From the Archives of India Today (2004) | Sushmita Sen on male sexuality: it’s about a deep sense of security, character, compassion

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My best friends have been men. Some of the greatest moments of my life have had men in them. I always thought the world would be a very boring place without men. The men I love the most are those who bow down and respect a woman. As I got older and started having male friends, not necessarily boyfriends, I started to realize that I could identify with them more than with girls. Even for the most intimate discussions, I called my male friends because I could talk to them easily.

Before, I was a bit inhibited, a bit uncomfortable (with my sexuality). But I’ve always had a very strong sense of it. At the same time, I wanted to realize it. ‘Hey let go, find out who you are’, I often said to myself. It showed in everything I did, whether it was an interview, a show, a film or a dance. But I think the perception of my status as a sex symbol in the film industry started to form with the songs I did-dilbar dilbar and Mast Mahaul. Both songs had a strong underlying sensuality. And me being me, I did everything. I never played to sensationalize or be in your face. It was about letting go. As actors, we have to allow our sexuality to be explored on screen the way people do in their bedrooms. You automatically begin to lose your inhibitions.

Being sexy is a misunderstood definition. A sexy woman is supposed to be more feminine than the others. But it actually has to do with his personality and attitude. It’s not about exposing yourself. The sexiest people are those who are covered from head to toe. Sex appeal is an innate trait – everyone has it. Some of us repress it strongly in childhood because of shyness or inhibition. It’s also because our families constantly tell us how to sit, talk, be cultured and distinguished so that when we grow up a decent man will want to marry us. But now people accept that you come of age when you acknowledge, accept and are comfortable with your own sexuality. Everyone wants to be with those who are willing to explore themselves rather than pretending to know what they don’t know.

I associate male sexuality with a deep sense of security. A confident man is like the Pied Piper. Strength of character, humility, a sense of humour, compassion and a spirit of analysis and not of judgment make a man a man. These qualities also evolve with equality. When I went to the Miss Universe pageant, my boyfriend Rajat Tara had just gotten his first job as a designer. He took time off to help me prepare. His last words to me before I left were, ‘You know you better do well, it cost me my job. I’ll get another job, you won’t get another Miss Universe. He hadn’t had permission after all. For me, it’s being a man. He found another job and did something with his life. But then, to stand by the woman he loved, he left everything behind. I hold him in the highest regard.

In India, the age-old stereotype that the man works and earns while the woman takes care of him has made men repressed. They are incapable of enjoying equality or of saying, “I am tired. I want to take a six month vacation. You take over. He will remain a man. A man should be like a bamboo shoot, able to bend in a storm but not so rigid that it breaks him.

I think we’re having the best times because the world is opening up in so many ways. Moreover, dangerous diseases like AIDS have forced people to stop pretending and accept the facts for what they are.

(The article was published in the INDIA TODAY edition of September 20, 2004)

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