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June 26, 2017

Acclaimed Filmmaker Gauri Shinde Reveals The Real Meaning Of Empowerment

Text by Gauri Shinde

When we reveal our true selves, we come closer to bringing purpose and meaning to our lives, she opines…

We are afraid to show our weaknesses, in order to appear perfect. But, once you stop being scared of revealing yourself truly, you make real connections. It becomes kind of empowering. When you share things fearlessly there is this sense of feeling powerful internally. And that to me is real power.

These are some early influences, which, I think, perhaps subconsciously inspired me….

My mom, making various spices and packing masala packets in a small office at the back of our house — a venture that started small and then went on to become an export business. Working hard, earning her money, and all the while taking care of our home and family. And very importantly, always being free with her expressions whether she felt weak, vulnerable or happy.

My childhood domestic help, working tirelessly in many homes, all day, everyday, but with a smile on her face. Earning just enough to educate her children, even though she received none herself. She would cry as easily as she could laugh and, that for me, as I can now see it, was the beauty of it all.

The fun and fearless Maria (Julie Andrews) from The Sound of Music… Living life on her own terms in a conservative and difficult world. Outwardly strong and yet so vulnerable from the inside which is what made her so real and so relatable. Even the hard-hearted Captain couldn’t help but love and respect her at the same time.

These early memories of real women, no, powerful women, unafraid to show their vulnerability gave me my first understanding of what it means to be empowered. When I saw my mother, aunts and grandmoms, all women with guts and gumption, working, earning and looking after their families, it showed me that the power of freedom doesn’t suddenly appear one day. Nor does it happen by chance, but it is through example, experience and continual practice that it quietly and strongly grows.

In tangible terms, my sense of power came to me when I started working and earning a salary. Financial independence is a big deal, a very big deal — especially for women. We are not taught, clearly, that this is a key ingredient to living freely and with dignity. If I did not earn my living at an early age or did not have savings, I would not feel the confidence I did, while negotiating my personal life and career in a male-dominated world. And the acceptance by me of my vulnerabilities and treating them as my strengths empowered me to write the stories I do, in my films…or else they wouldn’t ring so true.

It is important and should have always been important to portray women on screen in a light that doesn’t defile them nor put them on a pedestal either, thus constantly stereotyping them either as ‘lesser objects’ or ‘goddesses’. Instead, why can’t a woman be treated as a companion, as a partner, as an equal? More importantly, as a human being with the good, the bad and the ugly, like any other guy!

But no, from the very beginning, little girls are taught to feel weaker or lesser than boys, both overtly and subtly, and are indoctrinated into being ‘accommodating’, not just in India, but the world over. In turn men and society at large begin to expect this docility from women and, sadly, this behavioural conditioning continues into adulthood, for both sexes. So, when a male director is demanding or loud he’s called eccentric or passionate but an assertive woman without even being loud, in the same or any authoritative role, is more often than not called difficult or even crazy!

To change this skewed power balance and to give women their natural due, the change in perception has to start at birth — to our very reaction to the birth of a girl. We have to change the fairy tales and the gender-specific toys and the traditions that chip away at the inherent power of the girl child. Most fairy tales end with her being rescued by a prince; we need to change the story! Why can’t the girl rescue the boy sometimes? Why can’t our happily-ever-after be about an equal world for both sexes?

Power to me means the freedom to make choices. It equips me to make better decisions, for myself and those around me, gives me the ability to take control of my life. And, most importantly, it puts me in the assuring position of being able to say ‘No’ to the things I don’t need or want. To be who I am, with my accomplishments and my flaws, my vulnerabilites, my fears and my fearlessness…. that, to me, is true empowerment.

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