Ever since Sushmita Sen returned to acting with Aarya, I’ve been enjoying watching her slay the role of an anti-hero – a character Bollywood has hardly explored, and very rarely with a female protagonist.
As she describes herself in the latest season – she’s just another ‘working mother’. Only, her protective instincts are honed by fire, literally.
Her actions are governed not by morality, but by motherhood. And while Bollywood would have you believe mothers are the benchmark of morality, the reality is different – and Aarya serves just one such reality!
However, how the show breaks down stereotypes about women that Bollywood has been pandering to for years, is a discussion for another time.
Because right now, I can’t get over how Ram Madhvani, and Aarya’s casting team, found the perfect person to play an unconventional female lead – an unconventional female star, Sushmita Sen.
When Sen first arrived as an actor, Bollywood tried, and tried hard, to box her into the same, stereotypical roles that the 90s and early 2000s defined for women.
But, you just can’t box Sen’s charisma and sheer screen presence into a character that’s been done to death.
She wasn’t convincing as the damsel in distress, because clearly, she needed little to no rescuing. She was also not a ‘tomboy’ or one of the guys, because she was comfortable in her femininity in a way that was as powerful, as it was alien (at the time).
Hell, even when she played the ‘other woman’, a character Indian entertainment loves to hate upon, she won people’s love.
Obviously, her lifestyle choices, her unabashed interviews, her powerful opinions – essentially, her off-screen persona, further alienated her from the ‘demure divas’ on-screen that Bollywood was so fond of at the time.
Even at the peak of her career, her movie choices made her stand out – then be it her role as a cop fighting time to save her child in Samay, or a woman who wanted to be childfree, become a surrogate for her best friend in Filhaal.
And after years of hunting for roles that fit her, Sen finally returned in a role tailor-made for her.
Aarya is not your usual female protagonist in any form or manner. In the way she looks after her friends, her husband, her children, she reminds you of the typical Indian housewife – literally keeping her family together. In the strategic and calculative way she goes after those who hurt or may hurt, her children, she inches to becoming a seasoned crime-lord. And in the way she remains conflicted about her decisions, processes her trauma, and grieves over her losses – she remains human.
It’s a culmination of all this that enables you to relate to her character, even when it’s so far removed from your life. It’s also Sen’s ability to draw you into her character’s life, to make you feel for her even when she shoots point-blank at a person, that makes Aarya a memorable character.
We’ve had ‘badass’ female protagonists in the past, and we’ve had crime-dramas in the bast – but they all seemed to lack a sense of authenticity. That’s what struck me in Season 1 – Aarya is authentic. Flawed, at times naive, at times sly, but always, authentic.
We need more such stories and we need actors who can do justice to these stories. And while there are far too many actors, across generations, who I am in awe of, I can’t think of anyone by Sushmita as Aarya.
I’ve always been a fan of Sushmita, the person. Aarya made me fall in love with Sushmita, the actor.
All images from Disney+Hotstar, unless specified otherwise.