When Bollywood actresses broke their silence over causes that truly matter
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” says Edmund Burke. In this case, good women, strong women, passionate, opinionated, and spirited women decided not to stand by and watch while the rot set in with issues they cared deeply about. Here are some of our most celebrated actresses who used their clout, money, and power to make people listen, for the greater good:
1. Deepika Padukone and Depression:
Deepika is not only a champion, but also one of the architects of the conversation around the fallouts of depression. She spoke about the illness and how she suffered silently for years; almost at once, people started looking at the issue in a new light. What was considered a mere ‘phase’, earned recognition as a ‘disease’; what was considered taboo, found acceptance. In 2015, she launched the “Live Love Laugh” foundation to create awareness on mental health in India.
2. Aishwarya Rai and post-pregnancy fat-shaming:
We still live in a time when what captures the headlines upon the birth of a star-baby, is not the miracle of life, but the woman’s race to regain her ‘normal’ body, while shaming the weight gain that is harmless and inevitable. This pressure multiples manifold for those in showbiz, whose USP is their physical desirability. Aishwarya Rai was a victim of this vicious judgement when she had her baby girl, but she remained impervious. In an interview, she said, “It isn’t surprising, because in this industry it comes as standard when an actress becomes a mother, the focus isn’t on her health, it’s how fast she lost her weight, and I don’t worry about this. To me, the well-being and the health of my family is more important than focusing on going back to my pre-pregnancy body in miracle time.”
3. Kalki Koechlin and Child Sexual Abuse:
Two years ago, at a conference organised by Rahul Bose’s NGO H.E.A.L, Kalki Koechlin confessed to having been sexually abused herself – something that no actress had done before. She broke her silence primarily because she wanted us to realise the ubiquity of it – and how it happens to just about everyone, and is a problem that needs escalation and action. She says, “The problem about talking about it publicly is there’s also the danger that it just becomes a shocking headline. Somebody who has gone through CSA is not a headline, that’s a reality they have lived with all of their life.”
4. Nandita Das and Dark is Beautiful
Nandita Das called upon women in India – a tropical nation – to “Stay Unfair, Stay Beautiful,” through an online campaign that wished to reverse-shame fairness products for shaming dark skin. The actress resents the term ‘dusky,’ as she doesn’t want people to attach that special adjective as an afterthought while describing her, that doesn’t really say anything about her. After receiving ridiculous requests like wearing extra layers of makeup for playing an upper-class woman, she decided that she was through with these ridiculous standards of beauty. The response to her campaign was phenomenal, and she received hundreds of thousands of emails from women thanking her and seeking her counsel to deal with taboos around their skin colour.
5. Vidya Balan and Sanitation for women
As the National Sanitation Brand Ambassador, she is not only working to reverse the taboos around the subject of sanitation, but is also encouraging women in rural areas – through rigorous campaigning on and off-screen – to demand bathrooms in the house for them to use. She recently associated with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to flag off “Changing Behaviour: Creating Sanitation Change Leaders”, which aims to make 100 villages in the country’s most populous state open-defecation free.
6. Priyanka Chopra, Shabana Azmi and Feminism
The actresses are staunch feminists and have never shied from admitting it – and think nobody should, in protest of recent attempts at warping the ideology and shaming its patrons. While Shabana is a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund which seeks to propagate the idea of safe methods of contraception and abortion in India for population control, Priyanka donates a tenth of her salary to the cause of women’s education, safety and empowerment through her NGO, “The Priyanka Chopra Foundation for Health and Education” and as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Child Rights.
7. Sunny Leone and the Legitimisation of Porn
“If I’m earning more than the President of the United States, I’m doing something right” Sunny Leone had famously said, when she was bombarded with questions, interspersed with judgmental undertones, about her past. Sunny, now a Bollywood actress, comes from a legitimate several-billion dollar industry that makes adult films. She has always worn been open about her past career and in trying to legitimise the industry has helped us expand our moral lens, while dealing with orthodox Indian audiences.
8. Sushmita Sen and Single Parenting
When she was crowned Miss Universe, she committed herself to affecting two lives and changing them forever. Adoption was considered the last resort for couples who couldn’t conceive, and voluntary single parenting was unheard of, especially since she was single and only 25 years old. When she adopted her daughter Renee, it was not viewed as socially acceptable to obtain the guardianship of the baby, but, the High Court of Bombay quashed the appeal and she was allowed to become a single parent. She repeated history by adopting another three-month-old girl in 2010, and named her Alisah.
These actresses prove that with great power comes great responsibility, and deliver upon our expectations from them as public figures with utmost flair. Hats off!