema in India?
Is there a boom? I’m so happy to hear that. This year we had some very good films, and the last year too. In the last couple of years we’ve been seeing films with a distinct subject, very interestingly told in various languages in India, not just in Hindi, thank God! I think it’s a very hopeful trend and I’m deeply excited and curious about what these directors will do next because we’ve had this wait before and we’ve seen what happened to those directors, we saw how their second film onwards was a completely different kind of film. So is the same thing going to repeat itself? I’m always a bit of a wary and I’ve seen these things come and go too often, so I am a bit worried about that.
But having said that, I’m convinced that the films I’m seeing today, made by independent film-makers, films like Masaan, Anarkali of Aarah, or even Dum laga ke Haisha, or in various languages; the kind of films that have been made in Marathi or in Tamil, it’s fantastic, but will these guys make similar kind of films again, or will they be bought over by the large mainstream cinema movement because that is very strong and it’s a huge pull for all concerned? So will we actually focus on content rather than stars and presentation? I don’t know. I hope I’m proved wrong.