Lots To Do With My Second Chance At Life: Sushmita Sen On Ambition

In conversation with SheThePeople, Sushmita Sen talks about why Taali is an anecdote of unmatched resilience, shattering stereotypes, motherhood experience, and why she is just getting started on her ambitions as a gratitude for her second chance at life.

Bhana Bisht
26 Aug 2023 Updated On Aug 30, 2023 15:26 IST
Sushmita Sen

Sushmita Sen

Crowned Miss Universe in 1994 at 18, one thing that has set Sushmita Sen apart, a reason why the public holds immense love and respect for her, is that she unapologetically lived by her choices. A trailblazer in her own right, Sen's journey as a public figure for almost three decades now has empowered women across generations and, as she tells SheThePeople, she is not done yet.  

In an interview with SheThePeople, Sushmita Sen talks about why signing her latest series Taali was significant to her, how the show is an anecdote of unmatched resilience, her choices in real life and on reel, her experience of motherhood, and why she is just getting started on her ambitions as a gratitude to the life she continues to live.

Embodying Gauri Sawant’s Personality 

Gauri Sawant’s life as a trans activist isn’t just limited to getting third-gender recognition in the eyes of the law, it also expands to motherhood, creating a safe space for community and fending for those who have no place to call home. While the story of Shreegauri’s fight against the community’s oppression is out there, documenting her journey spanning decades was integral and who better than Sushmita Sen to convey that message? 


When she first signed JioCinema's Taali, how important was it for Sen to not just embody Sawant’s personality accurately but also become a messenger of awareness and change? "We hoped for all of the above but, at the core, agreeing to do Taali was to become a voice for people. It’s not always about how great of an actor one is or how much body of work one has embodied over the years. In this particular case, it was more about the fact that I am blessed to be loved by people unconditionally for years now and I wanted to use that as a medium to take that love and to channel it towards the transgender community and to be able to be that voice."

It took a lot of preparation, emotional, mental and physical - a lot of it. But finally, when the astonishingly talented cast and crew, without which really you cannot make any creative endeavour, came together on sets, we created a telling tale. It was days of a non-stop journey of celebration of finally getting to interact with the community, listening to their stories first-hand, imbibing them in the series, and getting vocal about their lives loud and clear.


On Motherhood

Sen fought her way and challenged the system to become a mother. For a single woman to adopt a child in a society as patriarchal as ours is both challenging and draining; for Sen to do that two decades ago was both empowering and life-altering.

So how has motherhood altered her life? "My perception of motherhood has only evolved. Perception of motherhood is just that, it's a perception. There is a lot of romance attached to motherhood before you have the baby, but once you become a mum, the practicality sets in of actually raising them. The day-to-day struggles of making ends meet on so many different factors. It's been a journey of a lot of soul-stirring and a lot of learning."


As my children grew up, I grew up with them. It's been gratifying, and the fact that I had to fight to have that in my life to begin with makes it so much more worthwhile.

On Representation Of Women's Stories On Screen

As someone who lives on her terms, Sen chooses to sign projects that challenge her instead of following the norm. How impactful does she think today’s cinema is when it comes to the representation of women and women’s stories compared to when she started out? "Well, women's issues are very, very complex, they just cannot be highlighted in a film with as many women as there are in as many social structures that exist within. Their stories are similar and yet so different. The experiences are so different. So, to be able to tell those stories will take us many generations and each time you can have a whole new flavour."


I do feel like women are much more vocal today so their stories have also got a voice; which, given that I'm a 90s kid and a 90s actor, I did not see that being the case then at all. Now, it's a great time to not only be an actor but also a woman.

On helping her daughters prioritise self-care and mental health   

Sen has made sure her daughters grew up in an environment where conversations are open and everything is on the table. "There is no conversation out of reach, we don't say things like 'Don't speak this in front of the child.' They are pretty much not only aware of everything but they are also participating in conversations."


On a lighter note, she shares, "Sometimes, my younger one speaks like someone who is 85 and then you have to correct her and tell her 'Okay, you have time to be 85' But other than that, our motto at home has always been to experience something and then talk rather than following what is being said."

I didn't come from an environment where all conversations were out on the table but I make sure my children have that. I also ensure that my daughters form their own opinions based on events and their experiences, not just on hearsay. 

On fighting ageism


How can society break barriers around women getting older? "I don't think they can. It's just a fun topic for society. I think they just enjoy way too much when they discuss women’s age and their choices."

The only thing we as women have to learn is to laugh at the stereotypes around ageism. If we know how to laugh at it, the joke is on them.

On ambitions

Sen, who has a plethora of accolades to her name, is not done yet. What are some of the ambitions she still hopes to fulfil? "Lots. The fact that I just came out of a beautiful heart attack that allowed me another lease on life is because I have lots to do. Otherwise, the intensity of what I experienced should have taken me but it didn't, and that tells me about how much I have to finish. I do know that whatever it is that I have to fulfil yet has to do with a much larger consciousness because my life, as it has always been, has been very good, but maybe I haven't done enough yet to bid adieu to life itself. There's a lot to do."

What’s the one chore Sushmita Sen hates doing and why?

"Oh, plenty actually. I do not like sorting out makeup. So, if you see that I have makeup on, I have probably been paid to do it for work. I also don't like to do packing for travel. Well, I love to travel but I don't like to pack. I want everything I want to be there when I get to a destination which means I should have packed it. So, yes, these two are on my list."

One stereotype she wants society to give up ASAP

Indian society floats with a plethora of stereotypes and biases, with most of it falling on the line of what people would do to be counted. Sen elucidates, "The idea that you have to achieve something to become important or successful. Wahi ghisa pita concept (that age-old concept). For generations now, people have told each other 'Become a doctor or an engineer, or this or that, otherwise, you're not important and I disagree with that. I think a lot of people in today's world go through a lot of mental health struggles also because they have not come to love their lives just being alive - they have been burdened with the idea that need to be someone or something or have the society's acceptance to be alive - that needs to go away."

To be 'YOU' is enough to be counted and feel important; that you are here alive enough reason and there will be a purpose for you, and the purpose will reveal itself when there's time. Until then, chin up, take it one step at a time and keep moving forward. 

On Women's Health

“I believe that talking about women’s health was always very important."

It’s great to see Sen up and going after her health scare. Statistics show that women in India fail to prioritise their health due to umpteen circumstances. As someone who has always been vocal about her challenges and her triumphs, how important does Sen think it is for the nation to bring women’s health to the forefront today? 

“The idea of being a ‘good’ woman - a good wife, a good daughter and so on - has taken a toll on a human level for women to just be individuals who have their own needs and that need usually does not encompass being ‘good’ all the time,” says Sen. 

Sen's recent work in Taali has garnered love and attention across the country and it's great to see her up and going after her health scare.

On March 2, Sen shared the news about her health with the world. She revealed the intensity of her heart attack, undergoing an angioplasty surgery, and the realisations she had over time. 

Sen, who inherits a genetic condition, discussed the significance of the wake-up call she has had recently. “In my case, it’s a genetic condition as my father is a heart patient and my mother has a heart condition but it also kind of tells me that it’s time to bring the focus back. While the doctors are telling me it’s genetic and that could have been the reason, I know that, somewhere, I have not been looking after myself and it’s been a wake-up call.”

Why we need to act before the wake-up call

As Sen puts it, women get these wake-up calls all the time; although these alarms don’t have to be as severe as a heart attack, they convey a hint of the urgency of prioritising themselves over everything else. 

“We have all sorts of conditions and, I find that if you look around now, you can see there is an influx of autoimmune diseases and women have it all over the world; which also means that we have forgotten to look after ourselves.” 

As women negotiate their way through workplaces, their homes and in a societal sense, it’s integral to create a space for a comprehensive healthcare ecosystem for them, and this will come if we change perceptions around why women are ‘good’ according to society adversely intersects their health

“If we chase these perceptions, which passes down from generation to generation; like if my mother told me and I tell my kids that and they tell their kids the same thing, the definition of how we look at our lives as women is very very limited as a theory rather than what is practically happening to us and I think that does take a toll eventually.”

"That I have had resilience in my life is true but if you were to put that resilience in comparison to a Gauri Sawant, minus - It's nothing. I say that with complete awareness of the amount she has gone through."

Coming back to Taali, the series is a larger narrative of the resilience that Sawant carried as an activist and mother. What are the takeaways that the cast and makers want the audience to take from the series?

"You and me, we have the world against us, we’re being judged left, right and centre but there is a father who loves me, a mother who cares, or an aunt and uncle who worry for me, or a friend who always stands by or anyone else in life. To be a Gauri Sawant, you have to have nothing and have no one - and then you have to decide to make a difference in other people’s lives when you have had nothing. With nothing, she has built what she has today. That kind of resilience I can only hope to have in that lifetime. And to do it, irrespective of a ‘Gaali’ or ‘Taali’"

We wanted to reach as many masses as we could. We want people to raise questions - Inke pass birth certificate nahin tha? (She didn’t have a birth certificate?) Inke saath ye sab hua and kisi ne roka nahin? (She had to endure so much yet no one came to help her?) These questions, this story is starting a conversation, and if that conversation starts, someone will take it forward  - that was our intent.

Watch the full interview here

Suggested reading: Idea Of Being 'Good' Puts Women's Health On Back Burner: Sushmita Sen

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