Shreya Chaudhry on Bandish Bandits, Sexism and Gender Stereotyping in films and society
The release of Bandish Bandits – a series based on two young musicians finding their calling -brought new notes of reverberation to the Indian OTT scene, ones that won’t cease with ease. Through ten episodes, the show introduced viewers to some very powerful Hindustani classical music, a fresh storyline, and superb acting. Aside from the usual milieu of stalwarts like Naseeruddin Shah, Sheeba Chadha, and Atul Kulkarni, at the centre of the show were two new faces, who with their shining performances, are here to stay, the star couple – Shreya Chaudhry and Ritwik Bhowmik. Or as you know them, Tamanna and Radhe.
Tamanna Sharma, Shreya’s character on Bandish Bandits, is an upper-urban pop-star in her 20s, who is trying to navigate her way in a world of music marked contrastingly between the classical tradition and the studio-autotune culture. Tamanna, in many ways, becomes the conjoining factor between these two universes, bringing them together to co-exist in peace.
In an exclusive interview with SheThePeople, Shreya talks about her experience on the show, what she loves about Tamanna’s character, the taboo around periods, and the strong feminist angles on Bandish Bandits.
Watch the full interview here:
Shreya Chaudhry On What First Drew Her To Tamanna’s Character
Being on the sets of the show was like being back in school Shreya tells us. “My parents once told me something very lovely. They said if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room. So on Bandish Bandits I was in the best possible room ever because there were all these stalwarts of acting… and I got to see what sets them apart as actors. Because there’s a difference between being an actor and a great actor.”
Tamanna’s blue streaks and free spirit were what defined her character on the show – a smoking, drinking girl for whom these habits weren’t her road to liberation. With the decisions she took, independence she exercised, she was already a free woman. On what attracted her towards this character, Shreya says, “As a girl you always hope you can be all these things – someone who is not apologetic about her attitude. Women who watch the show will know that when Tamanna is in trouble, she makes some really wise choices, and that really drew me to her. A lot of her problems were also problems that people can relate to.”
Not Easy to be Tamanna
As aspirational a character Tamanna is for young women, it’s not easy to be her. Since Shreya has known her from the closest quarters, she tells us how we can learn from that blue-streaked girl we so loved. “She is flawed. But we are all flawed. So I hope the one thing people learn from Tamanna is how she follows her dreams. It’s not easy. But that’s the beauty of this character. Throughout the show she has one goal – that of singing with Queen Eli. She does everything to achieve that dream. But in the bargain, she ends up falling for Radhe, and that brings a lot of change in her life. And she’s very accepting towards them. I hope people learn from that. That it’s better late than never.”
But while it was easy for Tamanna as a fictional character to follow her dreams without the impediment of society shaking their heads at her, Indian women in real time have to face a lot of toxic gender stereotyping when it comes to wearing certain clothes, or following their dreams. Can there ever be a change in this mindset? “It’s great that we’re having so many conversations around this, because it happens to girls all over the world. Sexism does exist. But as long as you have your conscience and you can wake up and say that I did the right thing, I don’t think anyone should question what you’re doing.”
Along this thread, Shreya emphasises more on what a “modern woman” truly means. “A modern woman is not just described by the way she dresses or her habits. I think a modern woman is someone who believes that she is equal to everybody else. She wants equality. Why are only women questioned? Why can’t men be questioned?”
Women Empowerment, Menstrual Leaves, And More
Mohini’s character, played by Sheeba Chadha, is another powerful female character on the show – the be-all and end-all of Bandish Bandits in fact. She’s the axis around which the ten episodes rotate, and the way her character blossoms in the end in truly magnificent. Shreya says she’s is “in love” with Mohini because “She represents women and the sacrifice, suppression, and other things that have been expected of women for centuries now. But the beauty of her character is that these are the choices she makes on her own. She never blames anybody for it, and sticks to her decisions. That’s where freedom lies. Freedom does not have to be given by an outsider, it can also be given to yourself. I hope other people can seek empowerment from Mohini.”
With OTT platforms dishing out new content formats and picking up bold topics of discussion, it’s a step towards positive change. She agrees, saying, “With the kind of shows we’re getting to watch today, it’s amazing that people are more accepting towards female protagonists. It’s great for me to be an actor in the industry during this time.” Pointing to the importance of such content, Shreya goes on to tell us that when she recently watched Taapsee Pannu-starrer Thappad, she loved how along with providing entertainment, it was also a “conversation starter.”
Linked to social media, these conversations are gaining renewed prominence with the responsibility of breaking taboo around social topics. Such as the recent waves of discussion around menstrual leaves and period stigma. Elaborating upon her take on this, Shreya says, “I’ve come from a family where we’re very open in terms of discussion, so I could never understand why people are stigmatising something so natural. Periods are something we all go through, we all know about it. Then why stigmatise anything? There’s nothing to hide. There’s no right or wrong in this. It’s biological.”