It's a wo(man)'s world

Mar 08, 2013, 01:28 IST | Soma Das, Ruchika Kher, Dhara Vora, Hassan M Kamal and Kanika Sharma

Woman's Day is here, and among the countless challenges that the fairer sex face on a daily basis, carving a niche in professions that are typically regarded as male domains, remains one of the toughest. The GUIDE scoured the country to find five exceptional women who have tread new, often intimidating territory, inspiring others to follow suit

Pratika Prabhuney, 19 > Bass Guitarist
Pratika Prabhuney’s reason to pick up the bass guitar is amusing. “At 13, I had broken my hand. As a form of exercise, I learnt the guitar from my brother, as he needed a bass guitarist for his band. I was always a fan of Metal, so I asked myself, why not?” reveals Prabhuney, who is now the vocalist and bass guitarist for her brother’s band, Chronic Phobia. Her mother, who was part of a band as a collegian, supported her, fully.

Pratika (centre) with members of Chronic Phobia

Women bass guitarists aren’t familiar in India. Naturally, initial reactions that this collegian from Bandra’s St Andrew’s College received weren’t normal. “At my first gig at Poddar College, everyone stared at me. Nowadays, people are used to it. Though I do get weird Facebook messages, like “I love women who play guitar, please add me!” and “I love Metal music, and you are in a band, can we be friends?” ” Chronic Phobia has performed across India and has opened for international acts like Cyanide Serenity.

Prabhuney even judges competitions at city colleges. She lent her vocals to a track by the band Demonic Resurrection, and has performed with them at Independence Rock. One of her best experiences was being a part of the documentary by Heavy Metal band, Lamb of God, which was shot in countries where they had performed. “They wanted to document Mumbai because of the multiple terror attacks; I accompanied them to some of those spots,” shares Pratika, who is keen to take up copywriting and a filmmaking.

Sadhana Romi Lalwani, 53 > Nightspot Owner
Ten years ago, in 2003, Romi Lalwani opened popular Bandra nightspot, Hawaiian Shack. However, in 2005, when he passed away suddenly, his
45-year-old-wife, Sadhana Lalwani (until then, a homemaker) had to take over its management. “My family was totally against it; I had led a sheltered life till then, and my parents advised me to shut the club down.

Sadhana Lalwani (seated) with daughter Sheen

Everyone insisted that running a nightclub was a male domain — you have to deal with the cops, tackle people who go overboard with liquor, handle bouncers and get BMC permits, which involves a lot of work. But since it was my husband's dream I was determined to not give up,” recalls Sadhana Lalwani, now 53. She adds that while there were detractors, many supported her.

“Senior policemen as well as older clients treated me with respect. Initially, I was worried about staff management, and whether senior staff would accept me in this role. I managed to create my own image, and today, we work as a team. When you experience death firsthand, it helps you overcome fear. If you have faith in yourself, are ready to make sacrifices, are self-disciplined and don’t give up in life, you will be successful,” shares Lalwani.

She believes that that despite the stiff competition, she is unfazed. The secret to Hawaiian Shack, she tells us, was to offer something different and better than its competitors. Now, they’ve opened a branch in Juhu. This past year, Sadhana’s daughter, 27-year-old Sheen Lalwani joined her mother and together, they manage the buzzing nightspot.

Alisha Abdullah, 23 > Fastest Indian woman biker
Alisha Abdullah isn’t your average bike-riding woman: “It’s tough being a woman in motorsports, especially if you are better than the men. Men don’t like to lose. I started racing quite early with go-karts. I would race only with men, and they would gang up against me. Many times, I was pushed off the track ,deliberately. And I would cry. I never liked to lose.”

This wonder woman then moved to Formula cars at 16, and there too, she faced the same problem. “It was quite tough. At 17, I moved to bikes and came second in the national championship in Chennai and Coimbatore tracks. But all that made me really strong,” says the Chennai-based biker. After she was gifted a superbike for her 20th birthday, she won the National Championships in 600 cc superbike category.

“I was the fastest superbike female racer. But then, I met with an accident and began racing four wheelers. It wasn’t easy; there were times when men behaved badly. At one championship, a man showed me his legs in a sexual manner, while I was riding on the track,” recalls the Abdullah, adding, “I would be really scared. But my family supported me throughout.

Even today, some men I race with try to discourage me. They tell me that being the only girl, I have achieved everything, and since I’ve proven enough, I should quit. It’s time to back off.” But all these hurdles only made her stronger. “It has taught me how to carry my attitude on the track and off the track. There are many women like me, who are equally good,” says Abdullah who is also a racing car driver. She believes that women have more ego than men, and this needs to be curbed. “You can’t think of wining at the beginning. It’s a lot of hard work. Being a girl, you must sacrifice more. Guys will be there to throw you off. Stay focussed and strong. If you can do a wheelie on the road, do it on the track, instead — it’s safer,” she reasons.

Surabhi Date, 21 < Captain, India’s Rugby team
She dreamt of becoming India’s next Sania Mirza, but fate had other plans for Surabhi Date. The Pune-based youngster is the captain of India’s young and upcoming women’s rugby team — a sport that didn’t have an Indian women’s team until 2008, and was only a man’s domain. “I started off with tennis and wanted to play like Sania Mirza and Maria Sharapova. But I could never perform well,” says Date, who then joined Kfandra, an academy for football and rugby training in Pune. “I joined this academy to boost my fitness, that was the initial plan.

But while playing, I became very good at football. Its then when I realised that probably I’m better off in a team sport,” adds Date sharing that the next choice for her was rugby, which stuck with her thereafter. “I got interested in rugby, and I began liking the game so much that I didn’t look back after that,” she says. But isn’t the aggression of rugby, difficult to deal with?

“Rugby is a great way to vent frustration. I fell in love with the game, when I started playing it and nothing is difficult, if you really like it,” she reasons. Date began playing rugby when she was all of 19, and makes it a point to mention that her parents always encouraged her.

Fawzia Fathima, 41 > Cinematographer
Fawzia Fathima — coming from a family of doctors — took the road less travelled that involved many twists and turns such as joining the NCC, pilot training and a Masters in Art Criticism yet the non-conformist found her true calling in cinematography. A profession that involved lifting 30 to 40 kgs of heavy equipment, hectic schedules, calling the shot on the film’s visual aesthetics and if not enough, leading your own team consisting of a gaffer, three camera assistants and a focus puller.

She says, “The profession involved all aspects of my personality, from athletic and intellectual to aesthetic. Although I wasn’t very clear about what it meant but it tested the ‘macho’ in me. Being already committed to it, I was challenged (at the Film and Television Institute of India) to do it, and I was ready to show that I could.”

She recalls that when she was not taken seriously she’d often threaten and carry out tasks that weren’t meant for a DOP, thereby, shaming the crew into doing the required tasks. Thirteen years hence she has worked with the National Award winner PC Sreeram as well as on the film, Mitr — My Friend, and is recognised as a “legend”. 

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