No life-altering philosophies. No depressing stories. No war crimes or injured puppy pictures. This is where you come at the end of a long day to smile and relax. So sit back, order a refreshing drink and share a laugh with me, your bartender for the evening.
And always remember that age-old, fluorescent green rule of life : An appletini a day keeps the doctor away.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dignity under pressure - the Mia woman

Carrying yourself with dignity in today's world is never an easy task, more so when every move you make is being observed by a media out to sell a few extra pages by belittling you. 

When she finished her degree and started pursuing a career in movies, she got off to possibly the worst start a mainstream actress has had in recent history. Considered a 'jinx' when her debut film opposite a superstar was shelved for unrelated production issues, the superstitious belief spread like wildfire and she was immediately replaced in twelve other movies she had signed up for. In her next two movies, she was thrown out after shooting had commenced. Consider for a moment what that can do to the mental strength of a woman trying to succeed in a profession where few make it large.

To her credit, she did not go hunting for a sugar daddy but kept working in ads and music videos for years till she caught a young director's eye. After undergoing multiple auditions over six grueling months, she finally landed the role of the titular character of the movie - Parineeta. Vidya Balan has never looked back since that stunning debut performance.

She has had no easy path up the ladder at any point in her life. When she wowed critics with her performances on screen, they were quick to judge her off-screen on her weight and fashion sense. The comments would definitely have hurt her, but she never let it deter her. Instead she carried on showcasing her skills, giving up the traditional damsel-in-distress choices for roles which challenged her abilities - a radio jockey out to help the poor, a woman dying from multiple sclerosis, suffering from dissociative identity disorder, an unwed mother and a temptress. Can you frankly imagine any other actress today portraying two roles as diverse as hers in The Dirty Picture (based on the controversial actress Silk Smitha) and Kahaani (where a pregnant lady searches for her husband) within months of each other and pulling it off so effortlessly?

Whether it is her professional life or her personal, she has never let snide remarks and insults get to her. She is comfortable with her body image and confident in her talent. She does not conform to the industry's image of the eye-candy that an Indian actress should be and we love her for it. And yet, in spite of all the hardships she has faced to reach here, the young girl from Hum Paanch is still alive within this National Award winner, gushing and blushing even today when she is around her crush Shah Rukh Khan much to her husband's amused exasperation, I assume.

To me, she represents the grace and strength to succeed beyond the boundaries that the industry tried to hold her in. She lets her work do the talking for her and gleefully revels in the challenges. And for that reason, she is a true Mia woman to me.

This is my entry for Tanishq's "As Beautiful as your work" contest.

Restarting life at fourteen.

Born to a single teenage woman who worked as a housemaid. So poor she had to wear clothes made of potato sacks as a child. Raped at age nine by her relatives. A runaway at age thirteen. Pregnant by age fourteen, losing her child in infancy. 

Rather than give up, this girl decided to restart her life. She joined back in school, choosing education over all else. She became a Honors student and eventually moved on from her part-time job as a grocery girl to doing what she enjoyed most: talking. She talked her heart out as a radio-anchor and her positive energy soon garnered her a small fan-base and a spot on a low rated morning show on television.

Oprah Gail Winfrey has never looked back since then. Few would have bet on her succeeding in the media industry when she started out. She was an African-American in a prejudiced time, overweight and suffering from severe self-esteem issues. What noone counted on was her big heart. The Oprah Winfrey show differed from others because she preferred to empathize with her audience and guests rather than judge or grill them. 

Her show consistently broke network records for decades, challenging stereotypes when necessary while also allowing her audience to smile and have fun. She was sassy, funny and loud, yet could be tender and forgiving when required. She was the friend you wanted to have, the one you knew you could trust not to judge you for your follies. People listened to her and believed in her opinions and it was a responsibility she took seriously.   

By the time Oprah played out her final show to a tearful audience, she had been termed the 'most powerful woman in the world' by CNN and 'One of 100 people who influenced the 20th century' by Time. In Life magazines '100 people who changed the world', she was the only living person to make the list. In a career spanning three decades, she has hosted everyone from Presidents to hurricane victims, sharing jokes with the former while surprising the latter by rebuilding their homes and paying for their children's education. The first African-American billionaire, she has donated over 400 million dollars to educate the poor, often stressing how education was the key to her own success and willing them to do the same.

She should have been just another statistic of lower class livelihood. After all, we in India see so many similar young children falling victims to poverty in our country every day. The difference is that this girl who was raped, homeless and a mother by age fourteen did not give up on life. She aspired to be more. And she knew to learn from her past mistakes and give to others that which she yearned for most as a child - a non-judgemental heart, an open ear, a kind word and a warm hug to remind everyone that somebody still cared about them. 

This is my entry for Tanishq's "As Beautiful as Your Work" contest.