On the eve of International Women's Day, girl power was celebrated in all its colour and vigour in Dubai at the Gr8! Women Awards.
While Vidya Balan, who was honoured with an award for her contribution to cinema, spoke at length about accepting ourself with all our flaws, former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen was all about being true to one's identity.
"While every award is special, what makes this special is that I am receiving it on the eve of Women's Day," said a breathless Balan. In town for the premiere of her film Kahaani, she wasn't sporting a fake belly at the glittering awards function that saw Bollywood-themed performances from Neha Dhupia and Yana Gupta.
"Now I feel miniscule and small … I think when you accept yourself, the world accepts you — with your mood swings, curves, your bad hair days. Let us celebrate what we call stree shakti [women power] — the unique power and strength that we possess." It was Balan's second award of the day after receiving the prestigious National Award for Best Actor for her drama The Dirty Picture on Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, Sen won the guests over with her charming acceptance speech. As always, she relayed her message with wit and grace.
"Nothing in my life has been an act of charity. I say this with a hand on my heart. I don't believe in it. But I do believe, there's a responsibility that you are born with — to connect to another human being. I am very privileged that I got the platform to have such an abundant life so early in my life — I feel the more I do is less. Congratulations, ladies — the ones who have won tonight and the ones who had the courage to stand up and be who they are," said Sen, the mother to two adopted girls. She got the nod for supporting the girl child movement. "I want to thank my beautiful daughters and I wanted to add ‘my husband' — but I guess we will have to wait for that one. It is powerful to be a woman and even greater to be a human being," said Sen smiling at her mother, who was down with fever but did not want to miss out on the winning moment.
The awards, instituted by Anu and Shashi Ranjan of Indian Television Academy, honoured women from the UAE, India, Egypt and Bahrain — for their remarkable contribution to various fields including entertainment, medicine, charity and human rights. Legendary actress Asha Parekh was also celebrated for her charity work.
"Actors too have a responsibility towards social causes — I think Salman Khan is doing a wonderful job at it," Parekh told tabloid!. Talents including television anchor Uma Ghosh Deshpande — who credited her success to her family — and Egyptian filmmaker Bushra Rozza were honoured for their work in their chosen fields.
Three minutes with Sushmita:
Looking statuesque in a limited edition Dolce & Gabbana gown, Sushmita Sen — who did India proud in 1994 when she was crowned Miss Universe — feels life is all about making choices. The mother of two adopted girls is a towering testimony to it.
"I was never a part of any race — I lived my career the way I wanted to," said Sen, responding to whether she was happy at the Bollywood career trajectory. After making her debut in 1996 with the thriller Dastak, the 36-year-old beauty queen has acted in several hits including Main Hoon Na and Biwi No 1. However, she wasn't able to top up her account in the last five years.
"I am in a good place right now," she said. Excerpts from the interview .
How does it feel to win an award?
I am always overwhelmed when I receive an award for something that has nothing to do with my art or my performance. This award is honouring the personal choices I made. In my life, all I have done is follow my heart and if somebody out there recognises it to be worthy of an award then you feel just wow. It's a two-edged sword, because I am not doing anything extraordinary but I am making ordinary choices look special.
In Bollywood circles, did you ever feel disadvantaged as a woman?
I would be the wrong person to ask that question because I never made it to the top five. So I lived my career the way I wanted to, but the woman in the top five will be ideal to answer that because they would have to play with it. For me, I don't know if it even exists.
So, did you deliberately drop out of the rat race?
I never ran. To me competitions are about having a set target. In an industry like ours, every Friday that target changes. One flop and you are way down the order and one hit you are there at the top till your next release. I don't understand competition like that. To me cinema is an art. I express it.
What's happening to your film where you were tipped to play late Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto?
It was the production house that made The Queen who was interested in the project. It was conceptualised at a time when Pakistan was in a different political scenario. They had the support of the Pakistan's People Party and were going with an approved version. But the political scenario changed and they don't have backing any more.
What are you currently working on?
I have a project coming up but if I prefer them [production house] announcing at it. But I can tell you that it's an action film. It's still in the scripting stages, but I have my fingers crossed.