In the Business of Show | Verve Magazine
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September 18, 2008

In the Business of Show

Text by Sakshi Juneja. Photographs by Anusha S. Yadav

She’s the quintessential mistress of masala, generating as much spice off the screen as she does on it. But under her carefully doctored theatrics, the real Rakhi Sawant remains an enigma. Blogger and ardent Rakhi fan Sakshi Juneja goes on a mission to nail down the actual woman and makes a few startling discoveries about her subject along the way

One of the first things to be understood about Rakhi is that she is a performer. Even her off-screen behind-the-curtains act is one loud, pouty-lipped, and steely-eyed affair. Her theatrics are so intrinsic to her.

So does that make her a drama queen? Maybe…maybe not. I bought into the story which Rakhi would have us all believe – that she’s India’s modern day rags-to-riches Cinderella. Everything I read about her talked of how she was exploited by family and film industry alike. She was the victim who only did the things she did because she needed to earn, and while she was doing it, she’d be ethical and tell it as it is. Oh yes, I bought it all. I owe much of my own popularity as a blogger to this woman. They don’t call me the ‘Unofficial online PR agent of Rakhi Sawant’ for no rhyme or reason. I appreciated all her efforts, I appreciated her in-your-face honesty; this woman had balls.

Cut to a few weeks ago. After agonising for over half a month with channel contact and secretary alike, I was in front of the door of the hotel room in which the shoot of the Rakhi Sawant Showz was taking place. Negotiating the wires of the lights and props, I made my way gingerly and sat at the edge of the sofa, careful not to upset the overflowing ashtray lying by my side. That was at three in the afternoon. Three hours later, Rakhi was done shooting for both the guests (Shiney Ahuja and Minissha Lamba). She had returned to her room to have a quick meal of French fries and cheese sandwiches and assured me, as she sat chomping on a fry, that the moment the shoot’s over, she’d sit with me and give the interview.

Three hours further down the line, I was in the adjacent room talking to her secretary’s assistant, and Rakhi was emitting strange noises from the shoot. “It is part of the script,” he assured me, when he saw me look back startled. “She’s bitching about Mallika Sherawat,” he grinned.

After a while the noises subsided, and finally it was a wrap. The assistant ran back, and I felt relieved that after six and a half hours of waiting, I could finally get down to business.

Except, when I reached Rakhi’s room 10 minutes later, she’d already left.

Yes, that was hardly the sort of day a fan should face. My experience had left me feeling like I was part of a bad Bollywood love song, chasing my elusive heroine around the banyan tree. With an axe in my hand.

But the shoot did ‘open my eyes’ to the Rakhi we all thought we knew. When I finally did meet her one on one, I found my perspective towards her had undergone a sea change. Everything she is made out to be, I realised, is exactly that. Made up. Like the mispronounced English words. Not that I believe she’s joking when she says she can’t speak the language well, but the script writer sure peppers the script with them so that the target audience identify with her. Rakhi was no hamdard of the masses – going by the way she treats those working for her. I felt the fabric fall apart at the seams, revealing to me the image of a businesswoman who calculates every action, gesture and word to make things work for her. And now, if it’s possible, I’m an even bigger fan, because Rakhi has truly mastered that art. After all ganda hai par dhanda hai yeh.

Rakhi is no kid, even if her slight petite frame makes you think she’s probably the same 20-year-old who entered the industry several years ago. Seven to be precise—an eternity by the standards of this place that sells stardust and dreams, casts on couches and requires its women to be young, thin and naked. Well, almost.
In such a place, no one can survive unless they learn the fine art of wresting control. And no one has learnt that better than Rakhi, who knows just how to make everything work for her

The Making of a Drama Queen

I’d put the flag at three events in Rakhi’s career, that I believe, made her who she is today.  The Cinderella image was born out of a once little-known Item girl Rakhi fighting for an apology. The nation watched, amused and cynical. They couldn’t help it. Media coverage was incessant and it even made it to the breaking news category on some news channels. “Every Indian woman sympathised with me. They said, look at this woman, whoever she is, whatever she is, at least she has the courage to take action. I mean why me alone, even when something like this happens to a prostitute, against her wishes, it is a crime.”

From being one among the several Item girls, Rakhi became a starlet with a voice. Irrespective of who said what, Rakhi was in the news and everybody was talking about her.

Patching broken hearts
Then she was called to be part of Bigg Boss. By this time the sniggering had restarted. However, all laughter died when TRPs dived after Rakhi was evicted from the house. The item girl seemed to have found herself a fan following, and a massive one at that watching prime time TV on weekdays.

Rakhi “prepared” herself for this and she was pretty sure what she wanted. “I wanted everyone to like me. I went in with a mission of changing the people in the house.”  She was also rather clear about how she planned to behave. “Why should I change myself for anyone.… I am a very talented girl and I am not a heartbreaker. I only know how to patch broken hearts.”

Rakhi got what she wanted. When she came out of the house, she realised India loved her. “Assignments began pouring in and I took them all up. I worked harder than I had ever before. For me the industry had changed. My world had changed… people’s perspective towards me had changed.”

In fact, Rakhi got more than she had bargained for. Yash Raj Films tailor made a role for her and snapped her up the moment she stepped out of the Bigg Boss house. Her theatrics and emotions worn on the sleeve inside the house had won the day. Yet again.

On Karan’s Couch
“He told me, later on, that he had won two cups, one for the Best Show and one for the highest TRPs, all thanks to me,” Rakhi said.

No guest, it is rumoured wanted to appear with Rakhi on Karan Johar’s Koffee With Karan. But I doubt that would have daunted her had she known.  “A person’s status is the single most important thing in society. It is the only thing that truly defines him.” And Rakhi knew just how significant appearing on that show was. “After this all the big big stars also started respecting me and started calling me up. Their behaviour towards me completely changed.”

Yes, Rakhi had arrived. And she had done so by being literal in her theatrics, loud instead of understated in her style, and frank instead of squeamish about the things she had to go through to get this far. And like a true business woman, Rakhi is only looking forward to newer projects (she wants to start a production house and give Ekta Kapoor a run for her money), even as she continues to do her dance shows and television anchoring/reality shows. As for acting assignments, nothing less than big banners anymore.

“There are people who don’t respect my efforts. But still I work with them. I see young girls laughing at me but it doesn’t bother me, nor will it make me a lesser human being.”

That’s right Rakhi, because you as well as I know how to get our work done.

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