Deepika Padukone, Aditi Mittal: Meet the new-age fairy tale heroines

Shikha Jain listens in as Deepika Padukone, Aditi Mittal and other pioneering women share their tales of empowerment, recorded in a children’s book

The erstwhile heroines of fairy tales invariably needed saving by the dashing heroes. Little girls – and boys – often grow up reading the classic fairy tales which depict princesses as delicate characters. In reality, it’s a different story, which is why it’s time to right the wrongs. Let’s welcome The Dot that Went for a Walk, a new-age fairy tale book for children, which is “trying to change the fairy tale perspective of what ‘happily ever after’ means,” say Lakshmi Nambiar, Reema Gupta and Sarada Akkineni, curators of the book launched by Caterpillar Wings.

“Inspiration for our book came through our kids. When we asked them and their friends who their female role models were, they struggled to come up with any names. When we probed further, they could only come up with people in entertainment and sports. Sadly, the boys could not even name a few,” they share.

One woman to another

The book reflects the diverse journeys of 51 pioneering women from India who drew their own unique paths and left an impact in their respective fields. Artist Paul Klee’s quote, ‘A line is a dot that went for a walk’, is the inspiration for the book title. A dot, when it went for a walk, could draw a line, a circle, a squiggle, endless patterns. This book is an attempt to change the narrative of storytelling from fairy tales to real stories of real women and aims to inspire young readers to connect with these role models, be inspired by them, dream bigger, think of new possibilities and fight harder against self-doubt.

“This book is about building a community – a community of writers and artists. We have 10 writers who have written in the book out of which four are 12-year-old kids who have written beautiful stories about the women,” say the curators.

A treasure trove of artists, musicians, scientists, sportspersons, and leaders are mentioned in the book and each of these women has a unique story – some were bullied in their childhood, some battled depression, some are from elite families, some from remote areas of the country and so on. “Together they tell the story of the last 200 years of this country. So, this book starts with the Rani of Jhansi fighting colonialism and ends with the story of a fighter pilot Avani Chaturvedi who is defending our country,” they reveal.

Inspiring role models featured in the book were present at the book launch and discussion, including actor Deepika Padukone, leading architect Brinda Somaya, first woman commando training officer Dr Seema Rao and stand-up comedian Aditi Mittal.

Deepika Padukone, Aditi Mittal: Meet the new-age fairy tale heroines

Their journey and struggle

Starting with Aditi Mittal, her journey wasn’t easy. The field of comedy was dominated by male comedians who supported one another and Aditi felt like an outsider. She had to work doubly hard to get noticed and rise. Aditi believes comedy is a moment where the audience and comedian interact and share a moment of togetherness. “Why can’t we be the owners of our own stories? And why can’t we take the centre stage not as an object of just attraction. I still know commercials gigs who say, ‘Oh female comedian, how does she look?’ But nobody’s asking how are the jokes? I also realised that women have to work three times harder for someone to be interested in their stories,” vouches Aditi.

Anuradha’s journey was filled with difficulties. She encountered discrimination for being a woman trying to master a ‘masculine’ instrument. Scepticism for being young and resistance for not hailing from a musical family, she was nevertheless determined. Relentless with her discipline, training and confidence, she says, “When I went through all the discrimination one thing I learnt was not to listen to that negativity. To focus on my goal, to focus on what I want to do or what my heart was telling me to do. And I knew ultimately my passion would lead me to my destination. Even my parents were kind enough to encourage that passion.”

Bollywood’s numero uno, Deepika Padukone maintained, “I’d like to speak for myself and say that I think I have been able to bridge that gap in terms of what my male contemporaries are getting versus what I’m getting paid. There was a recent incident where a director offered me a film and creatively I liked it. And then it came to talking about the money and I said this is what I’d charge and he said he wouldn’t be able to afford it because he had to accommodate the male artiste.

So, I said no because I know my track record and I know what I’m worth and I even know his films haven’t been doing as well as my films have been doing. It made absolutely more sense. I was okay to say no to that film because I know it’s unfair and I’m ready to take those steps or decisions for myself. I won’t be able to sleep peacefully at night because I don’t think I would have been able to live with the thought of knowing that being part of the film and bringing in the same sort of creative contribution or value to the film but being under paid.”

Modern day female heroes 

The trend has been seeing a change in recent times. There are a number of films for teenagers and youth featuring young women in leading roles fighting to make the world a better place. Deepika claimed, “Yes, films that are being led by women are doing much better. Even directors are changing roles and if they have a male protagonist, they change it to female protagonist and that’s a huge achievement.” Aditi also feels, “Giving mics to people whose stories have not been heard before is actually going to lead us to a more inclusive and empathetic world.” More power to that endeavour!

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