[WATCH] I have never silenced my conscience to fit in: Sushmita Sen on making unapologetic choices
There’s something very seductive about juxtaposing the ‘then’ with the ‘now’. Its voyeuristic pleasures aside, the then and now context brings the past and present together as nothing else can. It shows the passage of time. A sense of movement. And growth.
For those of us who were witness to the 1994 international beauty pageant that went on to crown India’s first Miss Universe, it was indeed a wow moment. For Sushmita Sen, then all of 18, it was “unbelievable” and all she could exclaim was, “Oh! Ma” when her name was announced as Miss Universe.
“My expression there,” she laughs, recalling the moment from 26 years ago, in an interview with me over Zoom (where else). In retrospect, looking at the picture that made headlines in all the newspapers over India at that time, she is amused at her expression the most.
“You are just making history, girl. Can you not have your eyes pop out of the socket,” she says, chiding her 18-year-old self.
[Watch the full interview at the end of story]
Worth the wait
Fast forward, and those eyes speak a thousand words even today. She turns 45 next month and from the looks of her recent success with the web series Aarya, she is living the best time of her life.
“Everything that I have been working towards and waiting for has come to fruition with Aarya,” she says. “It was about breaking norms of what a 40-plus actor is given in the industry as a scope of performance,” she adds.
Success in the Hindi movie industry had long evaded Sushmita — though for no fault of hers. The industry, long used to portraying leading women actors in a particular patriarchal mould, always fell short when it came to matching up to her independent-woman persona and her height.
However, with the proliferation of OTT platforms recreating how we consume entertainment, there’s a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. The trend has “allowed a lot of talent, which has for the longest time been submissively kept, to have an aggressive outlay of projection,” as she states.
Sushmita adds that she has had to say a lot of nos to finally say a yes to a project that does justice to her. “I want the audience to be able to say that she ate that hunger of having waited so long. I don’t want to just bore you with stuff,” she says.
As Aarya Sareen in the web series Aarya, Sushmita received all-round critical acclaim for the portrayal of a middle-aged woman who deftly balances the roles of a mother and wife, at the same time being unapologetically a woman of substance.
“I was very happy to play a mother of three grown-up kids. But at no point was I underplaying my sexiness. Aarya is a sexy girl. She has this inbuilt mechanism that she is not trying to underplay because she is the mother of three teenagers,” Sushmita says.
For the longest time, the Hindi entertainment industry remained clueless about where to fit Sushmita. Besides, there was also the inevitable comparison with actor Aishwarya Rai, her contemporary, who incidentally was also crowned with another prestigious beauty pageant crown of Miss World the same year.
Fit in she still doesn’t. However, now with critics applauding her for the one-woman show in Aarya, she is showing you can chart your own path and walk it too.
“What has worked for me is that I have never...,” and she emphasises on the ‘never’ in the way only she can, “I have never silenced my conscience to fit in. And I have always known that there is a price to be paid for it. When you take a road less travelled, there is a price to be paid for that.”
She states that she does not like things that come easy. “I like things that inspire me to have it and then I love working for it. I like things to earn my respect.”
Today, Sushmita is inspiring many young people over social media precisely because of these attributes. As a jury of Myntra Fashion Superstar, Sushmita along with fashion designer Manish Malhotra and social media influencer Mallika Dua will evaluate participants of digital fashion influencer talent hunt and reality show.
“If you are any kind of social media influencer, you have to have the power to change conversations. It just cannot be about following mundane rules,” she advises young people.
“Stand up for who you are. Before you do that, know who you are.”
Sense and sensibility
The wisdom that comes with age apart, Sushmita says she has never done anything that is age-appropriate. Whether it is adopting a baby girl when she was herself only 24 or now when she is reportedly dating a younger man.
“I love for love’s sake. I dress up for dressing up sake...I, for one, am pretty unapologetic about my choices. I did not make them to make you happy. I made them because I can live with them.”
With life being lived on one’s own terms, wouldn’t hers make for an interesting book or even a web series? And here, I am sure, she may not have any reservations of fitting into the role.
[Watch the full interview here]
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta