`I'm not anti-male'
Shobaa De tells ROHINI MOHAN why she hates to be slotted into a stereotype
Photo: K. Gopinathan
BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL: Writer, columnist Shobaa De believes that to be a feminist means recognising your own strengths as a human being.
MOST MEN would turn red, listening to her scathing remarks about catching them at their ogling and drooling worst. But Shobaa De, unflappable as ever, keeps the undeniable sarcasm and humour coming in her columns and novels. In an interview to the MetroPlus, she spoke about fashion, feminism, films and fiction.
You started as a model, went on to be a gossip columnist, journalist, and novelist. Was each a platform for the next?
It was all a natural process of growing up. As a person, your focus changes; you want to test yourself all the time. Show me one person who remains a 20-year-old all her life... It's the fluidity of life and experience.
Are you a novelist now because fiction affords you more space to speak your mind than a column does?
I don't demarcate writing, really. Whether it takes the form of columns, novels, television scripts, fiction, ad copies, writing is an all-consuming passion. It's such an intrinsic part of who I am that I just feel lucky to have been able to do it all.
Why did you decide on television as the medium for your scripts? Wouldn't cinema have been a more powerful medium?
I think television in India has taken far more chances than mainstream cinema in presenting social issues. Forget the saas bahu... that's one genre. There are several serials that excel in representing contemporary realities. I don't know of any Hindi film that has given an accurate portrayal of a working woman, a single mother, divorced couples, abortion... Plus, television keeps you on your toes. To be able to reach out to a potential audience of 250 million people on a daily basis is amazing.
Do you think women-based subjects are overdone, and even burnt to a crisp on TV and in films?
TV is certainly saying things in a far bolder way than Hindi cinema bold in the real sense! I don't mean `bold' in the sense of exposure, like in `Murder', `Paap', `Girlfriend'... That is just sensationalism and titillation; it's not dealing with an issue.
So you don't agree with Mallika Sherawat when she calls herself a bold actress?
No, no... I'm cool with that. She actively chooses to do those roles. That's how she wants to project herself. `Take it or leave it' is what she's saying. Actually, I have issues with girls who simper and get into a completely hypocritical mode after being seen in fairly daring costumes or films, and the press attacks them for exposure. Those are double standards. Have the courage to take the commercial decision if you want to.
What clearly gives away a pseudo-feminist?
To be a feminist doesn't mean being confrontational, aggressive, anti-male. It's about recognising your own strengths as a human being. It's not just about raising your voice for women, which of course, if you're in a position to do, you must. It's about being sensitised about gender issues in an equal way, even for men who are exploited. In any case, I refuse to be defined by labels of any kind they're too limiting.
Although said in a different context, what was your reaction to Lalu Prasad's attack on Sushma Swaraj, when he said, "All women are jealous by nature"?
I hate the idea of stereotypes. A lot of feminists willingly fall into that trap. See, whether it is about winning a beauty pageant, a popularity contest, or votes, I would never deny my feminine self in order to establish any identity, or conform to any kind of ideal. I am who I am, for better or for worse. I live life on my own terms. I don't like to be typecast as a feminist or even a humanist.
Don't your writings lean towards feminism?
I lean towards equality. I'm gender-neutral. I'm not anti-male.
But you said once that "men could be trained... "
Oh yes, I really believe that. (Sometimes, I say these things in a lighter vein and they get misrepresented. Now I've just stopped cracking jokes.) Men haven't had to fight against systems, and have had it easier all along, which has made life a sort of cakewalk for them. So to train them is not difficult.
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