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Malavika’s Mumbaistan: Words of significance and substance | Mumbai news

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As a speech, it lasted only 4.08 minutes from beginning to end. And characteristically, its delivery was light and airy, punctuated with laughter, goofy smiles and shrugs and a sprinkling of ersatz millennial catchphrases (‘YOLO’); but what Alia Bhatt, a recipient of the prestigious Time100 Impact Awards chose to say in her acceptance speech last Sunday in Singapore stands out as significantly as what she chose not to.

Let’s start with the theme she chose to elaborate on: that ‘there’s no greater impact than being yourself.

“If it falls to me in any way to lead by example, be a role model or make any kind of impact, I want to do it in as human and as flawed a way as possible. Because, after all these years, the thing I’ve realised is: It’s the flaws that make you. Perfection is boring.”

Flaws? Imperfections? Vulnerability?

The fact that the undisputed queen of Bollywood, with some of the year’s biggest blockbusters under her belt, the industry’s most eligible bachelor as her doting new groom, and their bonny baby in her belly and on the way- chose to speak about what made her human, vulnerable and as ordinary as millions of her adoring fans across the world, was a statement that was as welcome and necessary as it was refreshing.

“For example, I’m terrible at spelling. Like, really bad. But I do know what to say to someone who’s vulnerable. I have no sense of geography. Zero. I do not get directions. But I have a deep sense of respect and regard for different cultures.

My general knowledge is widely known to be weak. But my emotional intelligence is something that I’ve worked really hard to cultivate. I have a tendency to be hard on myself with regard to my weight and my appearance. But I never say no to a French fry because, you know, YOLO.” Bhatt had gone on to say, elaborating on her theme of the acute need in our times for empathy, humanity and compassion for oneself and others, emphasising again and again, how even as she stood at what most would consider the very peak of her worldly and personal success –she too struggled with the common quotidian challenges big and small that we all do on a daily basis.

And that even though she appeared to have it all on the surface, appearances are after all skin deep and success and awards and achievements do not make our daily human struggles disappear.

For her legion of fans, many of them impressionable young women, her words were like a clarion call for authenticity and empathy: It was OK to feel limited, below par, not up to the mark and the demands made by the world on people, especially young women, to check all the boxes of personal and professional successes beginning with their appearances were unreasonable and often detrimental to their lives.

But, as much as what she chose to say is what Bhatt chose not to say.

She did not for instance call undue attention to her husband, whose presence in her life and as one half of Bollywood’s Golden Couple is larger than life. He was thanked, as were her family and colleagues, but in passing, and there was no undue simpering or reference to her recent marriage.

Neither did she refer to the enormous challenges or successes of her career; the insidious hate campaign she had recently weathered, the ups and downs and insecurities of big-ticket releases were not referred to, nor was her imminent new role as a mother that she was on the verge of experiencing made evident except in a final passing reference.

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Along with what she chose to say and not to say, it was how the young star chose to present herself on that global platform that defined her mettle. Devoid of all but the most basic make-up, her hair allowed to fall in its natural waves and her new maternal shape and extra pounds clad in a metallic cape and gown, there for all the world to witness in its full glory; here was a woman who had worked throughout her pregnancy like millions of women across the country do, in fields and farms and factories, not seeking any privileges or perks because of her condition; in the full glare of the public eye, she had been promoting her films, handling the hyper scrutiny that comes with constant exposure, not once using her condition to take time off or cancel commitments or display anything but strength and positivity and fortitude.

Like everything else in her life, Bhatt had embraced the natural order of things, the good and the bad which comes with everyone’s life –and it could not have been easy. Especially at a time of so much personal change.

Also, the fact that Bhatt, a natural role model for women across the world, had chosen not to speak of her challenges as a woman but as a human being is significant, her emphasis throughout had been not on gender or its particular challenges but of more universal humanity that binds us all.

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But in a speech that in its quiet, determined way had rung out loud and clear as a brave new voice that has something of import to convey, the piece de resistance of Bhatt’s speech surely was in her concluding words:

“I am immensely proud to be here tonight as a representative of my country, a country that has built both me and my career. India is a country that values diversity above anything else, and it’s a song that I hope to sing all over the world.’

‘A country that has built both me and my career … that values diversity above anything else’ are seemingly simple words, but in an atmosphere riven with hostility and suspicion against the otherness of other people – they assume huge import for the fact that one of India’s most celebrated personalities chose to speak them at a global platform, fully aware of the impact- both positive and negative -that they would have.

Because if Bhatt standing on that podium of power and prestige had only chosen to speak up for the vulnerable and imperfect, the inadequate and the hopeless it would have been enough as trailblazing and commendatory.

But that she also used the occasion to make a point about a larger issue, makes her a heroic new voice emerging from the miasma of mediocrity and conformity.

May she sing her song across the world, for all to hear and be inspired by.

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