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She Took A Fall...

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

... and continues to do so as part of her job as a Bollywood stuntwoman. Pearl Mathias talks to Geeta Tandon about her journey so far, and finds out how she was a maker of her own destiny

My mother-in-law told him that he was a eunuch and that he was ruining her name because he couldn’t handle a girl. ‘Go, tear her clothes off and rape her.’

The harsh words echoed in my ears long after I had finished watching the gut-wrenching video based on the life of Geeta Tandon.

The stuntwoman went from being married at 15-years-old and surviving marital rape, to being left homeless with two children at the tender age of 20. In her struggle to be able to continue providing for her children, she narrowly escaped the pull of being a sex-worker. But, even being brought down to her absolute worst didn’t deter her courage. She made up her mind to work hard, but also to work respectfully. So, from making rotis to being a bhangra dancer and then grabbing the opportunity to work in films by the reins, she has made a name for herself, survived the ordeal and come out stronger.

Her children make it clear that they have never felt the void of a father’s love. After all, what they receive from her more than makes up. She encourages single mothers the world over, saying, “I am the breadwinner of my family and when my children are unwell or they require something, I ensure that I fulfil all their needs. They mean the world to me! If I can play both roles, anyone can. All you need is courage and conviction.”

She goes on to explain to us that even though she was battered and betrayed so early on in life, it was undoubtedly both her children that made her get up and move on. “It’s because of their faith and trust in me that I have been able to achieve so much. Also, I was hell bent on proving to the world that once a woman is determined to accomplish something, there is nothing in the world that can stop her from doing so,” she adds. Already impressed and invested in her story, I continued to ask her about her life, and of course, the one thing that I was so caught up with — that video!

In the video, she talks about how the smallest things in life have meant so much to her. Although this is very important to remember, it’s easy for a lot of us to forget in the midst of our cushy lives. When she was asked about how people could value what they have, she told me, “Only when one is deprived of all the joys in life does one notice the little things that define them. For me, that defining moment was when I had the `400 rupees I was left with. I think that we need to stop complaining about how we are deprived of so many things in life, because the small joys are what define our life and its journey. We should stop to notice these things so that we can value what we currently have.”

After being part of the film industry for over six years, the opportunity to be on television, and as part of a stunt show, fell into Geeta’s lap. She couldn’t be more ecstatic about being on set with her idol Rohit Shetty; but, we were disheartened when we heard about her early elimination from the popular show Khatron Ke Khiladi. Asking her if she was as gutted, she told us, “I really wanted to be on television. So, when my friend approached me and Rohit Shetty helped me get on the show, I was very excited about it. I think it worked out because I had already become a stuntwoman by then. I never knew this career would give me the independence I have today. Khatron Ke Khiladi was a very good experience. I was only eliminated so early on because of all my innocent excitement.” Either way, the show cast the spotlight on her, and soon, everyone wanted to know the story behind India’s most incredible stuntwoman.

Her first stunt assignment in Ladakh involved her being set on fire. “I ended up with burns on my face,” she recalls. But, as the burns healed, her determination rose, and she began to enjoy her work, especially since it somehow reminded her of her younger days, when she had been a    naughty tomboy.

Today, she owns a house in Malad and has taken the fall for several glamorous women in the industry, including Parineeti Chopra, Kareena Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Bipasha Basu and Deepika Padukone.

What does she want going forward? According to Geeta, her next step is to become India’s first woman action director, because, in her own words, “I have only seen the names of men as action directors in Bollywood. I have never seen a woman’s name in that position. So, I aspire to be the first woman to be in that role. I believe in myself and will continue to work hard to fulfil this dream.”

In a patriarchal society such as ours, she has only one message to give women who want to take up more male-oriented jobs and that is, “There is nothing that a woman can’t do. Earlier, there were very few female directors, camerawomen and assistant directors, but the trend is slowly changing. And, this has all happened because women have realised that they have the same abilities as men!”

Don’t believe what patriarchy feeds you, is what she signs off with, saying, “Patriarchy made me believe that I was weak. There are abilities within you; channel them and become whatever you want to be, because gender isn’t the difference, it’s our thought process that is.”

Geeta in the spotlight

  • A woman in Geeta’s dance company asked her if she would like to perform stunts and she hasn’t looked back since.
  • Geeta tells us that she is the only stuntwoman to have successfully attempted car chases (driving through objects such as barricades or racing along narrow lanes), and that too with minimal training.
  • She recently did a car chase scene for Aishwarya Rai’s Jazbaa.
  • Watch Geeta’s story on the YouTube channel Blush, For Culture Machine.
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