Bollywood actor Raveena Tandon, known for her ultra-glamorous image since she made her debut opposite Salman Khan with Patthar Ke Phool in 1991, suddenly took a U-turn and stunned audiences and critics alike by shunning her 'mast-mast girl' image with offbeat films like Shool (1999) and Daman (2001). Raveena, in fact, went on to win the coveted National Award for Best Actress for Kalpana Lajmi's film, Daman, which was based on the theme of marital rape, an issue currently being discussed and debated everywhere following a split verdict by a two-member bench of Delhi High Court recently. In between her hectic shooting schedules, Raveena talks about marital rape and her experience of working in Daman in an interview with Giridhar Jha.
Daman was probably the first Hindi film to be made on the subject of marital rape. When filmmaker Kalpana Lajmi came to you with the offer of this film despite your glamorous image, what was your first reaction?
To be honest, by that time I had made up my mind to turn to meaningful cinema. I have always worked for women's empowerment and girl child and all the issues related to them have been close to my heart. I have always thought that God has given us name and fame, and it is our moral responsibility to give something back to society. As celebrities, we should help raise public awareness on issues that we believe in. At that time, Kalpana (Lajmi) ji had a great reputation as a director anyway as her films were praised by both the audience and critics. Every film of hers had a message. Moreover, she was one of the few women directors around in those days. So I was just waiting for the opportunity to work with her.
Did you know at that time how big is the issue of marital rape in society?
To be honest, I did not until I had the experience of working in Daman. It was a painful experience for me to play that character on the screen after reading and hearing about such cases. I could only guess what the women trapped in such circumstances had to go through.
Did you do any special preparations to play that character?
There were no workshops for artistes in those days. I just used to talk with Kalpana ji about such cases and try to understand to what extent some women had to face violence within a beautiful institution like marriage.
When you finished shooting for that film, did you realise that you would get the National Award for Best Actress?
Not at all, even though Kalpana ji's films were invariably recognised and applauded at different award ceremonies and film festivals. Daman was far ahead of its time. At that time, even talking about marital rape and domestic violence was taboo of sorts. Most people were not ready for a film like that. When it got the National Award, there was a lot of hue and cry. They said how can the heroine of a commercial film like Raveena Tandon get the National Award? But, I think the jury was convinced that the film was delivering a big message to society. They were also convinced about its premise and the performance of the star cast. Till that time women were generally portrayed in Hindi films with characters mouthing dialogues like "Mera Pati Mera Devta Hai (My husband is my god)".
Not only that, if the hero of a film wanted to kill a villain onscreen, his sister would offer to kill herself to protect her husband. For the first time in Daman, a woman killed her husband in order to save her child from the circumstances that she herself had gone through. It was a path-breaking film. There was, of course, a risk in making it, but it was worth taking since the film was widely accepted.
Yet, very few films have been made in Bollywood on the subject of marital rape since then...
It is true that very few films have been made on this subject so far. But, it has always been my endeavor to work in films that have a strong message for society. I hope that other artistes will also continue to raise such issues on bigger platforms to create mass awareness.
Marital rape and domestic violence are big issues today. I have been reading about how even two judges of the Delhi High Court have different views on this. Nonetheless, I feel that slowly but surely, things will definitely change in the times to come. We all have to try for this.
Do you think our society is moving in that direction where every marital relationship will be based on equality between husband and wife?
As far as equality is concerned, people often call India a third world or underdeveloped country, but they forget that many queens had ruled and fought for the country many centuries ago, whereas, in a country like England, women were allowed to cast their votes for the first time in 1918 only. It is true that we have some shortcomings here, but India has made laws to ensure the rights of women from the very beginning. Women have always played a strong role in every field since Independence, be it politics, army, or police force. Women are overcoming every obstacle to move ahead in life. I am optimistic that the situation will definitely change for the better.
What change have you noticed in the status of women in Bollywood from the time you started your career?
The film industry has also changed a lot. Strong characters are being written for women actors today. Movies are being made around him. More changes will be seen in the future.
You were recently seen in a hit web series Aranyak web series and in the mega-hit movie, KGF Chapter 2. Are actresses like you getting more opportunities due to the advent of OTT?
I think this is a great time for the cinema. Good films are being made on good stories. I think this trend will continue and cinema will get bigger and better than before.