Rakhi Sawant – Joan of Arc..

My friend from school, Madhu Kedia, now Gupta asks me how the Rakhi Sawant show is among my favourites. Madhu knows me as I was some forty years ago, quintessentially from a Bengali bhadralok background who turned her nose up at anything that either was not classical English or highbrow Bengali. The Hindi popular world was so vernacular, so daal roti that only the “non-Bengalis” were worthy of consuming. But in the past forty years I have changed. I have changed home from being in Kolkata to living in Delhi where no one knows me through my background but I have also changed my home mentally. I no longer inhabit the bhadralok culture as I have discovered the larger India where “Hindustanis” live and also speak in “non-Bengali” languages. It is in this new mooring that I have acquired new sensibilities through which I have developed a kind of reverence which is now almost awe for Rakhi.
When Madhu knew me, my world was certain. I was certain to clear school, go to college, earn my degrees and then step out into the world where the most deserving job waited for me. I was in for a rude shock when I saw that the world was not a passive waiter eager to hand me out whatever I needed. Instead, it was a place of hard bargaining, of image management and of warlike strategies. It is here that I see Rakhi Sawant succeed in all those areas in which I failed. She has none of my background or education, nor does she have the support of a doting family and she must have had almost no friend or relative in high places. Yet she made it big despite everything and also, as I may like to believe because she has the huge ability to turn her obstacles into her good fortune.
Rakhi is all that I fear being and becoming. She is lower middle class, suppressed by patriarchy, resented by mother for both being a daughter and also for doing well. She is vernacular, stocky and short. When she made her mark in the music video I thought that she was flaunting her sexuality to attract male attention, something that I quite abhor. I would never dream of treading her path of becoming a television joke even if that made me famous. But there are things that Rakhi has been able to do that has broken her glass ceiling and lifted her out of her social and economic class and made her acquire the crucial element of life – purchasing power to lead a life of dignity. This is why I hold Rakhi in awe.
Women are vulnerable in the public space. You are harassed sexually and most of the times for being not interested in sex. In the eyes of men the worth of women are only two – either you are a maidservant or you are a prostitute. In case of Shiny Ahuja, his maid was both. Only two things can protect a woman from the male harassment, her family background and her money. I, in my early life before I left home, had both. Rakhi had neither. I jumped at the first public sector job that I got and never left it since then. The guiding factor behind my choice was fear, fear of a world unkind to women. Inside the public sector things were no better than they were elsewhere but at least there were rules and institutional structures by which a woman could get justice. I, in effect hid behind rules, power, education and of course my family background to ward off the wolves that are found in the human jungle. But Rakhi went ahead, caught all bulls by their horns, manipulated them and then loudly sneered at them. They were not contemptuous of Rakhi for that, they were reverent.
The lack of education did not come in the way of Rakhi’s ability to articulate her thoughts. She minced no words, did not wish to be politically correct and did not hide her emotions under the veneer of some sublime rights. If she felt bad, she clearly told us so. In the garb of being entertaining through her rather direct way of ticking off people, Rakhi used the platform of the Swayamvar to launch a tirade against the male as no feminist has been able to do before. She remained very much within the “architecture” of marriage and within it exposed the men as it was not possible for anyone to do before. Along with the male ego, she managed to expose a whole lot of relatives as well, their attitudes, their bearings that constitute the core of the ugly, stupid, middle classes.
Her fantastic ability to articulate emanates from her capabilities as a very fine dancer. She uses her eyes, her body, her posture, the throw of her head, and the movement of her fingers to express herself and has a surprising command over language with which she can represent her gestures in words. She reaches people directly because of the language she has derived straight from within her body, from her body movements and dance mudras. This language has a superior ability to reach people because it physically communicates with them. Rakhi is all physical, but like a true dancer has raised her physicality to a vehicle of communication. This is also the politics of Rakhi Sawant.
She has completely bypassed the need to place the issues of her life in terms of the available language in the public space. She has devised her own expressions, her own issues, her own justifications and metaphysics. This entire saga she has scripted on her own. She has created an image for herself unaided by script writers and film directors and using reality shows and television space she has been able to emerge in a zone in which women are heavily scripted and crafted and in which she becomes completely unpredictable. In the music shows, we see exceptionally talented women being voted out of public space. India, in its fateful journey to economic “superpowerdom” has decided that it will not tolerate successful women who can stand on their own. It is this India that Rakhi has eat its own words when all telly sets were tuned in to NDTV Imagine to watch with baited breath which man Rakhi will choose. For me, the swayambvar was the ultimate expression of Rakhi’s being, she who chooses one among so many eagerly contesting males as the female dictating her terms and having half the world dance to her tune and the rest as her loyal viewers.
After a long time we see in Rakhi a woman for herself and not merely a woman in herself. She is complete, whether she has a boyfriend or not, whether she eventually marries the winner of her show or not, Rakhi with or without the shadow of mother, father, brother or husband, is Rakhi Sawant. She needs no casting couch because she needs no director, she needs no story to prop her image up, and she is a story by herself without the prop of fiction films or of the telly soaps.
Perhaps the only parallel that Rakhi has in the film industry is Prety Zinta, independent, articulate, straight speaking and fearless. But Preity is cast as a girl whose dumped by her boyfriend, a rejected marriage material, a far too opionated girl. Preity has not been able to cash on her image as an independent woman precisely because her image draws from the incorrigible patriarchy of Bollywood cinema. But Rakhi has crafted herself so well that not only has she brought back the centrality of the feminine into the television but also showed to the directors and producers that it is she who they must chase and not the other way round. Hats off Rakhi !!

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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