Actor Raveena Tandon looks back at her journey of 30 years in Bollywood and says she made her way through the male dominated industry by sheer hard work.
Tandon made her screen debut with the 1991 action film Patthar Ke Phool and emerged as one of the top female stars of the decade, featuring in money spinners like Mohra, Diwale, Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi and Bade Miyan Chote Miyan.
She is now set to make her digital debut with the Netflix series, Aranyak, which features her as a cop named Kasturi Dogra, torn between investigating a case and giving time to her family, while making her presence felt in a system that favours men.
When asked, how did Tandon navigate the patriarchal set up of Bollywood to remain consistently on the top, the actor said there were breaking points, but her will power and family always had her back.
"Perseverance, hard work will always get rewarded. If you are talented, hardworking and sincere, no one can take it away from you. It was a man's world then but I see a great change today. There are times when you thank your family for being your backbone, for being there for you.
"You also thank those, who were not there for you, who probably tried to kick you at a time when you were down at your lowest and tried to completely bury you. I thank those people because they gave me the drive to bounce back ever harder. The harder they tried to put me down, the stronger I wanted to bounce back," Tandon told PTI.
The 47-year-old actor, who returns to the screen after the 2017 romantic drama Shab, said Aranyak offered her the opportunity to bring to the forefront the struggle women go through, juggling their personal and professional lives.
The series is directed by Vinay Vyakul, with filmmaker Rohan Sippy attached as the showrunner.
"It was a strong female character driven show. My character is fierce, independent, passionate.. a tough and talented cop. That appealed to me. If you look at the movies I have done, there has always been some messaging in it.
"From Daman, Shool or Maatr. It is important for me to pick up scripts that are about women empowerment. There is a subtle message in this that reaches out to many Kasturi Dogras, who are facing the same (dilemma) of certain decisions to make, with no emotional backing."
Tandon said Aranyak happened to her at a time when she was looking to venture into the digital space. While there were some interesting scripts which came her way, the actor always found something missing- a complex character.
"In one show, I was playing a city slick mom, which is normal for me to play. It didn't challenge me that much mentally. In another, I was a classy, upper society woman, who takes control of everything once everything starts falling apart.
"The scripts were amazing, but as a character, for me to play a tough Pahadi cop with an accent, to come out of my comfort zone... This is what I have done through the years, where many have not ventured."
The Netflix show, Tandon said, aligned with the work she has been doing over the years.
The actor recalled how, when she was in her mid 20s, she was shooting for a song in Mauritius, which required her to wear a mini skirt, have two pigtails and pass off as a 16 year old.
Tandon said she realised then, that she has to challenge herself as a performer and not get caught in a comfort zone. In 1999, she made that switch with the acclaimed film Shool, followed by Daman, which got her the National Award.
"I thought how long will I continue this, I need to evolve, I can't be stagnating. You have to push yourself, challenge yourself. That is when I consciously started picking up films which were different from my last project.
"If you see my films, from Shool'to Ghulam-E-Mustafa, Aks to a Dulhe Raja, Andaaz Apna Apna, I have tried to do varied roles. Similarly, Aranyak was challenging for me," she added.
Produced by Roy Kapur Films and Ramesh Sippy Entertainment, Aranyak also stars Parambrata Chatterjee, Ashutosh Rana, Meghna Malik and Zakir Hussain. The Charudutt Acharya-penned show will release on December 10.