Rakhi Sawant Is Back, But I Love Her Because She Never Really Leaves
Rakhi Sawant wants to donate her boobs as a public service. “Mere paas aur toh kuch hai nahi,” (I don’t have anything else to give) she asserts in the now-viral Instagram video to her 350,000 followers.
Rakhi Sawant’s newspaper inches are practically a foregone conclusion around the release of a new season of Bigg Boss. This year, she’s gone after 65-year-old popular devotional singer Anup Jalota and his 28-year-old partner, singer-student Jasleen Matharu. Rakhi has personally taken on the task of relentlessly commenting on the unorthodox coupling. Her Instagram is filled with snarky videos questioning their romance, and thinly veiled speculations about Jalota’s sexual prowess. Her incessant commentary and ribald humour got her some press, but nothing compared to the dopamine surge that comes with trending on the Internet, even if it’s for a suggestion as ridiculous as donating one’s breasts as community service.
Her latest stunt, and the headlines it spawned, reminds me of her earliest days. If you were living in India in the early 2000s, there was no way you didn’t know who Rakhi Sawant was. Even if you somehow managed to steer clear of all the racy songs, or ‘item numbers,’ you couldn’t miss the histrionics, meltdowns, eyebrow-raising statements, and gleefully shocking interviews. Back then, no one knew how to get tongues wagging and court controversy quite like Rakhi. It was an art form, really.
Rakhi’s fame was no lucky accident, or happy coincidence. Unlike the Kim Kardashians of the world, Rakhi didn’t have an ‘accidentally’ leaked sex tape that earned her a spot in the national conversation, or put her on the radar of gossip rags and entertainment reporters; she had to worm her way into their collective consciousness through ruthless ribaldry or insensitivity. She’s had to work hard — really, really hard — to shock, and she refuses to be embarrassed about it.
Everything that comes out of her mouth, and every personality quirk, is a carefully curated element in her survival strategy. “When you are starving and there is no one to fall back on, you do what you have to,” she told me in an unguarded moment during an interview eight years ago, before going on to describe, off the record, some of the horrors she’s endured in early life, simply to survive.
Quite apart from the dumb, potty-mouthed starlet that she portrays herself to be, the real Rakhi Sawant is astute, calculating, and self-aware in a way few celebrities are. She knows the limitations of her talent, and has compensated for it by doing whatever it takes to generate, and keep generating, mass appeal – or failing that, mass gossip.
She knows that sex sells, and it’s a currency she uses liberally in her capacity as — as her Wikipedia page puts it — an Indian dancer, model, film and television actress, talk show host, reality TV star, and sex symbol. Whether she’s declaring her love for yoga guru Ramdev, picking out a groom on national television, eviscerating him a few months later (again on TV), protesting a leaked bathtub video, fighting for a woman’s right to bodily integrity when kissed without consent, kissing female co-stars in front of cameras, demanding that ceiling fans be banned to prevent suicides, every move of Rakhi’s is planned and executed to precision. There is a method to the madness, and a system to her seemingly endless capacity for chaos.
The only blip in the otherwise perfectly orchestrated world of Rakhi Sawant was when her political aspirations ended abruptly and embarrassingly when the party she formed to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Mumbai secured only 15 votes, and she lost her deposit. The next political party she joined, as the vice-president and president of the women’s wing too lost its registration and election symbols the following year.
“People at least know my 12-day-old party?” she said philosophically, when asked to comment on her loss.
And that is, perhaps, Rakhi in a nutshell – and why I both love, and hate to love, her: Success, to her, is simply getting in people’s heads and on their lips, and it doesn’t matter what it takes to get there.
To be completely honest, I’ve thought about Rakhi more than I would’ve liked to, or even expected to, in the intervening eight years since our first and only meeting. You can’t help but admire her for her stubborn refusal to be shamed for who she is, what she wants, and what she represents. In a world where women feel like impostors within their own success stories, and are often willing to suffer body blows to their own emotional health just so that the men around them aren’t inconvenienced, or think of them as “not nice,” it is refreshing to have female public figures who don’t give a damn. Men can’t use sex, sexuality, or her body against her, and so you know she’s going to give it back as good as she gets.
Even so, I can’t help but flinch when I think about what her existence and ability to stay in the news means for the level of public discourse around entertainment and celebrity. We need women celebrities who don’t play by men’s rules, but do we need a culture where we routinely surrender news space to public figures who exist only to serve their own celebrity? People who don’t really believe in anything, and so can’t actually be held accountable for anything they say or do, especially when such self-proclaimed ‘idols’ then start harbouring political aspirations?
I want more socially conscious public figures with a moral compass that points in some direction, but by god I also want women like Rakhi Sawant, completely immune to embarrassment and criticism of any kind!