Four years. That's a lifetime in the career of a Bollywood leading lady on the other side of 30. But Sushmita Sen took a hiatus just that long. Her last movie appearance was in No Problem in 2010. Thereafter, one saw her occasionally on the ramp, at an event or during a brand promotion.
Suddenly this year, she has announced her return to the big screen with two, maybe even three, films. Many thought she had written off movies and had moved on. A couple of weeks ago, she also appeared on an episode of a popular comedy show on TV, dangling upside down, entwined in ropes!
BREAK KE BAAD
In a recent interview, Sen said: "I believe you should not forget living while making a living." And that, it seems, was what she was doing for the last four years. The biggest change during this time was the arrival of her second daughter Alisah. "Around the time of the release of No Problem, I adopted Alisah," Sen says. "She was very young, younger than Renee when she came home. And there were many things I did not know about parenting her. It was a whole new learning experience. Also, the court had asked me, as it did with Renee, to give six months to a year as time with the child. It turned out to be three years. I really needed to bond with Alisah, and I had the responsibility of two daughters all at once."
A year later, Sushmita Sen began looking at scripts afresh, but nothing excited her enough. "I didn't plan this hiatus – it's just something that happened," she says, curled up on a sofa, immune to the paint fumes and banging from her under-construction wellness studio, next door. "I preferred to be with my babies and work the brands I am associated with – doing the occasional endorsements and appearances, and enjoying it, rather than being stuck for six months with a film I am not enjoying."
Sen says she had to make a choice between being invisible and taking up whatever job offers came her way. "I didn't want to play to the insecurity of that hand," she explains. "I believe this is my art, this is what I love doing, so today I am not getting the best scripts, but tomorrow I will. I live in a bubble and in my bubble I believe everything is possible."
A SECOND COMING
So what exactly changed in 2014? "The excitement of the films coming to me," she responds. "Also, in the past three years I went through another revolution. I have never had a problem being overweight but I wanted that feeling of being fit, of being amazingly in the now. I don't want to be saying 'I don't like talking about my age'. I am 38 and I love it."
Sen will soon start shooting a Bengali film, Jodi Emon Hoto by Rupali Guha, a film for which she has also acquired the Hindi remake rights. Soon after, she will begin filming Prahlad Kakkar's debut Happy Anniversary. "Plus, there's another fabulous script for which I am getting my body into shape," she says. "It's a genre I have not touched as an actor – an action-packed emotional film."
A WIDE NET
What of her dream project, Rani Laxmibai, which has been on hold for about five years? "It remains my pet project, but the timing was not right," Sen admits. "The idea was not ever for me to play Laxmibai, incidentally. I have the rights to Jaishree Misra's book Rani in perpetuity. I have the script, the storyboard and the patience that will last a lifetime. So I will wait, but I will make it."
Meanwhile, she isn't worried that the passage of time and the coming of a new generation might not be so kind to the movie star. "It didn't cross my mind once. I know that sounds a little wrong, but it's because this does not drive me, and it never has," she says. "The only reason I ever wanted to be famous was to move people, who may not know me but had an emotional connect with me. I am not an actor who is going to spend the rest of her life stuck here. I have known that ever since my first film [Dastak, 1996]. But there are people who invested love, money and time in me and in this career. I want to take a proper bow and leave the film industry knowing I gave them what they wanted. And that has not happened yet. I am going to finish things properly."
|THE MARKS OF A STAR |
Sushmita Sen describes the tattoos on her arms
|Her right arm has the names of her daughters Renee and Alisah|
|Her right wrist has God’s name in Kabbalah, translated to ‘I Am’|
|Her left wrist says ‘Glory in God Alone’ in Latin|
|Her inside arm is inked with the word ‘Temptation’|
|Her left arm is inscribed with the Latin phrase meaning ‘I will either find a way or make one’|
THE OTHER SIDE
Watching Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla and Sridevi playing strong author-backed roles is encouraging too. The days are gone, she says, when a 28-year-old actress was considered past her prime. "I see Madhuri, Juhi and Sridevi and a whole new generation of cinema evolving. This is the best time to be an actor," she says, but experimental cinema will have to wait. "I have done that in the past and those films are a hit – but only on TV!"
Her Bollywood wish list includes Rohit Shetty ("to entertain the hell out of people"), Farah Khan ("my lucky charm") and Dibakar Banerjee.
Having almost recovered from a bad back, Sen was inducted into a form of exercise called aerial silk – which she demonstrated on the TV show. Two ropes are suspended from a single point and the person has to use his or her body weight to open up the body on the ropes. "Everything is upside down," Sen says explaining the new form of exercise. "It's about your ability to take the blood rush to your brain, get comfortable and be suspended pro-gravity but anti your directional strength. It takes a lot of getting used to." This affinity for aerial silk has motivated her to launch Inhale, a wellness and fitness studio.
ALL IN GOOD TIME
Age and time have not tempered Sen's famous enthusiasm and affection. "From the age of 12, sleeping on the gadda in my room in Vasant Kunj, I would look up at the fan and its amazing ability to form a circle, and how the three blades would spin together in momentum to become one. I always knew that my life couldn't be divided. I wanted to experience every aspect of life. When it came to my work, children, men, choices, my spirit – I went for it all. I remembered that even though they were all separate blades, it was my responsibility to make them work as one."
A poster girl for single parenting, Sen says even at age 38, her parents hope she will settle down. "Which baba does not wish that for his child. If I had married at 23, it would not have lasted. I would have had seven marriages by now! I have never shut myself off to marriage. I just have to be ready. My marriage will never be about a commitment to the man, but a commitment to myself. That's the only way it would last. I know I will make a fantastic wife."
From HT Brunch, May 25
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