Ever since Sushmita Sen was crowned Miss Universe in 1994, she has been an inspiration, especially for young women, across the globe.
However, Sushmita is not just an inspiration because she was the first Indian to win the coveted Miss Universe pageant. But because, from the time she was thrust into the spotlight, she has consistently stood for the right thing, debunking society's flawed notions, and reminding us of the importance of following your heart.
Here's a look at all the times Sushmita Sen was woke, even before it became a word:
1. When she refused to lip-sync a song because it had sexist lyrics.
Long before we even realized the extent of casual sexism that floated in our movies and songs, Sushmita Sen refused to dance or lip-sync to the regressive line, aa garmi le mere seene se from the song Mehboob Mere (from Fiza). Ultimately, the line was changed to aa narmi le mere aankhon se.
Choreographer Ganesh Hegde, who shared this information during an interview, clearly stated how unexpected her behavior was:
There was a line that went ‘aa garmi le mere seene se (come feel the heat of my bosom)’ and she refused to sing it. She said, ‘I won’t just do it’. It was unheard of at that point of time, to command and extract that kind of respect.
2. When she refused to speak regressive dialogues.
In the same interview, it was revealed that Sushmita Sen once asked the director of one her films to change a dialogue that claimed a woman's virginity could be 'tested' by a doctor and was proof of her chastity.
This is peak 90s' cinema when such claims weren't just regularly accepted, but at times, even celebrated as proof of the 'adarsh, sanskaari' woman. But this is what Sushmita Sen, who directors have shared time after time is one of the most undemanding actors they've worked with, had to say about the dialogue:
Sir, this line is ridiculously laughable. I can’t believe it and I can’t say it and my audience won’t believe it either. They’d have a good laugh at my expense. Please change it.
3. When she called out a corporate giant like Coca-Cola for sexual misconduct.
Sushmita Sen had signed a corporate contract with Coca-Cola, but the contract was terminated prematurely in 2003 after Sen alleged sexual misconduct by an employee of CCIL (Coca Cola India).
Reportedly, Sushmita called the termination 'dishonest' and sued the corporate giant for not providing a safe working place. Consequently, apart from the ₹50 lakh that she received in case of termination, she also received financial compensation of ₹95 lakh.
Furthermore, when she was charged by the Income Tax Authority for not declaring the compensation as income, she once again fought and won the case, with the Income-tax appellate tribunal’s Mumbai bench stating that the compensation amount was not taxable.
4. When she slammed Donald Trump for body-shaming another former Miss Universe winner.
It's no secret that Donald Trump, the current president of USA, has passed regressive and sexist remarks on women. Like when he called former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, the first woman to win the title after Trump took over the pageant, 'Miss Piggy and Miss Housekeeping' because apparently, she gained weight from the time she was crowned Miss Universe and was Latina.
Among the many people who called out his comments was journalist Barkha Dutt, who was questioned if she'd raised the same question to Sushmita Sen, another former Miss Universe. And Sushmita had the perfect response.
1994 when INDIA won MU,Paramount Communications owned d pageant not Trump.THANKGOD!!🙏😄besides,u shud know me better!😊🇮🇳— sushmita sen (@thesushmitasen) September 27, 2016
5. When she chose to educate a young man who misbehaved with her because she understood why he behaved the way he did.
There is no one-stop solution to combat sexual misconduct and harassment. And Sushmita Sen proved this when, instead of getting a 15-year-old boy arrested for misbehaving with her, she instead chose to have a conversation with him over why his behavior was inappropriate.
The minor boy misbehaved with me thinking I wouldn't realize because of the crowd around. But, he was wrong. I grabbed his hand from my behind and I was shocked to see he was just 15. I held him by his neck, took him for a walk. I told him if I make a hue and cry, his life would be over. I didn't take action because I understood that he wasn't taught that such things are an offense and not entertainment.
6. When she chose to be a single mother, through adoption.
Sushmita was only 25 when she adopted her elder daughter, Renee. She fought a long and hard legal battle but never once stopped believing in her ability to raise a child. Almost a decade later, she adopted her second daughter, Alisah.
From taking a break from work for Alisah to offering Renee the chance to discover her biological parents, Sushmita Sen has continuously shown the world that giving birth, alone, does not make you a mother.
7. When she reminded the world that a woman is not dependent on a man for anything.
While the media kept speculating over when she'd have a rock on her finger, thereby making on a comment on the fact the she wasn't married, she went ahead and bought herself a diamond.
8. When she refused to let society's definition of relationships undermine or cage her feelings.
Women, especially celebrities, are often criticized for their relationships and Sushmita Sen was no stranger to seeing her name dragged through the gossip mills. But, she refused to cower down before the media or hide her relationships.
What a queen!