Objectifying Women Started in Hindi Films Right from the Word Go: Aahana Kumra
Aahana Kumra plays a beautician in the film Lipstick Under My Burkha, a woman who feels stifled in her small town existence and wants much more out of life. She’s a fearless fiery woman who won’t settle for a life that her mother wants for her. In the trailer she’s seen having an affair with a photographer, while filming it on her phone – her character declares that the video would be on Facebook should the guy decide to betray her. In another heat of the moment in the backseat of a car, much to her shock, her fiancé suggests that they have sex only after marriage.
Speaking about her character, Aahana says, “I think that there’s a rebel in all of us and today I’m an actor because of a certain rebellion that exists in me which goes beyond the norms of a normal life. I saw something similar in Leela who wants more in life than just a simple existence and millions of women dream of the same. It’s not easy to achieve all those things, but one has to set goals and work towards it. I loved the passion Leela has!”
“Leela who wants more in life than just a simple existence and millions of women dream of the same. It’s not easy to achieve all those things, but one has to set goals and work towards it. I loved the passion Leela has!”
Aahana, who was born and brought up in Lucknow, moved to Mumbai when she was 13-year-old. On being praised for her shudh Hindi, she suddenly found herself taking part in most extra-curricular activities at school – be it in a science project, play or dance show. After finishing school, she participated in a theatre workshop with Neeraj Kabi at Prithvi Theatre and was completely head over heels in love with the stage, puppets and Shakespeare. She decided then that this was her calling and represented her college at every cultural festival. Even after working in films, television (she worked alongside Amitabh Bachchan on the TV show Yudh) and theatre – the latter is her one true love.
“Theatre is the most invigorating one because there is an instant connect with your audience and it’s a medium where there is no purdah between the actor and the audience! It’s definitely a great high! Of course films are a very intimate space where one has to connect with a bigger audience and it makes you larger than life! Television, on the other hand, is a very hectic medium where there are no/hardly any rehearsals, but one has to produce quality work in those endless hours.
The Web has become another powerful medium where the connect with the younger audience/ millennials has become very strong!”
Aahana’s usual approach to a film is instinctive. If she likes a script, she immediately says yes and starts working on it – “I do a lot of referencing and researching. I like to meet people who are those characters in real life and try to grab their nuances. Also, since my background is theatre we do a lot of rehearsals before we begin a production. So rehearsing is key.”
It was perhaps destiny that Aahana would end up playing Leela after letting go of the opportunity once as it coincided with the shooting of Yudh. This film’s recent tryst with the film certification board is a testament to the fact that we are still not comfortable talking about female sexuality in this country, while rampantly endorsing objectification of women in male-stars driven films.
“Most films about women don’t get funding easily, even for that matter a woman director, cinematographer is something that’s not easy to find/fund. I hope this film changes that.”
“Objectifying women started in Hindi films right from the word go. There have always been items songs in male-driven films because there are hardly any films for women in India. Most films about women don’t get funding easily, even for that matter a woman director, cinematographer is something that’s not easy to find/fund. I hope this film changes that. A change is happening but it’s gradual. Men are threatened easily by women’s freedom of speech globally. Be it in the parliament or films. Every time a woman voices her opinion it’s easily quietened because they apparently have to stay ‘in their place’. But I sincerely hope this change happens gradually.
In fact, watching movies has become more enriching for me as an actor because I can finally reference or learn from watching this new young crop of female actors. Not forgetting some fantastic roles for older women characters for which the young filmmakers try to bring some wonderful actresses who we can watch and learn from!”
Speaking about her future plans, Aahana says she is greatly optimistic about the future – “I sincerely hope theatre in India becomes bigger and better. Actors can then fearlessly do plays without worrying about not being able to afford a living in Mumbai. I’m part of a web series called Inside Edge which is Amazon Prime India’s first web series. Though it’s a small part, I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the show.”