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Inviting you to an event in Bangalore with some bold women who have made it their business to go out and own the world! #BeyondTheDoors 2018.
Geeta Tandon fled at 18 from an abusive marriage, and made a life of dignity for herself and her kids, as the top Bollywood stuntwoman today.
“Where was this so-called SOCIETY when my husband used to do my MARITAL RAPE? I was just 15 and he was 24.”
“Where was ‘this SOCIETY’ when I used to feed sweet-warm water to my children faking it as milk, after shutting their eyes?”
“Where was ‘this SOCIETY’ when I took shelter in a Gurudwara (worship place for the Sikh) with two toddlers below the age of three?”
“I gave a damn to this society and left my husband for good. I was just 18-years-old then. Today I am proud of who I am.”
Meet Geeta Tandon, the most-sought-after stuntwoman of the Hindi film industry for whom setting herself on fire, driving cars through glass, controlling bikes at break-neck speed as… a body-double for Bollywood divas, is the way of a normal life. A ‘life of dignity’ as she terms it…that helped raise her two children – daughter Harsha & son Peer Pratap who are college going youth now.
Time flies, but the journey of this 35-year-old woman-icon that Geeta today is, wasn’t easy. Her mother passed away when she was nine. Geeta recalls, “My paternal aunts didn’t want to take care of my sister, brother and I. So my own blood, these aunts convinced my father that since Geeta is a tomboy, she might elope with someone and leave you ashamed in the society. My father could have managed our upbringing, but didn’t bother much. I was married off at 15. And became a mother of two by the time I was 18.”
Geeta adds, “I said yes to matrimony in the hope of Apna Ghar, Apna Parivaar (My House, My Family). In return I got marital rape and daily beating. I tolerated this for fours years, till my mother-in-law was alive, who used to in-turn get beaten up when she reprimanded my husband. When she died, I left home a couple of times. My husband used to cajole me back and I also used to fall for his sorry, since I had no option for my children. But soon I realised– this man won’t change ever and I left home with my kids.”
And this didn’t stop here. Geeta’s husband would come where she took shelter – he would abuse her, beat her up even on the roads. “He even told my shelter-givers that I am a prostitute. He told them that he had come there to beat me up since I am continuing to do this shameful work even from this place,” Geeta informs.
I shudder as this thought, but Geeta’s voice on phone is unperturbed. She goes on, “Why should I feel shame in telling anyone this? This is brutal truth of our society. You succumb to marital rape or get beaten up. The high-class stay silent for the fear of the society. I didn’t. Initial three-four months were tough, then I moved off to a place farther from my husband’s reach, but in Mumbai itself. I have slept on the roadside with my kids, even took shelter in a Gurudwara. I began doing odd jobs like feet-massage for say Rs 20, clean utensils in dhabas, etc. I knew going back meant a dark future for my kids.”
My voice quivers, “Sorry Geeta, for all the pain you are going through while recalling this.”
She laughs and replies,” Don’t feel like that. I am not a ‘Bechari Abla Naari (Poor, Weak Woman)’. I was never one. Marital rape is crime, I had to leave that man sooner or later. Why should you be sorry?”
“But Geeta, Indian Law still doesn’t acknowledge marital rape,” I inform her.
“Yes, I know because even Police didn’t help me. Because the educated ones need a ‘license to use their wives at will.’ So they might never allow a law against MARITAL RAPE. And I pity such people. And even those educated women who stay silent tolerating marital rape due to societal shame. I am glad I fall in the uneducated-class, since I had the liberty to shun that shame and start a new life. These educated-illiterates can sit silent, I won’t,” a determined Geeta Tandon roars into my ears.
Panting with anger, like a lioness on the prowl, she goes on, “These same people, the so-called educated ones used to suggest me to sleep with men and earn good bucks for my children. And I used to ask them why can’t a man be an uncle, a MAMA, my brother to help me? Is humanity dead? So I decided that even if I have to clean gutters, I will do, but provide a life of dignity to my children.”
So how did Bollywood happen?
Geeta Tandon informs, “Doing odd jobs, including dancing in various dance troupes, I landed here. First offer to do a stunt came for mere thousand rupees. I knew it meant a good meal for my children for the next few days. It was 2008…Ladakh. I felt thrilled after the stunt’s success and decided to make it my career. And let me tell you, I have never been trained, I picked up everything from live shoots on-the-spot.”
From Marital Rape Survivor to the most-sought-after stuntwoman for the likes of Aishwarya Rai, Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt and Parineeti Chopra. What was her driving force beyond two toddlers?
“I would tell myself– You have a bright life after these TWO MINUTES of stunts! A brighter life will come with the next dawn…..”
And the music lover starts singing, “Yeh Hausla Kaise Jhuke, Yeh Arzoo Kaisey Rukey – meaning “Never Give up Courage, Never Stop Dreaming.”
I am speechless, she understands. “Ek joke sunogi? I love comedy over action. I love to make people laugh.” I am numbed by her courage to find a rainbow even in the dark.
My next query is about what next big projects she has and with whom. And the joy in her voice leaves me imagining her blushing behind the phone, “With Akshay Kumar ji, my hero! Robot 2. He is a very nice human being and a great actor, performer. I would love to work with him someday in a full-role. I spoke to him once, this time. Another project is Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota–Bhagyashri’s son’s launch pad.”
But then she also laments, “Vesey bhi, stunt-women practically don’t get lead/bigger roles more than a stunt-double. The discrimination that is everywhere is here too. Women are taken for granted, especially post marriage and children. But things are changing now. And perhaps I am a proof?”
Isn’t she afraid of doing death-defying stunts?
“Yes, I do worry for my children, but then the TWO MINUTE MANTRA comes handy always. I know God will ensure I will die only once my children are well educated and once after they have families of their own. Also I want to set up an institute for women which can give them shelter as well as teach them skills for self-reliance. And also set up a stunt-training school; lots to do before I die so I have to earn till I can.”
Super-fit at 35 and rearing to go forever! What’s the secret?
She laughs back,”Healthy food, whatever I can afford. No tantrums, no diet chart, but always a tummy-full with energy-giving stuff. My stunts and training is my exercise, mostly. And staying happy & positive with a daily dose of jokes keeps me going!”
So what is your message to women, especially those who fail to take a stand against wrong being done to them?
“Live a life of dignity. And this message is for men as well. Love makes a relationship last with dignity, not marital rape in the name of love. Even if one person understands this and takes action against wrong, the purpose of this interview is met. Thus, I never say no to an interview…be it a top-brand media or small one. My target is that one person who understands and brings about a change or changes self,” Geeta asserts.
So who is her favourite person in life, besides superstar Akshay Kumar, “Main Apni Favourite Hun. Incidentally, Kareena Mam spoke this dialogue in Jab We Met long after I coined it and used to utter it among my teammates.”
The spot-boy was calling Geeta Tandon again and again. So we decide to meet over Makkey-ki-Roti Saag, Gobhi Paranthas, Fish Rice & Gajar Ka Halwa, Geeta’s favourite food, either at my place in Delhi or her house — now she owns one in Mumbai, India!
Images source: Geeta Tandon