Without my daughter

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By Hindustan Times

If you are of a certain age, you probably remember a time when conventional wisdom had it that the world of movies was steeped in sin. And that while it was okay for strapping young men from good families to join the film business, it was no place for a woman from a ‘decent’ household. Raj
Kapoor, the great patriarch of Hindi cinema, famously declared that no woman in his extended family would ever work in the movies.

Thus, both his daughters-in-law, Babita and Neetu Singh, dutifully retired from the film world once they had acquired the Kapoor family name. And most film stars of his generation took their cue from him, forbidding their wives, sisters, daughters and daughters-in-law from joining the film industry.

Esha HemaYou would think that many decades down the line, things would have changed. After all, a new generation of Kapoor daughters, Karisma and Kareena, has taken the lead to become the leading actresses of their time. Even as traditional a Jat as Dharmendra had no objection to his daughter with Hema Malini, Esha Deol, making her debut as an actress. More recently, Anil Kapoor’s daughter, Sonam, made her entry into the film world as did Sonakshi Sinha, the daughter of the yesteryear star, Shatrughan.

In all of these cases, the fathers took a certain pride in their daughters’ achievements. And even if they didn’t quite splash out on a huge debut for them under the home banner, they supported and cheered them on from the sidelines. They certainly didn’t take the old-fashioned view that the film industry was a Very Bad Place, which their girls had to be sheltered and protected from.

But just when it looked as if the bad old days – when Hindi cinema was seen as a predatory place where women were at risk – were over, along came Sanjay Dutt to remind us that chauvinism is alive and well and kicking ass in the film industry. Dutt’s daughter from his first marriage, Trishala, announced that she wanted to become an actress but Daddy declared that that was out of the question. There was no way any daughter of his was joining the film industry, said Dutt.

Yes, the same Dutt whose mother, Nargis, was a legendary star of Hindi cinema; whose first wife, Richa, had been an actress; who had dated and nearly married Madhuri Dixit; and whose second wife, Manyata, had been an item girl in her time. But despite the fact that nearly every significant relationship in his life so far had been with an actress, Sanjay declared that that was not a career option open to his daughter.

Why, you ask? Well, he’s never really explained it. So, I guess all we can do is speculate.

Sanjay DuttThe charitable explanation, of course, would be that Dutt is wildly protective of his daughter and would not like her to be subjected to suspect behaviour if she joined the movie business. There’s only one problem with this theory. No one in their right minds would dare to mess with the daughter of Sanjay Dutt, a man not exactly known for his calm and even temper. So, it’s not even remotely possible that Trishala would be sexually harassed or fall victim to the infamous casting couch of the film industry. On the contrary, film producers would probably be queuing up for the privilege of launching her in the movies.

Or perhaps Dutt feels that actresses are not respected by society, even looked down upon because of the nature of their profession. But surely, empirical evidence suggests otherwise. His mother, Nargis, who became an actress during a much more conservative era, was universally loved and respected right until her untimely death. Sharmila Tagore, who broke several class barriers when she joined Hindi cinema, is seen as an icon of style and grace even today. Shabana Azmi and Hema Malini have been nominated to the Rajya Sabha (as, indeed, was Nargis). Madhuri Dixit still rules over the hearts of millions of Indians. Aishwarya Rai continues to make movies even after becoming a Bachchan bahu. And even the current crop of actresses, from Bipasha Basu to Deepika Padukone, are treated with respect by the film industry (yes, even those who do not have star dads).

So, what exactly is Sanjay’s problem? Why is he so implacably opposed to his daughter acting in Hindi movies?

Well, I’ve puzzled over this for days but only one explanation make sense. And that explanation has more to do with Dutt himself than the film industry he seems so down on; it’s more about his own attitude to women than the treatment accorded to them by Bollywood.

Because if you think about it, it is Dutt who shows scant respect for his female co-stars when he announces that his daughter would never be allowed to become an actress. It is Dutt who reinforces the idea that the movie business is a dangerous place for women by trying to bully his daughter out of it. And it is Dutt who falls short of honouring the right of a woman to make her own life choices when he lays down the law to his adult daughter: don’t join the movies or else...

Yes, at the end of the day, this whole sorry episode is an indictment of Dutt’s values and beliefs; not a judgement on the film industry. Perhaps Trishala should keep that in mind before she comes to a decision – a decision that is her own, not her Daddy’s.
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami

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