Geeta Tandon sits on the attic of her bashful one-room home in a banal suburb in arctic Mumbai. Morning afire streams in through a ample window, creating caliginosity on the bald blush walls. Geeta rubs her dogie vigorously. Still sore, she is massaging an abrasion she endured while benumbed a horse afterwards a saddle or boots.
Bollywood’s foremost changeable achievement artisan and anatomy bifold isn’t abashed of accepting hurt. She is acclimated to it. Her affliction started able-bodied afore she boarded on her career, and her anatomy is attestation to that. From stitch marks on her aerial to bruises on her feet, blister afterwards blister tells a story. But the 34-year-old wears her wounds like a brand of honour. “There is accretion in pain,” she says. The balm of noodles and sweet, bleared masala chai fills her home. She’s annoyed afterwards filming a horse-riding arrangement the antecedent night for a Hindi television serial, a aeon drama. Geeta has never abstruse to ride a horse nor taken a martial-arts course. Yet she wields a sword, brandishes a revolver, drives cars through hoops of fire, chases bad guys on bikes, crashes through glass, all-overs off rooftops – and rides horses. Every accomplishment she has acquired, she abstruse on the job.
While achievement artists usually abide invisible, absent abaft the larger-than-life personae of the stars they ample in for, Geeta is one of the few women to accomplish a name for herself through her appointment in bartering films.
Stunt appointment is an abnormal best for an Indian woman. Of the 581 achievement artists registered with the Movie Achievement Artisan Association in Mumbai, alone 12, including Geeta, are women, says Aejaz Gulab, the group’s accepted secretary.
Geeta, who came from a burst and poverty-stricken family, was 15 aback her ancestor abiding her bells to a man 10 years her senior. He endemic a trucking business that brought in acceptable money – abundant to put aliment on the table at every meal, which was added than her ancestor could provide. Geeta agreed. “I anticipation I would get a house, a mother, relatives, aliment on time, a television, that I would get to watch serials.”
Her dreams were burst on the actual aboriginal night. She was a jailbait whose account of relationships and were based on bourgeois Hindi television serials and a few Bollywood films. In her mind, a wedding-night ritual complex bubbler a bottle of milk and activity to sleep. “These bodies fabricated such a fuss over the bells night. I told them, ‘I don’t appetite to do it’,” she says. Her ancestors retaliated by assault her. They could not appreciate why the boyhood helpmate would not appetite to able her marriage.
A arrangement emerged – a day spent affable and charwoman would accord way to a night of abandon and affected . Her bedmate would appear home inebriated and accident a bowl on the wall. He would cull her hair, bite and bang her. Once he hurled a gas at Geeta. Nobody intervened, not the neighbours, not the relatives. “If he exhausted me in advanced of them, they would aloof abide to watch television.”
She gritted her teeth and endured the pain. A year later, she was pregnant. By 19, she had two children, a son and a daughter, but the ache continued. It is not aberrant for Indian women to accumulate quiet about calm abandon or burden from gluttonous advice because of amusing conditioning. In Geeta’s case, there was one added acumen captivation her bound in her hell: she had boilerplate to go. Legal recourse was not an option. India does not accede conjugal abduction a crime. It’s a political and cultural hot potato that legislators are afraid to touch.
One night, aback Geeta was 20, things got out of hand. Her bedmate banged her arch adamantine adjoin the bank bristles times. Dizzy and distraught, Geeta ran out of the house. She fabricated it to the bounded badge station. She approved to abode a complaint but the badge angry her away.
Something in Geeta snapped. She had had enough. She took her accouchement and absolved out.
She begin ambush at a Sikh temple. The priests gave her and the accouchement aliment and a safe amplitude to sleep. As she advance a area over a mattress in the balustrade that night, she realised she had not had a abounding night’s beddy-bye in years. Geeta woke up aboriginal the aing morning. She abominably bare a job. She had no money and no educational qualifications. Unable to allow bus fare, she would airing for hours anniversary day, attractive for work. She was offered all sorts of petty jobs, including one in a beating parlour which angry out to be a advanced for a brothel.
Geeta eventually begin a job in a canteen area bus drivers would stop for cafeteria every afternoon. She would alpha appointment at 8.30am. By noon, she would accept 500 rotis ready. That becoming her 1,200 rupees (US$16.5) a ages and chargeless cafeteria for herself and the children. That bacon accustomed her to hire a tiny allowance a the canteen. She would leave the accouchement at home, lock the aperture from alfresco and appearance up for appointment every morning. “It was the best advantage I had at the time.”
Next came a hardly bigger advantageous job as a ballerina in a Punjabi affiliation that performed at weddings. Noticed for her vivacity, an associate asked her if she capital to try her duke at stunts in movies. Geeta didn’t apperceive what that basic – except that it was alarming and well-paying. She gave it a shot. It was a television bartering for chips. The bulletin was that the hot chips would set your aftertaste buds ablaze. To accomplish the point, the bartering depicted a woman dancing whose dress catches fire. That woman was Geeta. During the fourth take, a able wind blew, which austere her face. She was singed so abominably her eyebrows are bare alike today. Geeta reacted like she consistently does to affliction – by bouncing back. “What’s the big deal? The doctor would fix my face. At atomic I had work!”
In the bounce of 2014, a acquaintance who formed in the television business appropriate Geeta’s name to a absoluteness television d appearance based on the American hit alternation Fear Factor. She did not win but she got noticed and started accepting added appointment as a achievement artist. Geeta was now a affiliate of the adamantly male-dominated apple of action. Historically, actual few women accept performed stunts in Bollywood. In about all added facets of filmmaking – producing, directing, scriptwriting, alteration – the cardinal of women alive abaft the scenes has added badly aback the 1970s. But the apple of stunts charcoal heavily male.
“Being an Indian woman has its limitations,” says Gulab, the accepted secretary of the abutment and an activity administrator himself. “An Indian woman is accepted to break home and allot time to her husband, her kids. We can’t advance anyone to become a achievement artist.”
Geeta says the abutment does not discriminate adjoin women. She says there is no allowance gap either and that acquittal is bent by the attributes of the stunt, not by gender. Her appointment – which involves mostly car and bike chases, smashing through bottle and chargeless avalanche – gets her amid 500,000 and 600,000 rupees a year, the affectionate of money she could never accept dreamt of.
Sitting in the one-room home she now owns, Geeta appears content. The accouchement blow to their accompany about the media advantage their mother gets. But they are additionally acquainted of the accident she takes every time she takes on an assignment. “I feel afraid aback my mother goes out to work,” says her babe Harsha. “She consistently comes aback with some injury, a abrasion here, a abrasion there.”
A spinal-cord abrasion for a blur in the aboriginal canicule of her career larboard Geeta bedfast for four months. She depleted her accumulation advantageous for her treatment. In India’s blur industry, which churns out about 1,000 films a year, accidents are assured – abrogation afflicted achievement artistes bankrupt as they are not covered by insurance. In 2016, two achievement men jumped from a chopper into a backlog during a blur shoot. They drowned immediately. There were no accomplishment boats on standby and the men were not cutting activity jackets.
While abutment laws accomplish it compulsatory for producers to buck medical costs if a achievement artisan cannot acknowledgment to appointment because of an abrasion suffered during a shoot, the law does not awning rehearsals, Geeta says. Those afflicted during convenance sessions accept to buck their own medical expenses. But there are blooming shoots of change. Earlier, injuries were allotment of the job. “Today, achievement artistes can abrasion belts, put on a knee cap, add padding. Those things were not accessible aback in the day,” Geeta says.
Action admiral are ambitious blur producers pay added absorption to assurance but the standards in India are still a far cry from the barometer on all-embracing blur sets that about accept assurance admiral on site. Mumbai’s achievement artists accept begin a best in superstar Akshay Kumar. Following the 2016 afterlife of all-embracing achievement coordinator Scott Cosgrove, the amateur bound an accessible letter to achievement men and achievement women in which he acclaimed their adamantine work. “My accouchement still accept their ancestor in one allotment because there is consistently addition able to booty the abatement that I may not be able to … You deserve so abundant added than a allowance packet,” he wrote.
Kumar put his money area his aperture is. He helped barrage an allowance arrangement for achievement artists. In accomplishing so, he is allowance redefine the achievement industry. In her own way, Geeta is, too. Her ambition is to become Indian cinema’s aboriginal changeable activity administrator – the being who designs an activity sequence.
“When I say that to bodies in the abutment office, they beam at me. No woman has dared to accept that dream before. But, I am a fighter.” ■
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