Mahima Makwana has made multiple transitions in her career. She’s worked in TV, graduated to Telugu films and managed to foray into Bollywood as well. On International Women’s Day, ETimes spoke to Mahima about her career choices, carving a niche and matching up to her male colleagues. Read on for more…
What is that one thing you’ve done as a woman that makes you proud?

I think the thing I’m proudest of is taking a stand for myself. I’ve started being true to myself by voicing my thoughts and opinions, not with the intent of overshadowing anyone, but just to get my point across. I’m also really proud and grateful that I’m able to make a living by following my passion.
What are the important things needed in a place to create a supportive and safe environment for women both at home and in the workplace?

In my opinion, the single most important thing that needs to be in place is the mindset of the people – to look at everyone as equal. I think we need to normalize that mindset so that women can feel safe and supported in any environment, and once normalized, the actions will speak for themselves.

What does freedom of expression mean to you as a woman?

To be able to be yourself and to speak without having any inhibitions or apprehensions of “log kya kahengey”. Freedom of expression is being in an environment where you feel supported to voice your opinions and your thoughts and knowing that you will not be penalized for it.

What will it take to eradicate the negative perception associated with feminism?

First of all, understanding what feminism is, is very important. I think it’s important to educate everyone on what feminism is, because in today’s time there is a preconceived notion that feminism is not something that empowers females to be on the same playing field as the opposite sex, as opposed to get them a notch higher. This misleading perception has to be fixed, so that men and women can collectively work together to build a better tomorrow. One which ideally wouldn’t have any gender biases.

Who has been your biggest support In life and why?

My mother. She’s always been an inspiration to me. Over the past few years, I’ve seen her fight graciously through all the odds, being tenacious and firm no matter what life threw at her. She gives me inspiration to do the same.

If you were in a position of power, how would you change the assumptions made by men about women?

In my opinion, we need to get rid of assumptions and myths – like men are superior, they’re inherently supposed to play the role of breadwinners. They’re supposed to be the final decision makers and that a woman has to be dependent on a man. These assumptions have been ingrained in our brains for decades, and we need to change this slowly.

How can men contribute to achieving equality and mutual respect?

By addressing the embedded patriarchal behavior and acknowledging it. Clear your basics – a simple example is you see a woman driving a car, you assume she’s going to be a bad driver. That doesn’t contribute to equality and mutual respect. We need to start looking at everybody at par, irrespective of race, religion, sex, etc. And only then can we achieve equality and mutual respect.

Have you faced any kind of discrimination as a woman compared to your male counterparts, be it at home or the workplace?

Unfortunately, yes. There have been instances when I’ve been treated very differently from my male counterparts. However, I’ve learnt from my mother about how to deal with such instances with a pinch of salt. How do you get rid of it? By continuously talking about it and addressing it because this isn’t going to change overnight. We have to keep reiterating, keep working on it and we still have to go a long way.

What are your expectations from men for creating a healthy, long-lasting relationship and keeping the spark alive?

Be friends with your partner, be compassionate, call each other out if there are any differences and most importantly, have open, genuine, honest, conversations. Let your woman be who she is instead of imposing expectations of how you would like them to be.

Did you ever have body image issues? How did you overcome them?

I think being an actor, being a public figure, it becomes more of an issue because it’s not just you looking at your body. Being fit becomes a “virtue” and being an actor puts a lot of pressure. But you can’t change how the world looks at your body. All you can do is try to be comfortable in your own skin.

How would you address the issue of pay disparity when it comes to gender comparisons?

Unfortunately, it is a reality and it affects a lot of people. People – both men and women both – face a lot of challenges in following their passion – most of them unseen to the masses. And when someone is willing to do that, there ideally shouldn’t be a discrimination in pay because of their gender. I sincerely hope that one day we get to a point where individuals are rewarded for their talent, hard work, and the value they bring to the table, irrespective of the sex of the individual.

Have you ever faced unwelcome sexual advances from your co-workers? How did you tackle a tricky situation like that?

Silence, unfortunately in such instances, can be mistaken for consent. Therefore, it’s imperative that you call out these people if they indicate unwelcome sexual advances and it’s not something that sits well with you.

What advice would you like to give to your younger self?

Just live in the moment and don’t be so worried about the future. This moment is not going to come back. Moreover, take it as it comes. It’s okay to falter.

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