Rakhi Sawant is described as a TV actress, reality TV personality and item girl. When reporting on her, news reports often take in details such as, she is “wearing revealing clothes” and is “outspoken”. In public discourse, her name is often invoked derisively - for example, if someone is trying to put down a public figure as a lightweight, they are referred to as “the Rakhi Sawant of politics” - in this vein, BJP politician Uma Bharti once made a comparison between Priyanka Gandhi and Sawant.
Rakhi, 37, is consistently proving to have another side to her. That she is a caustic, social and political commentator, a satirist who talks about power and sexuality and gender double standards.
Consider her latest stunt. She showed up pouting for the cameras at a pre-Independence Day event in Chicago, doing what can only be called a Rakhi Sawant “Monroe” twist. She wore a Little Black Dress and, as an ode to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had his face plastered strategically across both her top and bottom assets. An extreme confession of adoration? Or a crack at the PM? The thing is - one doesn’t know.
That’s the thing with Rakhi. As much as she is OTT in her style and manner, she is understated in delivery, leaving her audience to reach their own conclusions on her performance.
Her last stand-up show, if we can call it that, was when she called a press conference following a suicide of a female TV actress by hanging, bringing with her a ceiling fan or pankhaa to the table. In what can only be called an impressive piece of dark satire, she went on to give a riveting monologue on the plight of women by appealing to the PM to ban ceiling fans as too many women were committing suicide with their aid. Which was a chilling comment on gender suicide that brought home the statistics, in a manner far superior in content to the likes of professional comics such as All India Bakchod, whose Alia Bhatt routine where the star, dissed for not being able to answer basic GK questions, was the butt of the joke for her IQ.
While the AIB act could be seen as funny because it depicted Alia as being sporting to take a joke on herself, it failed miserably for its gender message - enforcing bimbo stereotypes. Sawant’s satire, on the other hand, packed in both punch, entertainment and social message and was far more enduring as a piece of satire.
Her “politics” too carries the same strain of seemingly effortless comic skills. She had once announced that she wanted to marry Rahul Gandhi. Then, without any explanations, showed up in an LBD with Modi’s face placed strategically over it. If art is the ability to evoke more than it says, then Rakhi evokes the theme of power, and its tendency to make fawning idiots out of most people.
Sawant herself had a brief foray into politics, standing as an independent candidate during the Mumbai Lok Sabha polls, but lost her deposit. The political debut, however, is memorable for her showing up dressed head to toe in green as a mirchi, the attributes of which she believes best represented her politics.
While she is often referred to in the press as “controversy queen” and “motormouth”, Sawant has never actually gotten into trouble for any of her seemingly off-the-top-of-her-head statements. Just the luck of a mindless reality star? Only a matter of time before she is finally caught with her foot in her mouth? Perhaps, because with her there is no way of knowing how serious she is. Yet, the consistent ability she has displayed to push the boundaries of propriety while managing to steer clear of trouble indicates an artist with a method to her madness and a strong grip on her art.
Another reason why people perhaps don't know quite what to make of Rakhi Sawant is because we don't have any female comedians of stature, and also because we like to box people and can’t imagine that an “item girl” could have a stand-up streak of any note. Here again, she has not articulated what is increasingly seeming like ongoing social commentary and performance art. Her refusal to actually state her performance as belonging to the genre of stand-up comedy, and leaving people to write her off if they wish, eems to part of the plot. As if, if you didn't get it, then that too is a joke on you rather than on her.
I, for one, can’t wait for her next act.