‘Women Must Stop Asking for Equality’

Published: 23rd August 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd August 2014 04:47 AM   |  A+A-

BANGALORE: Telephonic interviews take away the visual texture from a story but you don’t miss it when you talk to theatre, TV and film actor Heeba Shah. She speaks with immense clarity and leaves no awkward pauses for you to fill. Between tackling cinema of multiple genres, doing theatre and moving homes, she is performing an Ismat Chughtai story over the weekend in the city. Chuee Mui, a classic Chughtai story has been in her system for years now. In a previous interview, she had said that enacting the story was like a triumph of imagination over matter because there were no props but immense potential for improvisation. She had also spoken about the nuances of Chughtai’s rich language and learning the difference between lekin and magar. And of course, there was a fleeting mention of her unusual childhood..1

Women.jpgEarly years

Heeba spent many formative years of her young life away from India with her birth mother.

Creative freedom and personal volition came to her after many difficult years but she has made peace with her conflicts. She says, “I was angry for a long time, but I have a theory now about creativity. Maybe you need to be a little messed up to be creative. Artistes usually don’t have an easy life. Or what is known as a normal life where you get married at 30, have children, lead a simple, good, ‘healthy’ existence.That hasn’t happened to me and maybe like all artists, one just has to explore the entire gamut of human emotions to become who one is meant to be.”

Does the journey get lonely?

She says, “I love being a creative person and if I feel a little niggle of doubt about my skills, I work on my voice, my technique because that is all you have as an actor. Your body, heart, mind and soul. Fears? Well, everyone has highs and lows and it is all there to be used as a fuel. The trick is to not let the fears scare you too much. I could not fathom what could have driven Robin Williams to go the way he did.”

Strength in chaos

About how she remains centred, she says, “I think a lot...I have been and still am a complex person. But I have learnt that the only guide with all the answers is you. When life gets screwed up...sorry for using that word...but when things go wrong, only you can set them right. That is my survival technique.”

Love and other questions

Is she a loner?  "She responds, “I enjoy my cooking, am learning to play the guitar, I do gardening but I also meet friends, spend time with my family and my cat.”

Love? She hasn’t been in a relationship for a while and says, “It gets complicated when you start trying to become a different person to fit in someone's perception of you and lose a grip on who you are. Don’t get me wrong, love is a great thing..but you have to learn to love yourself first even though it is a cliched thing to say. I learnt that bit rather late.”

What her parents taught her

She says, “They sit me down to have a chat when that is needed and it helps but they have taught me over the years by example, the value of going the extra mile for someone without making a big deal of it, to think about others first, to have humour, generosity,  and still keep your relationship with your craft alive. My father (Naseeruddin Shah) has given me such a sense of hope about acting. It is because of him that I can never feel that I have learnt everything and am NOW a great actress. He tells me that you learn something new every moment. And just their presence, the help they extend to me wordlessly is so reassuring.”

On Ismat Chughtai

She gets angry at the violence meted out to women and the hypocrisy in the country and the last time she was here, she spoke about the Mangalore pub incident. She says, “There was that incident, and yet in Bangalore, there are certain pubs where they pay a single woman, her ` encourage her to stay and drink. "

 She adds, "I also feel, it is time for women to think of themselves as equals and not victims. In Chuee Mui for instance, the narrative is about this rich, pampered woman for whom pregnancy is a difficult experience as she has miscarried twice and there is the accompanying fear that she must deliver because women then were valued only for bearing children, On the other hand, there is this poor woman who delivers in a railway compartment, picks up the baby and leaves. The story is as much about class differences as about gender and how we as women look at it."     

She continues, "Rural women in India work the fields like men with no fuss but in the cities, there are courtesies like not letting women carry their heavy bags, opening doors for them. I say, carry you own doors for yourself.  And stop asking to be treated as an equal because that conveys you are not. Stop saying that you have been wronged because you have wronged yourself by not choosing to be powerful.”


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