EQUALITY BEGINS AT HOME; WE COULD VOICE A ‘NO’ TO OUR FATHER AND CALL OUT THAT HE WAS WRONG EVEN WHEN WE WERE KIDS:
Being the daughter of the late legendary writer, author and litterateur P Lankesh had its perks. You could voice out your opinion and say ‘no’ when you disagreed with something. Even if it’s to your own father. He was an extremely liberal and indulgent father, but I distinctly remember this one day when I called him out on his slightly partial ways with my brother (director Indrajit Lankesh) and said to him, “if you get so blinded with love for him being a boy, he’ll never get out of your shadow,” and walked out of the house in a huff. It was a rare instance and my father accepted that outburst and never ticked me off for speaking out and that was the norm of our home. Growing up, my sister Gauri and I were never treated any differently because we were girls. In fact, in our early years, it was our mother who shaped our thoughts because we saw her run our family with her hard-earned money. She was an SSLC pass, had seen days of poverty owing to our father’s career as a journalist who had then quit work and earn his meagre income from writing and so on. There were instances when we had no money to pay our school fees. So our mother decided to take matters into her own hands and began selling saris from within the confines our home. She later set up her own shop and this gave Gauri and me the conviction that women are powerhouses in themselves. My father, meanwhile, exposed us to the world of books. He didn’t care two hoots about clothes or ornaments, but gave us money to buy how many ever books we wanted from Premier Bookshop on MG Road. We had healthy discussions with our father on whatever books we were reading and our view and arguments were always heeded and welcomed by our father. So much earlier in life, Gauri and me had learned to voice out our opinion, say no and make our stand known.
I WAS THE FIRST WOMAN IN BANGALORE TO RIDE A BIKE:
I was quite the tomboy both in school and college. Soon after graduation, I got into advertising which was, 35 years ago — a completely male-dominated world. I remember how the girls and women were always brought along like showpieces and brought in to add glamour, while the men cracked deals. I was disgusted by that very attitude and when I opened my own ad agency, I ensured that women were not made to preen and pose but brought in to strike deals and talk shop. As for me, I’d come in with my jeans and tee shirts, not give into dresses and lipstick, look the men in the eye and talk business. I also told my father that like my brother, I wanted a bike because it was a long commute to my work place from home. He called me gandubeeri (tomboy) yet loaned me money to buy my own bike. I was the first woman in Bangalore to ride a bike. People would stare at me when I zoomed past them, but it never bothered me. With each day, I was breaking social conventions that were imposed on women because I believed that we are all equals.
IT WAS MY FIRST DAY ON THE SET OF MY FIRST FILM AND I WAS CALLED ‘SIR’ THE WHOLE DAY:
From the world of ad films to becoming a filmmaker, male domination followed me everywhere. I was directing Deveeri with Nandita Das and it was my first day on the sets of my first film. Everyone from the light boy to the spot boy and production boys were addressing me as ‘sir’. Such was the situation back then because there were no female directors and they were so used to having only men around. I had such a struggle telling them to maintain a distance from me because they’d walk into me all the time! That was how unusual it was for them to have a female boss on the set. When I was making Crazy Loka, a commercial film, the production guy was cheating us of big money and giving me such a hard time. As a woman, I was subjected to much trials and tribulations because they were not used to taking instructions from a woman. My mother suggested that I shelve the film mid-way, but she was the one who had taught me never to give up and I stood my ground and made the film. I had to put him in his place and show him that just because you’re a woman that doesn’t mean you don’t take her seriously.
I CHOSE TO HAVE ESHA OUT OF WEDLOCK; A SENIOR ACTOR ASKED ME IF SHE WAS A TEST TUBE BABY AND IF NOT, HOW I HAD HER:
I have always lived life on my own terms. My choices have been bold, brave and unabashed. My sister Gauri was the one who paved the way for me. She had always been a rebel and I remember this occasion when a marriage proposal had come for her. She had long hair back then and the family insisted that she meet this boy and agree to the match. Gauri was furious and two days before the boy came to see her, she went and cut her long tresses into a boy cut. My uncle and mother were livid and uncle even slapped her in true filmi style. The boy liked her even with the short hair but Gauri had a boyfriend and she told my father so. My father agreed to meet him and things took their own course after that. I was not one for arranged marriages anyway and lived life like I envisioned it to be. When I wanted to have a child, people were asking me to get married as it’s society’s way of going about it but I wanted a child and not a marriage. When I delivered Esha, I had just won the National Award for Preethi Prema Pranaya and when the media called me for interviews, I told them I can’t because I had just delivered a baby. That’s when everyone got to know about Esha. A senior actress asked me about my husband and when I had gotten married. I said there was no marriage or husband and she asked me “what about the baby…how did it happen?” I retorted, “the normal way, just like everyone else.” The reaction was priceless. My sister Gauri was my biggest support during this time. My worries when I had Esha were not about society, but about emotional and financial implications. I’ve never hid anything from Esha. She knows our life story and even when she has been asked about her father, she’s been forthright about it. Having said that, I have told her to be open to love because having a companion is also important. Every year, when Esha gets her analysis from school, they always say she’s a warm and mature kid and that’s been the norm each year. That’s the biggest award I can get and I feel reassured that I’ve raised her right. She has also seen three women closely — my mother, Gauri and I and knows from observing us all that as women we are self-sufficient beings and independence is a valuable streak to have. She is a little fighter and I can see myself in her because she is passionate about minority rights, believes in supporting causes and is a champion of equality. I couldn’t be happier.
THE WORLD NEEDS MORE WOMEN TO RAISE THEIR VOICES; IT IS HIGH TIME GENDER DISPARITY ENDED:
My sister Gauri was outspoken and always stood up for herself and was the voice for the voiceless. But she was silenced. Yet, Gauri will forever be remembered for such was the person she was. A transgender person would call her in the middle of the night from the police station crying about how they were troubling her and she’d reach there with a lawyer. She’d bring people together irrespective of their caste, help destitute women and yet was targeted because she was so outspoken about the causes she believed in. She was an easy target because she was a woman and living alone at that. I myself have been threatened by men in the village where I have a farm. It’s on the outskirts of Bangalore and when I didn’t give up my land for their real estate needs, 25 men came over for a ‘talk.’ When I didn’t give in and went to the cops instead, one told me, “do you remember what happened to your sister?” I refuse to cower and hide though. The #MeToo movement in Sandalwood that had Sruthi Hariharan coming out was also put out by the patriarchal mindset of the film industry. Despite all these instances, I still see hope. Because women are coming out of their comfort zones like never before. They are becoming more aware and every instance I read of women conquering newer heights in the papers, it makes me proud. Gender disparity exists and it will for a long time to come, but at least the divide is closing in slowly. The world needs more women to raise their voices and equality might just become the norm sooner than
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