Bold and Beautiful

Kushboo Sundar is an Indian actor who has acted in over 100 movies, starring opposite to leading actors. Besides, she is also a television hostess and a producer. She is known for her outspoken nature, and has been an inspiration for many social activists. Recently, the Supreme Court had dismissed all the cases that were registered against her in 2005, for her alleged remarks about pre-marital sex and AIDS.

Kushboo Sundar shares with Marie Banu her views on social issues that require attention

You have been extending support to many children pursue their education. While most of the celebrities would want to publicize their social work activities, what makes you different?
When you say that this is what I am doing for a good cause, then it becomes a cheap publicity. My mother has said to me: ‘let not your right hand know, what your left hand does’. This is the value I follow. I enjoy the social work I do and I treat it as a private affair. Whatever I do, I feel that it should be known only to me and to the person who has received the support. I am happy with what I am doing and I don’t want the world to know what help I am extending to others.

What according to you is the major social issue in Tamil Nadu that requires attention?
Definitely, it is education. We need to come up to a stage where we could say that Tamil Nadu has got at least 99% literacy rate. Unfortunately, we still live in a society which has too many superstitious tags attached to it. Today science is advanced to the extent that we are finding another planet to move and start living there. But, there are still people who consider it to be inauspicious when a black cat crosses the road, or when you sneeze. Faith and religion is different and I feel that we should not bring that to the streets.
Education is very important, especially educating a girl child. There are cases where girls are not allowed to study beyond fourth or fifth standard, as their parents feel that they will have to remain in the kitchen to take care of their family and so they need not have to study. People should realize that it is very important for a girl child to study as education will help her to excel in life.
The second serious issue is sexual abuse of young children which is on the rise. This issue has to be seriously deal with. We need to make the laws very stringent. Unfortunately, when you look at it, most of the children who have been through this kind of abuse are because of their own family members or from a person whom they had known. Parents should tell a child the difference between a good touch and a bad touch.
I very strongly feel that when a child is studying in the sixth standard we should introduce sex education. By this time, the girl is mature. If you don’t teach them, then they are in the computer 24×7. Rather than them finding it out the wrong way, it is better that we teach them the right way.

Despite urbanization, a large section of our society are conservative and do not wish to speak about HIV/Aids. This stigma largely affects those people living with HIV/Aids. How do you think one can bring about attitudinal changes in our society?
We have to educate people that one does not contract HIV/Aids by sitting together, eating from the same plate, using the same towel, or by shaking hands with a HIV infected person. You have to bring about awareness on what HIV is.
A HIV affected person needs very strong moral support from his family. Again, it is the woman who is stigmatized here. You will never find a man who will own up and say that he is the reason for his wife to get HIV/AIDS. While he happily sits at home being taken care by the family, his wife is victimized, blamed of loose morals, and thrown out of her home. We need to educate the men and tell them to own up for their mistake.

You have the ability to strive for women’s empowerment. Given the challenges you have faced in the recent past, are you still determined to work towards empowering women?
Absolutely! If out of around 7 crore people in Tamil Nadu, 2,000 of them think that I am wrong, they are absolutely free to voice their opinions. There is nothing wrong in that. Nothing will deter me from working towards what I have been working at. There is awareness and there has been a notification that has come in.

Who is your role model in social work?
Absolutely no one! I have never grown up looking at someone saying that ‘this is what I want to be’. I am not going to say that ‘I want to be like Mother Teresa. She inspires me’. There can be only one Mother Teresa. I want to be what I am, and I want to believe in what I say. I want to follow my heart, of course after applying my mind to it. I want someone to turn around towards me and say ‘she is my role model’, rather than me saying this to someone else.
If at all there was anyone whom I had idolized right from childhood, then it happens to be Ravi Sastri. He definitely cannot be my role model, because I would have become a cricketer.

In what ways does your family support you in your social work?
I would not have evolved so much as a person, or would not have been so confident in these five years of my battle if not for the support of my family and friends. When I say support of my family and friends, it is not necessary that they will have to believe in what I say, or what I believe in. What is important is to let me be me.
I have a huge support from my husband. He is an introvert person, while I am an extrovert. We are like chalk and cheese. The support I have from him is tremendous. When I won the case, I was holidaying with my children in London. The first thing I did when I received the message from my lawyer was to call my husband who was shooting then. When I said that all the cases have been quashed, I heard him scream over the phone with joy, which he never does. When I returned, he received me at the airport and said ‘You have made it. I knew that you have been a strong person.’

What inspired you to choose the role of Maniammaiin ‘Periyar’ and what were the challenges that you faced?
I did not choose. I was fortunate that my director chose me to do that role. In fact, few of my good friends went against me protesting that I should not enact this role. An issue was also raised in the assembly that I should not act in this movie. But, my director was very clear that he wanted me to do that project and so, I was in the film.
It was a different experience as it was for the first time I was depicting the role of a real life character. It was tough for me as I did not have any video footage of Maniammai. I just had pictures and so I really didn’t know how she spoke, how she walked, or how she would sit. Also I had to put on a little weight for that movie which was a challenge.

You are known to be a wonderful mother; ace actor; and a social activist. Which of these roles, do you like most and why?
Obviously, I like the role of a mother. Mother is a 24×7 job where one can never reach a stagnation point. In a career you keep looking at what’s next. As an actor, you want to better yourself. But, being a mother it is like you grow up with your children, you become a kid when they are young, and you start re-living your life along with them.
It is a task every day to install good values in your children, and telling them what is right and what is wrong. At every stage, especially with girls, you will have to be a strict mother, but also be a close friend with them so that they are free to discuss things with you. Being a mother is the toughest job, but I think that it is the most lovable one.