Rakhi Sawant is everything I could never be, and I love her for it
The antihero we need
Whenever a new start-up founder or millennial influencer talks about the importance of being a hustler, I think of Rakhi Sawant. My sister and I were mesmerised the first time we saw her. Everyone was huddled in front of the boxy TV, watching a low quality pirated version of Joru Ka Ghulam (don’t ask me why). She appeared, shimmying alongside Govinda in shiny red and silver co-ords, white beads clipped to tightly braided hair. From the corner of my eyes, I could see the arms start flailing around us. “Look away! Look away! This is not for kids.” But it’s hard to forget that image, or get that song out of your head.
A few years later, came the iconic Pardesiya Yeh Sach Hai Piya remix. Rakhi was back on our TVs, on repeat. There’s a special kind of fear ’90s kids will relate to: sneakily watching these videos in the house without being caught by your mom.
Over the years, Rakhi Sawant has been called many names. Controversy queen. Total dramebaaz. Whether she’s doing a scintillating dance sequence as one of the OG ‘item girls’, getting married on a reality show or calling out for Mike Tyson’s help with constipation, she’s doing it with humour, unfiltered commentary and a level of self-awareness that I aspire for.
With the kind of public ridicule she has endured over the years, I would have dug myself a hole and lived the rest of my life as a meerkat. But when you’re in on the joke, you can’t be embarrassed. As much as we may laugh at her, she’s laughing too — all the way to the bank, pulling her family out of poverty and building a life for herself in a pretty cut-throat industry.
Like the Kardashians, Rakhi Sawant turned the constant objectification, mockery and public scandals into a sizeable fortune, if her 2014 asset declaration of Rs 15 crore is to be believed.
I wish I had her remarkable drive to succeed despite rejection. The one time I got turned down for a job, I moped for a month and stopped writing, overcome with self-doubt. Rakhi Sawant doesn’t care. Tell her she can’t sing (she’s released an album) and she’ll dance instead. Don’t like her acting? She’ll start a reality show.
Like a salamander that detaches its limbs to escape a predator, only to grow new ones, Rakhi has embraced evolution. I can barely stomach it when didi changes the tadka on my dal.
I wish I could channel some of her unapologetic demeanour (though she has plenty to apologise for, from homophobic comments to other disparaging remarks). Because I’m the person who worries a lot. About what other people say and think. How I’m going to meet a deadline with a bad case of writer’s block. Why my cat’s poop looks different today. My resting bitch face may say I couldn’t care less, but internally, my anxiety screams “Yes, yes I do.”
Lately, I’ve found myself grabbing onto my pouchy lower belly that’s only thrived and grown during the lockdown. Eat your feelings often enough, and it’s bound to show on your thighs.
Over the years, going on and off various medications and steroids has made my body cycle constantly between being overweight and underweight.
I line up beginner-friendly workouts to do every night, try various detox drinks and concoctions claiming to flush my system and boost my metabolism but my body rarely cooperates. Though I’ve read and written plenty about body acceptance and self-love, I still struggle to feel comfortable in my own skin.
Then I see Rakhi Sawant. Owning her age and her body, wearing what she wants, flaunting what she wants. What she didn’t like, she changed, without pretending that her new look could be achieved by drinking more water or massaging her under-eye area with almond oil. She even famously stated, “Jo cheezein God nahi deta, woh doctor dete hain (What God couldn’t give me, doctors did)” on an episode of Koffee with Karan.
Am I saying she’s the ultimate role model? Absolutely not. The over-dramatic press conferences, cringe-worthy publicity stunts, controversial comments… Like all of us, Rakhi is deeply flawed. The kind of person who lays all her cards out on the table, though you may find more Jokers than usual in her deck.
What I would like to imbibe from her is the self-confidence to wear whatever I want and belly dance well into my 40s, 50s and 60s. The inability to accept defeat. The bravery to be a clown, even when the whole world is watching.
Would you ever dress up as Spiderman and dance outside someone’s house? Probably not. But don’t you wish you could enjoy that level of freedom from other people’s opinions?