hilly, the cute little pug came bustling down the stairs and after an initial ritual of sniffling around our ankles, deemed us worthy enough to enter the massive brown gates. As we entered the spacious porch, three massive brown Alsatians engaging in their playtime activities greeted our sight. On spotting Khushbu, they erupt into a cacophony of joyful barks, happy yelps and plaintive howls as the bubbly actress introduces us to her canine friends, Champion, Mentos and X.
THE FIRST CUT
The pleasantries concluded we got down to the brass tacks, in Khushbu’s signature style. The Supreme Court ruling which dismissed all the charges against her outspoken statements reinstates the faith in our country’s judicial system and the fundamental rights of the citizen. Back after a holiday and ecstatic about the recent verdict by the Supreme Court, the actress relates her first reaction to the entire fracas. “I laughed when I heard about the entire episode because people were trying to behave who they were not. I found it absolutely absurd because these people, who accused me of stating that Tamil women had no morality, were absolutely unknown to me. And, I don’t react to strangers as I consider it a waste of time and energy. The news broke out when we were holidaying in Singapore. I didn’t know about it as I had immediately left after giving the interview. We were scheduled to go on a cruise when my daughter Avantika fell sick with dengue. We had the choice to go on with it or get back to India. We returned to Chennai and most people were of the impression that we came back because the story had broken out”.
Khushbu’s statements in a local Tamil newspaper were blown out of proportion. The gutsy actress explains, “I had spoken on similar lines to a national magazine which had carried the story correctly. I was surprised that nobody even mentioned that. I knew I had made no derogatory statements (as reported in the Tamil daily) and if they wanted to raise a hue and cry about it, let them do so. In fact, when we returned, people at the airport saw us and came forward to help Sundar, who was carrying a visibly sick Avantika wrapped in a blanket. The next day, the evening newspapers reported that I was welcomed with slippers and rotten tomatoes, which was totally untrue. It was a completely wild imagination of the newspapers and the political parties who were trying to gain some momentary publicity”.
KEEPING THE FAITH
Despite the pressure, the gutsy actress chose to maintain her stand and hold her ground. “Those who accused me were mistaken that I would buckle under the pressure and give in, being the weaker sex. They would have probably thought that I would literally go down on my knees, say that I was sorry and beg for their forgiveness. But, I was far busier in my world and at that point, my sick child was my only concern. We could not shift Avantika to the hospital because a huge mob of around 2000 people had gathered outside the house. Instead of breaking down, I was angry with the people who were making a hue and cry without knowing what they were fighting for. They were probably the kind of crowd which was promised a packet of briyani and Rs. 50 at the end of the day. It angered me because people can’t be so blind and even the leaders didn’t bother to find out exactly what the crux of the matter was”, relates Khushbu strongly.
Talk about political leaders, Khushbu instantly declares that even after winning the case, a party leader was still holding on to what was misquoted in the vernacular daily. “I thought it was plainly foolish as even the Supreme Court had established that I made no such statements. Unfortunately, these types of leaders in a couple of political parties are all about gaining attention, no matter what. That was one of those few times where the entire issue bogged me down. I think that I have a knack to laugh at such things. Whenever there is a problem of this sort, I always laugh a lot because it makes no sense. Otherwise, life went on normally and smoothly, without any hassles. The only way that it affected me was financially as there was a lot of money pumped in for litigation”, laughs a relieved Khushbu.
THE FREEDOM TO SPEAK
The ruling in favour of Khushbu reinforces the faith of the citizen on the judicial system. Needless to say, Khushbu is someone who staunchly believes in the freedom of speech, the fundamental right to speak out her mind. “The Court finally declared that every individual has the freedom of speech and expression but the platform used to show it made all the difference. I hadn’t pointed a finger at anybody. If I had wanted, I could have pointed out those political party leaders who have spoken nasty things. There was a political leader who made a statement that every true Tamilian should have a board outside the house which said ‘Beware of Khushbu’ instead of the ‘Beware of dogs’. I have publically been called a bitch and they expect me to keep my mouth shut? It wouldn’t take long for me to retaliate to such statements but I am not made that way. I strongly believe that if you put a stone in a gutter, a little of that dirt is going to spill on you”, she states firmly.
During the turmoil, the unexpected support overwhelmed Khushbu. “I always believed that in friendship, there shouldn’t be any expectations. Making friends should be whole heartedly and not with an expectation that tomorrow if there is a problem, this person is going to stand by me. If my friends weren’t around, they had their own reasons for not coming and standing by me. And, that’s absolutely fine by me. And, to my small circle of friends, everything was normal I was not expecting anybody to support me. But when people who I least expected came and stood by me, like Suhasini Mani Ratnam, it felt good because she is a very strong person who also had her share of problems”, she says, appreciatively.
A PILLAR OF SILENT SUPPORT
Khushbu thinks that her biggest forte was the silent support of her husband, Sundar. “My husband knew that I was a fighter and could handle such situations. Probably, he wanted me to grow and this would be the right time to involve myself and fight my own battles. I think that was a very nice way of letting me realize that I had the courage and strength to fight back. I knew he was right there behind me, to hold me if I were to fall. I had a huge support system in my man”.
Ask about her decision to enter politics and Khushbu immediately warms up to the subject. “Politics has been on my mind for the past two years. But, I wanted to be completely clear of the charges against me in Supreme Court. And no, I didn’t want to get into politics just because I had been through such a turmoil – that would have been very selfish on my part. But, I wanted to get into politics after winning my battle and on my own terms. I am a woman who’s not going to take any kind of nonsense. When I won the case, I decided that this was the time to take the plunge”, she discloses on an excited note.
FIGHTING FOR EQUALITY
The cause of women’s empowerment is close to Khushbu’s heart. “A lot of women are still unaware of their rights. I always felt that since I had the money, my family’s support and my friends with me, I could fight out the case for nearly 4-5 years and still come out unscathed, with my sense of humour and dignity preserved. Any other woman in my place would have given up a long time ago with the kind of pressures I had. I would like to make every woman aware of the fact that they should fight and respect their own selves so that other human being would also respect them. Apart from awareness, there is a basic support which should be given to women and encourage them to fight the circumstances rather than being submissive. It’s not just about giving into the pressures. It’s about your dignity!” says a determined Khushbu.
The gender inequalities infuriate Khushbu who believes that a man is as equally responsible as the woman for the crisis which she is in. “I don’t think women should hide themselves. Whether it is a rape victim or a dowry harassment case or an unwed mother, it takes two to make it happen. If a woman is pregnant, a man is equally responsible. Why should a rape victim hang herself while the person who is responsible wouldn’t do such a thing? The woman should realize that she has done no wrong and as a victim, she should fight it out and get the same kind of love and respect as before she was abused. I feel enraged when so many women are arrested for prostitution. In fact, the man is responsible because he is the one who derives pleasure out of it. The woman doesn’t sell her body for pleasure but she has a genuine problem at home which she needs to solve. I think a man is more responsible for making a woman a prostitute or sex worker. Similarly, if a woman is found HIV positive, she is thrown out of home while the man who has given her the disease isn’t blamed at all! Why it that the men are never arrested? Why do they go scot free always?” she questions, on an unforgiving note.
A LARGER CANVAS
Politics, Khushbu believes, gives a wider platform to work on and a larger forum to reach out to a bigger audience. “It certainly helps if you are tied up with a political party. Especially, when there are problems in the police station or criminal charges, it gives a larger space and broader spectrum to work on”, she muses. Ask her about the chosen political allegiance and she flashes a quick smile before adding, “I think that Rahul Gandhi is a very good looking leader. Since I was born and brought up in Mumbai, I was always in awe of the Congress party and I had seen my family being associated with the party. But, I never stated that I would join them. I have seen Sunil Dutt work very tirelessly as a congressman for the party. Likewise, I admired Indira Gandhi as our Prime Minister because she was a very strong person who knew what she wanted. But, when it finally came to making a choice about the political party, there was no confusion that it would be the DMK party”.
SHADES OF PATRIOTISM
Beyond the arc lights of popularity, Khushbu is a woman who is comfortable in her own skin. A staunch patriot, she is incredibly proud to be an Indian. “I’m a very, very patriotic person. I don’t understand why we, as Indians, should demarcate ourselves according to religion. I am an atheist but I believe that all religions should be respected. I think we should respect each other firstly, as human beings and then, Indians. Patriotism is something within me that nobody who has noticed before. When I see something happening about India, even in movies, I break down and automatically start crying. I take a pride in saying I am an Indian. Every time I hear the national anthem, I have to sing along, no matter who is looking at me or however off-tune I am. And, I sing it loud!” signs off Khushbu, patriotically.
If I have the power:Actress turned politician Khushbu gives us her agenda for the future.
Cause for concern: A cause which is close to my heart is that of women empowerment and I want to focus on it. But, I haven’t been designated a role in the party yet.
Bad infrastructure: The basic infrastructure requires changes. I would like to see a lot of space for people to walk on. There are two wheelers, cycles and vendors on pavements which people walk on the main roads. The pavements have to be cleared.
Rash driving: Book people who don’t have the basic driving sense or those who don’t follow traffic rules. People don’t understand that they should follow basic rules. You find an entire family on six on a two wheeler. The life of the entire family is being risked – what are they trying to do? They are not scared of rules because they are not stringent enough. Rules need to be enforced on a stronger note. It should be taken as a serious offence and the offender cannot just pay a fine of Rs. 200 and walk away.
Destitute women: We find a lot of mentally deranged women on the streets. They should be given a helping hand. But, it is pathetic to see the attitude of people who think that it is not their problem. See to it that she gets help! We really need to work on this aspect.
Khushbu reminisces on those magical moments with husband, Sundar C.
Learning the language:
I was pretty fluent in Tamil before I got married to Sundar. But then, it was a compulsion after marriage as my mother-in-law and co-sisters never spoke any other language. I didn’t have any tutor as I learnt by reading the newspapers.
I remember the first letter which I wrote to Sundar while he was shooting at Pollachi. I wanted to show him that I was good at Tamil. The entire letter was in English and I signed off as, “your bondati”, instead of “your pondati (wife)”. I get a call from him asking him when the vada is coming as the bonda and tea were already there. We had a good laugh at it.
The written charm:
Back then, there were no mobile phones or the internet. We used to write letters and I still have three suitcases full of letters and cards which we had given each other during the last 16 years. Back then, the thrill was different and the anticipation was high as you would know that there would be a letter waiting for you.