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What glass ceiling?

Hema Malini shares her experiences as a woman in the film industry. Initially it was awkward, but she came through all right


I USED TO FEEL A LITTLE AWKWARD AS EVERYONE ON THE SETS WAS MAle HEMA MALINI

PHOTO: SANDEEP SAXENA

Still the dream girl: Hema Malini: `Even the gods didn't act without their female counterparts'

"Oh! Ye tum kya karta hai?" She pouts with a childlike innocence as a fan slips his diary in her hand for an autograph even as she is closing her purse. She is embarrassed about his getting an inadvertent glimpse into her bag. "Isme se sab dekh liya," she continues complaining as the bewildered man gets his signed diary back. He is bemused, but clearly besotted by her. And here Hema Malini proves what Mahatma Gandhi believed, that "the greater our innocence, the greater our strength and the swifter our victory".

And here is she in a win-win situation. Listening to her is a pleasure too, as her speech is usually tinged with humour. "Otherwise it becomes drab, no?" she asks with a rehearsed curiosity in her big, beautiful eyes, now gathering creases underneath.

Hema Malini, actor, director, producer, dancer and parliamentarian, looks gorgeous even as she is on the wrong side of the fifties. Selected as one of India's leading women achievers, she has to talk at a function about women beyond boundaries, breaking the glass ceiling.

`All in the mind'

"What glass ceiling?" she asks. "I don't believe it even exists. It is in our minds. And if you still think it is there, either ignore it or break it. I did that. No man could do what I was able to in my films, so where is the glass ceiling?" Even the gods didn't act without their female counterparts, Shakti. They always involved them while making important decisions. "Brahma didn't work without Saraswati, Vishnu without Lakshmi and Mahesh without Parvati," she argues.

But she believes it may be difficult for women to jostle with men to reach the top position.

"I also faced that. I used to feel a little awkward as everyone on the sets, except the hairdresser, was male. So I would take my mother along during my shoots. Enacting some emotional scenes or wearing funny clothes used to be quite embarrassing. But when I saw Aruna Raje, the only female director of her times, I was greatly influenced. I saw her handling even the toughies likes Vinod Khanna and Mohan Agashe. When I was making Dil Aashna Hai, I was an exception as a female director rather than the rule. I took inspiration from Aruna Raje and handled all the men in Dil Aashna Hai," she laughs.

Women, she says, are naturally soft. "The world is spending millions of dollars on men to endorse softer qualities, while we have them naturally."

She may be known as a doting mother, but ask her about her daughters and she ripostes: "Why are you so worried about them? Main ma ho kar worried nahi hoon. You want a role reversal?"

She won't spare the bureaucracy either. "When I was the chairperson of the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), I was happy because they gave me a chair in a well decorated room. The rules of bureaucracy can't be broken whether it is for men or women," she says laughing.

RANA SIDDIQUI

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