Women On Top
Priyanka Bose: “Women Have To Be Exceptional At Their Game, But Men Can Be Mediocre”
We don’t need just one day to celebrate women. Here at Hauterfly, we celebrate the smarter sex EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Nonetheless, we join in the party today, on March 8, International Women’s Day, to applaud some seriously badass women we know and love. These #WomenOnTop have conquered multiple worlds with ease — from corporate and social to entertainment and education. These personal essays give a glimpse into the journey of women who may not have always had it easy, but made it anyway, and shattered multiple glass ceilings along the way.
You may now know Priyanka Bose thanks to her Oscar-nominated film, Lion. But she’s been around for a while, breaking stereotypes, fighting against odds, and making an impact, one day at a time. The beautiful actress not only played mother to grown Dev Patel in the film, but is a mother herself. Strong and self-sufficient, she knows what it’s like to struggle, but did she ever give up? Nope. Read, in her own words, about the small joys, the hurdles, the insecurities, and the journey on the path less travelled.
Chasing The Dream
I came to Bombay to do just this — become an actor. Whether mainstream or not, I wanted desperately to be part of the film fraternity. The Indian film industry shaped my childhood, and I looked forward to the process of finding myself through the arts.
Having had no support or knowledge, I found myself floundering, waiting, and wanting to be good at something, anything. It was a distant dream, but I had no choice other than to stick it out just a little longer, dig a little deeper.
Going through constant personal anguish and frustration — always feeling like the outsider — wasn’t easy, but every day, I tried to walk through that fire and find my way into a world that would accept me. It came from a feeling of worthlessness.
So I started producing and curating things for and with other people, just so that I could understand the business a little more (and to pay my bills). But I was still unhappy, because I was living someone else’s dreams. They weren’t mine. So I waited a little longer, and while things are still taking their time, I’m more secure now than I ever was before.
I am now learning my craft, both personally and professionally. Both aspects of my trade have been intertwined and confusing at times, but I want to get better at it. I’ll never be flawless and I know that I will make many mistakes, but no one else will ever know that. When I am asked how I do it — and I’m asked that a lot — I never have the perfect answer. I’m afraid of sounding superficial. There are times when I want to tear my hair out.
Personally, I have support now. My partner, Paresh Kamath, is a secure individual and has supported me through a lot. On the professional front, things could be better, more freedom could be acquired, and I’m working towards that every day.
I am still not where I want to be. I have a long way to go. South African playwright Yaël Farber has shaped a part of my life in a big way, as has fellow actor Poorna Jagannathan. They are my sisters, mothers, and mentors. Mentorship is essential indeed. When I reach my goal and educate myself some more, maybe I too will be in that position someday.
I don’t think I can talk about empowering others without sounding egotistical, but my good friend (and writer/director) Megha Ramaswamy and I do have open conversations about empowering each other, thinking right, not being petty, and always keep looking ahead. We want to work hard and fervently, and that’s what we do.
To be empowered, one must learn to let go of the bad, recognise the patterns. I’ll be honest: I have nurtured many bad habits, which I still dance with every now and then, but that’s what makes us human.
I know I will be paid less for the characters I portray in films as compared to my male counterparts. You are often told it is not like that, but you know it’s not true. The amount of energy I put in is not validated, and the economics don’t make sense. In any business, the man is entitled, because he apparently has bills to pay and a house to run. But do women not pay bills? Do they not run households? I work just as hard as the men do, and I’ve been doing so since I was 15 years old. And yet…
If I desire to leave a better, more equal world for my daughter Naiima, I have to live by example. So I’ve decided to pull up my socks and keep swimming. I am ambitious, not always for money, but for equal opportunities. I am steering away from people and energies that doubt me. I have my own doubts and battle with personal anxiety every day. I don’t need anyone else to add to it.
It’s funny how women have to be exceptional at their game, but men can be mediocre and still get a pat on their backs. In fact, I was having this very conversation with my manager in Los Angeles recently.
Every girl I know is a hardworking individual. Each one sacrifices so much to be at the level they have reached, and yet, ever so often, they get short-changed. I am always worried that if I dress in a way that is too sexy, I won’t be taken seriously at work. That’s not a fear women should feel.
Shattering The Glass Ceiling
Because we, as women, are silenced all the time, I broke my silence on sexual violence in the play Nirbhaya, directed by Yaël Farber. That was the first time I realised I was drowning and no one could help me but me. I suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because I couldn’t share it with anyone, not realising that what had happened to me was wrong. Whether man or woman, I had to call it like it is. I have no shame anymore and that is liberating.
The biggest mistake I ever made was not realising other people’s boundaries. And because of that, I let my guard down too. Boundaries must be respected. My ego was hurt because of a particular incident, but I’m so grateful that it happened — because of that day, I know so much more about myself. I grew up. Now, I enjoy my private space more than ever; I need less from people and value collaborations far more.
Just keep dreaming and work hard. Human beings are wired to struggle, so just wake up one day and decide that you will not struggle anymore. I sit under the sun. I walk on the grass, and I look at butterflies. I spend time with my family and in bed with my pets.
Go where the river takes you. No one is too big or too small — stay true to yourself.
Reviewed: Toast And Tonic, BKC, Mumbai