In an interview with Bengali news channel, Zee 24 Ghanta, Sushmita Sen was asked about her answer that she gave during 1994 Miss Universe pageant that won her the title. On being asked what adventure she would embark upon if she enough time and money, Sushmita Sen had promptly replied that it would be something to do it helping children. In the interview which took place almost 5 years back, Sushmita shared another piece of her beautiful philosophy. She said that when an individual is from a lower-middle-class family, but with God’s blessings and hard work achieves heights of success and prosperity, one must always share it with others. That is how you express your gratitude to God and gain even more prosperity in abundance.
Born way ahead of her time
The Bengali girl who made entire India proud also destroyed the looming patriarchal teachings prevalent in the early ’90s in her own way.
She broke the boundary of women’s modesty being synonymous with virtues. She stamped the societal rules under her heels while keeping her million-dollar smile intact. Being a strong and fearless woman and stepping into the glamour world was a pretty difficult deed for women in those days and Sushmita paid the price for it.
The wheat-ish skinned glam queen is so much more than her Miss Universe title. She was and is unapologetically herself. It took a while for Bollywood to realize the worth of this queen but perhaps she is finally getting what is due.
Farah Khan, director and choreographer told HuffPost India, “She lived unapologetically—most people don’t have the guts to live like this. In a society like ours, she was ahead of the curve, and didn’t believe in picking up characters whose ultimate goal was to get married.”
2020 Disney+Hotstar series Aarya based on Dutch Pinozahas taken up the internet by storm. Sushmita plays the lead role in the series. The story of a successful and gorgeous woman who is sucked into the whirlwind of family secrets and crimes. From the way she carries herself to the throw of dialogues, no one can deny Sen is perfect for the role. After years of struggle, Sushmita Sen is finally getting her due to appreciation.
“Sushmita is a strong woman. Her character in real life, her presence, her aura all reflect that. Aarya does not follow the traditional indoctrination of story-telling and traditional arcs, that is, a weak woman who becomes strong. Instead, Aarya is a strong woman from the very beginning, except — and this was the brief that my co-writer and co-director Sandeep, Vinod and I gave to Sushmita — except when it comes to her children,” writer and director of Aarya, Ram Madhvani said.
Victim of Racism
Around the same time, Aishwarya Rai was also a rising star who swept everyone off their feet with her beauty and elegance. While both are stars are equally loved by the audience now, such was not the case then. From brand endorsements to movie leads, casting directors and brands preferred blue-eyed, fair-skinned, docile Aishwarya over the tanned, gorgeous Bengali beauty. The rejections were innumerous and so were the disappointments but Sen is not the one who would change herself for the sake of society. 200 years of English rule had penetrated into our subconscious the superiority of light skin which is a battle we are yet to win.
Sushmita Sen in movies
The ’90s and 2000s had a very specific genre that won blockbusters at the Box Office. The only about love story between ‘masculine’ male lead and docile female lead. From David Dhawan’s Biwi No.1 to Boney Kapoor’s Sirf Tum, every movie glorified what we call unhealthy imbalance in a relationship where men are valued on toxic masculinity and women on their modesty.
Sushmita did not fit either group. This left her with the roles of ‘other woman’. The Mastani in every story where Baji Rao doesn’t end up with her. She is the affair, the strong female character who is ‘too career-oriented’ or ‘too sexual’ to settle down with. But Sushmita did not budge in her decision to be herself. From ‘Bas Itna Sa Khwaab Hai’ to ‘Tumko Na Bhool Payenge’ she had very similar roles.
Sudeshna Roy, senior journalist and editor of magazine Sanandasaid, “She couldn’t be a simpering damsel in distress and the Indian audience, especially men at that time, wasn’t ready for that personality.”
Although in very few chosen movies she is not relegated to the supportive role and actually gets the opportunity to be the lead without sacrificing her fierceness. One of such movies would by Filhaal by Meghna Gulzar. Farah Khan too happens to be one of the few individuals who saw Sen for who she was for real and valued it.
“Back then, I totally believe that people were intimidated by her, heroes were a bit taken aback. She’s fierce. Which is why, before Main Hoon Na went on floors, I told Shah Rukh, look, she’s going to look taller to you, there’s no hiding that, and her character is spunky, independent and confident.”
Sushmita did not choose to be the docile and shy actresses that most of her actresses were. Same was with her personal life. Often called out for being ‘brazenly’ open about her personal life and relationships, Sushmita paid zero heed to it and still does the same.
In 2018, when her relationship with beau Rohman Shawl became public, she faced a lot of criticism for the 15 years age gap. But that is unimportant to her, and rightly so. She chose to be single mother and did a perfect job of it when the term itself was still a taboo in India.
The fact that Sushmita Sen was born a few decades ahead of her time made her go through a lot of compromise but she emerged victorious.
The assertive actress who settled for nothing less than what she deserves finally got her share of applause in 2020 and her fans cannot be happier.