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Sonali Bendre Reflects on Her Cinematic Journey and Bollywood’s Fashion Politics

Bollywood actress Sonali Bendre recently offered a nostalgic glimpse into her past experiences in the Indian film industry during a candid conversation with Humans of Bombay. Best known for her memorable appearances in hit films from the 1990s and the early 2000s, Bendre shared intriguing behind-the-scenes insights, particularly from the shooting of Mahesh Bhatt’s film ‘Naraaz’, which also featured Pooja Bhatt in a leading role.

Opening up about the fashion politics on set, Bendre recounted, “When I signed ‘Naraaz’ with Bhatt sahib, the clothes for the second heroine were the rejects of Pooja Bhatt. That’s what came to me. But the advantage of that was her rejects were clothes only I could pull off. Suddenly that one song from Naaraz made me.” This admission sheds light on the hierarchical wardrobe practices often observed in the film industry, where the prominence of actors was sometimes reflected in their on-screen attire.

Further delving into the industry’s emphasis on physical appearance, Sonali Bendre acknowledged the unspoken yet stringent beauty standards prevalent in Bollywood. “Film is a visual medium, that’s the business. There is no need to shy away from it. If you do not look a certain way, you cannot be on screen. You need to have a certain kind of symmetry, and it is only because of that symmetry I got into this business,” she explained.

Bendre also candidly shared her perspectives on the highly debated topic of nepotism and insider-outsider dynamics within Bollywood. Reflecting on her journey as an outsider—meaning someone without pre-established familial connections in the industry—she illustrated her initial challenges. “I remember most of my career, I was not enjoying what I was doing. When I was shooting Naraaz, I did not even know ‘5,6,7,8’ was the cue. Everyone started to dance while I was still waiting for the director to call ‘action.’ I was so embarrassed. I felt like an imposter,” she said, highlighting her initial naivety and struggles to fit in.

In the wake of controversial remarks made by fellow artist Nora Fatehi on feminism, Bendre also articulated her interpretation of the concept. Taking a measured stance, she distanced herself from what she perceives as the misapplication of feminism. “The definition has taken on this connotation of ‘male-bashing’, which a lot of us are not comfortable with. I am not comfortable with ‘male-bashing.’ We are looking for equal rights and you want equal rights not up and down. Again, that is an imbalance. What you want is a balance and either way, when the scale moves and there’s no balance, then there is a problem,” she asserted, calling for gender equality and balance rather than conflict.

Beyond reminiscing, Bendre also hinted at her current projects, expressing excitement about her return to the screen with the upcoming second season of ‘The Broken News 2’. The show, also featuring talents like Shriya Pilgaonkar and Jaideep Ahlawat, has garnered attention and anticipation among viewers.

Sonali Bendre’s revelations contribute to a broader conversation about the intricacies of Bollywood, providing a personal account of the challenges faced by actors. They remind audiences of the stringent criteria and prejudices that persist behind the glamour of Indian cinema, even as industry veterans like Bendre continue to push for progress, balance, and a more nurturing environment for artists, regardless of their background.