In Bollywood, stuntwomen are respected a lot – Geeta Tandon
By now, most of us know about Bollywood’s stuntwoman Geeta Tandon. Thanks to the 14-minute documentary created by Culture Machine for Blush, their digital lifestyle channel for women. Through the ‘Blush Originals’ series, Geeta shares the story of her child marriage to an alcoholic, daily abuse and marital rape, walking out of a marriage at the age of 20 with two children in tow, getting through odd jobs, overcoming poverty to becoming one of the most successful stuntwomen in the industry. But there is a lot to her than what meets the eye. Sympathy doesn’t strike a chord with her as much as the excitement about the fact that today, she has become an inspiration. Meet Geeta whose tale will reinstill your faith in hard work.
It is very brave to be able to openly talk about your life and struggles. What was your first reaction when Culture Machine approached you for this documentary and what encouraged you to agree to it?
One of my friends, Abhinav, who is in PR knew everything about my life. He once requested me to give an interview to Pinkvilla.com and I agreed. Earlier I used to think that everyone faces such difficulties, so what is the point in sharing it with people. But I got so excited when a lot of people read that interview. Every day I would check the number of views that the story received. After reading that, a lot of people got in touch with me to shoot a video. Joyna Mukherjee from Blush also called me to meet her. Before meeting her, we had met a couple of other people but I found their concepts pretty depressing. They wanted to show my majboori (misfortune). But when we met Joyna mam, she told us that we aren’t showing anyone’s weakness in the video. It is going to be empowering. She told me that everything will be real and we won’t ask you to add anything extra to it. So I was a bit convinced because for the first time I was telling so many details about my life to someone. It was a big thing for me.
How do you think will this video change things for you? What are your views on the response that the video has received?
When the video was shot, the makers made me quite comfortable and became my friends. One can’t share such things unless you are comfortable with someone. The things that I shared in the video are something I haven’t even told my sister, close friends or anyone who knows me well. I used to feel quite shy and awkward about it since I felt that all this is way too personal. Before shooting (the video), they didn’t hear the entire story from me. Joyna wanted to hear everything while they shoot. You won’t believe that the cameraman started crying so much that I had to stop in between.
All these years that I have been working, no one ever asked me all this. Everyone is so busy in their life that they hardly bother about others. But when they (Culture Machine) approached me for shooting this, I was filled with pride that did I seriously achieve so much that people are getting inspired by me. The whole response has left me thrilled and excited. In such a big world, people have started recognizing me, which is a big thing.
Not everyone has the kind of courage to stand firm the way you did. What was it that kept you going?
I always think that if there is any problem, it won’t last long because nothing is constant in this world. If an issue has bothered you for 10 days, it will get solved on the eleventh day. I just pray and share my problems with God and he immediately solves them. I don’t know why girls get depressed at petty issues. Life is very beautiful.
What was your first project as a stuntwoman and how many films have you been part of?
I’m not too sure which was my first project. But my initial films included Corporate, Yuva, Luck, De Dana Dan. I don’t have a count of films or serials that I have done but I’ve worked on Shahrukh Khan’s Dilwale, Chennai Express, Ajay Devgn’s Singham and other films with actors such as Akshay Kumar, Abhishek Bachchan etc.
You’ve also participated in Khatron Ke Khiladi.
I could have done better in that show but I was suffering from typhoid at that time. I was really excited about the show. Initially, when Akshay Kumar hosted it, I had a dream of doing stunts on the show. I also did Bhangra in the first episode of Big Boss and ever since then I have dreamt of becoming a participant on the show. It has been 10 years but that wish isn’t fulfilled yet.
How are stuntwomen viewed in India? And how respected is the field of stunts as a profession?
In Bollywood, stuntwomen are respected a lot. Stunts are a very challenging task. Very few girls choose this field because it involves a lot of injuries etc. In fact, a lot of people ask me why I chose this profession, but I tell them that I didn’t choose it, God has given this to me.
Actors also give us a lot of respect. Contemporaries like Ranveer Singh or Parineeti Chopra are very keen to know about our work and life.
What are the challenges that stuntwomen face on a daily basis?
There are no exact working hours when you are working in this industry, so one has to complete their household chores before leaving. The biggest problem arises when you have your periods and a shoot comes up. If some tasks involve wearing the harness, it gets even more difficult to work. In our profession, I can’t afford taking an off because if I refuse to go today, they might call someone else tomorrow. I would prefer taking medicine and performing the stunts instead of taking an off because our work is such that there is no permanent income. Our earning depends only on the amount of work that we have done.
Fitness is an important aspect in your line of work. Being a mother of two children and having a house to look after too, how do you manage your fitness regime?
It is very important. If I put on weight, I won’t be able to become a body double because most of the actresses are fit. Whenever I get time, I go running or to the gym and practice at the beach. We are quite particular about our food too.
Which are the actresses that you’ve body doubled for?
I have been the body double for many leading ladies including Deepika Padukone, Parineeti Chopra, Malaika Arora Khan, amongst others. In D-Day, I body doubled for Shruti Hassan while I have also body doubled for Kareena Kapoor Khan in Singham, Udta Punjab and a few others. Recently in Jazbaa I also doubled for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s car chase scene. Earlier only boys would body double – be it even for actresses like Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman etc. Even now if a stuntwoman isn’t available, a stuntman steps in.
Is there a scope of being professionally trained in the field in India?
There are a few small institutes that teach stunts but those aren’t meant for your work in Bollywood. We learn by working on different films. If there is a film that is supposed to be shot out of the country, then we are trained for a month or so, through which we learn new things. Whenever we are free, the senior stuntmen from our field teach us different stunts on the beach.
Also are stuntwoman paid at par with stuntmen? Are you satisfied with the money you get for your work?
Be it a man or a woman, everyone will get the same payment. The payment is made on the basis of the work you do and not your gender. Now I earn somewhere between 5-6 lakhs annually. At times when we get good shows, we earn better. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t have a permanent annual income. There are months when I might earn a lakh or 50,000 or just 10,000. I’m happy with what I am getting because I didn’t even expect to get this much.
There is a trend of getting international action directors on board Bollywood films. What are your views on this trend?
I don’t think we should call them. There isn’t anything that our stunt directors can’t do. We have a lot of talented people here.
You wish to become an action director. How does one works towards that in our industry?
I will be India’s first female action director, if I become one. I will have to learn camera angles and even learn stunts more practically. Even now, I keep asking action directors about different shots. Hopefully in the next two years, I should be able to action direct my first film.