A story of love, loss and second chances by Nikita Singh, releasing this Valentine’s Day.
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A chance accident paralysed her waist down, but she grew up to be strong woman who has never let go of her dreams. Meet Geet, India’s first wheelchair-bound actor.
What would be your reaction if you hear about a child having met with an accident resulting in permanent paralysis from the waist down?
Why am I asking your reaction before starting this story? Because, our problem as a society is first we feel pity, then sympathy but later we start judging the same individual. Like ‘what will happen to her future now’ ‘Oh God! Her parents have a tough life ahead”…etc, etc.
The same happened in Geet’s case when she got paralysed waist down after an accident. But her parents, with her three siblings in tow, decided not to give up hope. And three months after her accident, Geet joined back school and began participating is as many events as she could.
While some might say, since she was raised in the US, things might have been easy….but it takes one to walk in that person’s shoes before passing a judgement!
Two decades later Geet is a successful actor who is wheelchair bound but with her pride flying high! So when did life take this beautiful turn? And what all did she go through before she realised her dream to be an actor?
I decided to put some direct questions to Geet, who is now a Delhi-NCR resident but on an extended break to the US after her support system, her father’s demise.
I can feel the pain, the missing, the longing in her voice as she begins narrating, “Born as the third child among four in a traditional Indian family, I was progressing through a very happy childhood in Africa, India and the US. And then one day everything changed. I was in a car accident as a child. I injured my spinal cord, which resulted in permanent paralysis from the waist down. There were the pitying looks and stares that I get to date. Seeing me in a wheelchair, even now people automatically assume that my life is over.
But my biggest support system has been my family. My family has stood with me through thick and thin and always encouraged me that all things are possible. They have never treated me like I am different or told me that I can’t do something. Instead, they have always pushed me to push myself, and have tried to find ways that I can do everything from pursuing higher education, to going on vacation, to living my every day life independently.”
To the surprise of many, this engineering graduate also has a doctorate in Law. “Education has always been important to my family. My father believed that education is the great equalizer, and has a rule in our family that we all had to be engineers (so that we would always have a well-paying fall back career), but were free to pursue our passions after that. Law was also something my Dad recommended, because he saw the traits of a good lawyer in me. So, I pursued a doctorate in law. There were many times I felt overwhelmed and like giving up. But each time my family and my faith in God inspired me to continue.”
Life went on to take her to a well-paid job in the US. But destiny had something else in store….or we can Geet had other plans for her destiny this time!
She quit her white-collar job! “Everything was good and peaceful. But at times you have to let it go for better to sink in. I quit my job in the US to volunteer full time as a social worker. Growing up with my struggles, I wanted just one thing from life — make other’s lives better through mine. That is why I switched careers from Engineering to Law. I thought, as a lawyer I could help people. And I did. I worked on several pro-bono cases free of charge. But it wasn’t enough.
I volunteered at homeless shelters, the juvenile jail, hospitals, schools, community centers. But it still wasn’t enough. Then a few years ago, I left everything to move to India to work with slum children full time. I admit, I have faced setbacks and at times I feel disheartened. But, every time I drive up to a slum and see the children smiling from ear to ear and hear them begin to sing “Didi aa gayi! Didi aa gayi!” (Elder sister has come, elder sister has come!”) I am again revived and ready to continue the work.”
So, when did acting happen to her, for which she is world famous today, having millions of followers on Social Media channels like facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc.
Geet narrates with a pinch in her heart but also with a child-like chuckle, “I always wanted to be an actress. Even as a child, I would often just start acting at the dinner table. There was a temporary time of deep discouragement when my 12th grade teacher told me I was not good enough to be on stage because I was in a wheelchair, and only belonged backstage. After that, though I continued to hone my skills through countless classes and directed others in acting, I was too disillusioned to audition to act on stage myself. After college, I started writing and directing small productions for community events and street drama to perform in market places and slums. But everything changed a couple of year back when I tried for India’s Best Cinestars ki Khoj, which was an amazing experience…”
And I let Geet go on in her own words since such struggles are better narrated that way, “I had been seeing the ads for the reality show on TV, but ignored them for the most part, thinking, ‘They wouldn’t want me.’ Then when my sister saw that the Delhi auditions were just 3 days away, she began pushing me to give it a try. I was hesitant, but then decided to go for it, just for fun. I didn’t expect that I would even make it past the first audition. But, to my surprise, I began clearing audition after audition. And as this process continued, my passion for acting was rekindled!”
But Geet was different ! Rather than preparing pieces solely for the audition, she began preparing monologues just to see if she could do better and do different types of scenes. It became a way to challenge herself and expand her acting abilities. After practice she would perform for family and friends, just to see their reaction, and was pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback.
“I cleared several auditions, in Delhi and even traveled to Mumbai twice. I made it to the top 75 in the nation. But then one of the final audition rounds was a dance round. At that point, I was disqualified. But for me, this was an awesome experience and showed me that I truly can act and that my acting can be appreciated, even though I am in a wheelchair. And I attribute my rekindled passion for acting and my drive to make it to mainstream cinema to this experience!” The joy Geet must have felt that time, is still palpable in her voice even now.
The joy she derives from helping slum children, from acting in inspiring videos and of course from dancing! Yes, you heard it right. Geet loves to dance!
Geet chuckles yet again…and I can imagine her already swaying at the tune of her favourite question from the interview, “Dance allows me to express myself physically, without any words. It lets me be free. I experience a freedom and ease of movement while dancing that I don’t experience any other time in life. When I am dancing, I forget my wheelchair and its constraints. It is a passion I like to pursue in my free time.”
So what else she does in her free time? “Where is the free time Mahima? There is lots to do and lots to live. I run a small NGO through which we try to help underprivileged children and at-risk youth. We go into the slums and through story-telling, song, dance and drama, we try to teach them positive values and encourage them to dream and succeed in life.
Every week I teach several hundred underprivileged children positive values such as ethical behavior, helping others, stranger danger, reporting abuse, etc. I also try to help provide for the children’s needs by organizing medical camps, distributing soap and toothbrushes, organizing the donation of over 1000 sweaters every winter and more. And if this leaves any time, I devote to acting and later few sessions of dance!
Overwhelmed with her energy, the but-obvious next question was how does she manage to don so many hats? She asserts,“ I choose to focus on what I can do rather than on what I can’t do and with the help of God, I have learned that all things are possible. I do not see my life as a struggle, rather I see my life as a blessing. Struggle come in everyone’s life. And I am so blessed to be alive, to have a loving family, to have a roof over my head, to have the ability to pursue my dreams, to have so many loving people surrounding me on social media and supporting me. The list is endless.”
Coming back to acting, I ask Geet though her acts seem effortless, are they really so? Not so, I know…
Geet doesn’t bat an eyelid and pat comes her reply, “Where there is a will, there’s a way. We just have to modify scenes a bit, so all my scenes can be performed sitting, whether it be on a park bench, sofa, bed or sometimes my chair, depending on what is required. More than acting itself, it is the perception people have of an actress in a wheelchair that makes it more difficult. People are afraid to ask me to work in their projects because of all the accommodations they think they will have to make. Once, I was in talks to be in a feature length movie, but the studio was upstairs. I told the producer I would be able to manage with some help, but he decided it would be too big a hassle and dropped me from the film.”
But her story behind the camera is not as effortless as it sounds. It too has grave struggles which she passes of life a whiff of air, “Most of our productions are zero-budget or else I use my own funds or my parents support me. It is a family production. My mom is my videographer, while I write the script, direct, edit and post all myself.”
And then she tells me what keep her going without a very-much-crucial external support in the acting arena, “I receive so many beautiful messages every day on FB, Instagram and via email. Many people ask for advice, while others share how my messages have changed their lives by giving them more confidence or the mental strength to take difficult decisions. Just yesterday a young girl sent me a message saying that through my posts, she has gained the courage to pursue her dreams. This is what keeps me going….and will keep me going.”
My next question to her was that she was lucky to have a supportive family. What about those girl children, women who are still living in the clutches of a patriarchal society? She gets little pensive, but responds very assertively, “This is not your destiny. You don’t have to settle for anything less than what makes you happy. Have the courage to step out, speak out, and you will find a beautiful life is awaiting you. It won’t always be easy, but it will definitely be worth it.
And I can hear her mom calling the shots, the set is ready and Geet departs saying, “I want to tell anyone and everyone who is demotivated that concentrate on what you can do, rather than on what you can’t…and God will make all things possible. Dream big. Work hard. Never give up. Dreams do come true. Hard work always pays. And persistence is the key to success.”
Images source: Geet
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