When I was young, and trying to find a profession which would make me into the person I wanted to be, it so happened that I posed in a scarlet swimsuit for the cover of a fashion magazine in Bombay.
Though I didn’t bargain for it, that cover turned me into an over night sensation (the early nineties equivalent of breaking the internet). I was sixteen and in a world full of question marks, it was a relief to be handed an identity.
I became a sex symbol.
What were the job requirements?
Well….to appear hot and desirable. Always. All the time.
In those days, it was easy to seduce an entire generation through a lens than go through the discomforting routine of being compulsively dressed for the pleasure of others. The red carpet was confined to banquet halls and cameras to photography studios. It was possible to play at being a temptress in the day and still relish my solitude like a divorcee at night.
And yet, even then, there was such a disconnect between myself and expectations of a sex symbol.
I didn’t know how to flirt. I still don’t.
I dislike attention. I’d rather be at home reading or baking a quiche.
I can impress a crowd through a lens but the thought of interacting with flesh and blood creatures makes me socially anxious
I remember taking a seat at a five star cafe at the height of my popularity. Ripped t-shirt, paperback tucked under my arm, as I settled into my seat, the boy at the neighbouring table swept his gaze over me.
‘Hey look at her.’ He nudged his friend.
‘She’s not bad, yaar.’ He takes a sip of thumbs up. ‘But she’s no Lisa Ray.’
Not long after that existential moment, I left India and my career in a self-defining moment. Believing it is the genetic fate of every human being to be an unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, I needed to search the secret silent places- both in myself and in the world.
And really- I suck as a sex symbol.
Too rebellious and my mind gravitates to conundrums.
Now that I”m back in India, its confusing to see actresses of great calibre becoming the chief sales agents for the Fashion Industry. Renegade spirits are lassoed by teams of stylists and managers. I understand the business behind it. However its become a pathology.
The pathology of perfection.
We’re teaching our girls that if you don’t appear airbrushed perfect, your accomplishments are not worthy of celebration.
When I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, I made the announcement from the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival. Bloated on steroids, with a classic ‘moonface’ I felt the least self-conscious I had ever felt. There were powerful currents running through my veins and my belly was on display, but I stood there not for the pleasure of others- but for myself.
This year, Oscar nominees like Reese Witherspoon joined the twitter campaign #Askhermore to discourage red carpet reporters from solely focusing on fashion. Its not wrong to ask about gowns at arguably, the world’s most glamourous event. But these women’s careers and accomplishments should not take a backseat to the dress.
Rebellion on the red carpet. In India we are ripe for doing it differently.