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On Screen Sanskaari, Off Screen Badass

Her career began as an on screen desi bahu in the show ‘Badho Bahu’, two years ago.
While in the drama series she is this warm hearted sanskaari girl who doesn’t fit the typical Indian standard of a perfect girl
(think fair, skinny & demure 😒), yet keeps trying to win her husband’s heart, in real life she is quite different. From talking about body positivity and trying to spark a conversation about sex, to showing her unfiltered self - curves, cuss words and cleavage in all their glory, you cannot imagine her trying to please a guy or anyone for that matter. This girl doesn’t give a damn and when she does it is always about the right issues.
The fact that she uses her status as a media influencer to address the right causes and fight the right fight in the most genuine manner while never compromising her sassy wit is why this 25 year old is a Badass Boss!

In this exclusive interview with BeBadass, Rytasha talks about what her career has taught her so far along with honest takes on beauty, brain and body.

Was there anything you learnt about the Indian society from Badho Bahu that you were initially unaware of?

I grew up in a family unlike most Indian families. I was born in Singapore, and my childhood spanned across Singapore, Gujarat and finally Mumbai. To be very honest, I had no idea what real India was actually like. I was naive in the sense that I thought girls and boys were the same, adults only did jobs they wanted to and married people they loved, because that’s what I had seen my parents and grandparents do.
When I started shooting for Badho Bahu my bubble burst!
I learnt that most traditional Indians had to work in jobs they didn’t even like or weren’t formally educated in. Most of the people I met during my time there weren’t from Mumbai and were the sole breadwinners in their families. I understood how people have to really hustle to make it. Most of the people I interacted with had only married out of family pressure or because it’s the societal norm. Irrespective of gender, almost 95% of the people I interacted with had a very pro-patriarchy mindset. I saw that even amongst the educated, seemingly progressive actors and directors, gender roles and stereotypes were deeply engrained.
During my time there I learnt that there exist two India/s. I stepped out of one and went into the other - and now I get to see this country and understand its people with both lenses. And that has been the greatest gift. It was a culture shock in the beginning but now in hindsight I am so grateful for it. Now more than ever as a creator and public figure I understand where we’re falling short and how we need to change first before the audience can change.

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How was your experience doing the VICE docu-series about Sex & Sexuality in India?

ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! We shot in Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Delhi and Varanasi. It was eye opening for me, because while we’re one of the most densely populated countries in the world and rank in the top 5 for porn searches, we’re still not totally okay to talk about sex. As Indians all we know about sex is that - as a woman, you can only do it after you’re married and only to have children; and as a man, “broooo guys feel horny ya”/”sex humara haq hai”/”degi to lega?” etc etc.
Through the show, I got to speak with Indians across the country and in fact the most sex positive people were the sex workers at Sonagachi and the members of the Kinky Collective. Both these groups have detached shame from sex and sexuality, which are otherwise synonymous with each other in our Indian culture. But I do think through the show we managed to initiate some healthy conversations about the topic and that’s what we were aiming for.

How have these shows shaped you?

I am not the same person I was two years ago that’s for sure. A lot of growing up happened. I’ve become more empathetic, but also less trusting. The version of myself that I am right now is more confident in her skill and craft as a performer and story-teller. However, I’ve also understood very clearly that there’s only ONE lens through which most Indian writers write roles for women who are larger than perfect. I’m determined to change that. With Sex Rated, I learnt a lot about sex and sexuality. Teenagers in India don’t get the Sex Education they need, and while I got more from my parents than most Indian kids, it still wasn’t enough. From understanding my body and its needs to what pleasure is and how women can take control of their pleasure, and of course the most important lesson - CONSENT IS KEY, in every step of the way.

Is there a professional choice you regret so far?

Not really. But I do regret not keeping in touch regularly with all the people I’ve worked with in the past. A lot of this industry works on relationships and networking, which I am not great at. So yes, I’m working on it.

Were you always this confident and outspoken?

Since I was little, I enjoyed performing in front of people, I was always improvising on my own or with my sister, and the earliest school play I acted in was when I was 9. So luckily, I was always pretty confident and outspoken. My mom told me that when I was about 2, we were travelling on a train and a lady sitting next to us observed my behaviour, my chatter and told my mom in gujarati “your daughter is like chilli”. I took it as a compliment and never stopped being fiery I guess.

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What would you do if someone told you to ‘tone it down’ with regards to your personality?

My personality has toned itself down anyway with age and experience. And contrary to popular belief, I’m actually an introvert.
But if someone were to tell me to ‘tone it down’ - I probably wouldn’t listen, because I like this version of the person I’m evolving into. I think it’s a good space for me.
So yep, Fuck the haters, amirite?

You need to be secure to be as authentic as you are on social media. How did you conquer your insecurities?

O teri, bhaari sawaal!
I haven’t really conquered anything yet. It’s all a work in progress.
If there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that NO ONE is perfect. We’re all flawed in our own ways and that is okay! That’s what gives me security on most days, knowing that everyone has their own insecurities. The best I can do is acknowledge my own and work on them and not be fake on social media. It’s an extension of me, so I must be as authentic as I can be.

How do you take care of your mental health?

Talk, talk, talk about everything with my nearest and dearest ones. I don’t keep anything inside me. My parents are very spiritual and dad always has some yogic wisdom to share with me. So meditation and connecting with nature are always my go to. And recently I’ve gotten back into the habit of reading, exercising and started singing classes too. Some days are tougher than others, but that’s life. So yes, I’m determined to be healthy mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally, because for me all these go hand in hand, without one I lose my grip on the others.

Do you ever get low because of social media and its staged perfection? How do you avoid it or counter it?

Yes, I absolutely do get low sometimes. But it’s seldom about the perfection. Instead I watch all these Instagram videos by hilarious people, and immediately feel “I’m not funny”/”I’m not creative” - and then seeing actors who may not be great actors but are working a lot and feeling “but I’m better!”/”they don’t even use their power for good”... those are my biggest issues!
Then I have to constantly remind myself that I’m on MY OWN journey. That usually works.
Or a good cry and self doubt session followed by love and encouragement from my family and friends. 

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Are you Body Neutral or Body Positive?

That’s a good question and the first time I’ve heard the term Body Neutral.
Okay so now that I’ve read about it on Google - I am into it. Makes sense!
See, for people who’ve spent a long time hating their bodies, asking them to love their bodies is a HUGE step. Instead beginning with acceptance is great and I think that’s what Body Neutral means right?
As for me, I’m somewhere between neutral and positive - all depends on how I feel that day.

What is your interpretation of Body Positivity?

I think it means not judging someone or yourself based on size, understanding that the body in itself is a marvellous machine, that no two bodies are the same, and knowing we have the option to explore using it to it’s best potential.

Let’s talk about the problem with the tag “Plus Size”

Kya karey yaar? It’s become a thing!
I don’t even know what to say.
I’ve kind of just accepted it - but somewhere it reinforces that ‘size’ is the norm, but ‘plus size’ immediately makes one feel isolated, because we have no such thing as ‘minus size’. So yes, it is problematic, but I can’t think of an alternative right now. ‘Larger than average’ or ‘slimmer than average’, do those work?

Some say that the words like ‘FAT’/ ‘SKINNY’ are just descriptive and not offensive. What is your opinion?

Okay so I can’t remember the last time I did but honestly, when I’m hanging with my closest friends and family, I might use fat or skinny as descriptive words. Because I know my immediate circle understands how I’m using it. But in general I do  refrain from using those words as identifiers simply because I truly believe there is SO much more to a person. If you use it, it’s okay as long as you understand the potential effect it could have on the person in question.

If a big role in a mega movie required you to shed an unreasonable amount of weight, would you do it?

If they’re paying for some exclusive super healthy meal plan and a trainer who’s par excellence - then YES! I love being active. I want to be able to do handstand, splits, push ups. My first two years at drama school, we focussed mainly on movement and using the body. So if I did have to say lose 20-25 kgs to be in a big film … I would! It would be an opportunity for me to get even more in touch with my body under expert guidance. WIN WIN SITUATION, I SAY!
But if they said lose 40 kgs, I’d say “bhak b***c**d”

What is your dream movie role?

A movie in which I play a woman who looks like me - but nothing about the character is defined by her weight. She’s going about life and doing her thang just like any ‘sized’ person would. BOOM!! That’s it.

Define beauty

When someone laughs with absolute abandon and their eyes start twinkling.

What can each of us do to normalize diversity and change the stereotypical idea of a beautiful woman?

First by taking a long hard look at all the women in our lives, and making note of all the things we find beautiful about them and not just physically.
Chances are we’ll realize that few of those things are actually what we see in the media or what’s been fed to us. Something I did was stop obsessing about how I looked when photographed. Earlier I’d stand in between friends so as to appear thin, but one day I saw a picture of just me by myself and thought “hmm.. I don’t look as bad as I thought” so now I’m just like “ya sure any angle is fine I’m a beauty kweeeeeen.”
How a woman feels about her beauty sometimes has a lot to do with the period cycle also - so we need to educate young girls about these things so that it’s normalized. Even on ‘bloated’ days try to find something that you think is beautiful about yourself. Baby steps and we’ll get there, I promise!

How would you define a Badass Woman?

A woman who proudly owns her being and champions other women.

Name some Badass women who inspire you.

Hannah Gadsby, Guneet Monga, Neena Gupta, Saloni Chopra, Maa Anand Sheela.

Your words of wisdom to girls who are still struggling to fit in and are uncomfortable in their skin?

It’s hard, I know, but the thing that helped me was evaluating my worth based on all four pillars - mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.
The world already puts too much pressure on physicality, let’s not do it to ourselves. Surround yourself with people who support you - even if that’s an online community, the internet is filled with smart, kind and badass women.
Seek them out!
Take strength from them and find a way to if not love, then at least to not hate your body.