Working on the #i_am_me series is giving me the opportunity to meet people of grit and conviction. My hands reach out to my cell, I pick it up and dial the number and this time was fortunate enough to get hold of this very sweet, gentle and grounded lady whom I met just once 2 years back in a prestigious event of Delhi NCR. She was hosting the event with immense grace and valour. Valour I use because she represents the state of brave-heart Marathas – Pune! A place where bravery is in blood and gallantry in the heart.
The first “Hello” from her and you find yourself soaked in a honeyed voice, such is, the sweetness, but mind you, it’s firm as a rock. We started the conversation and as I kept progressing further, an old quote refreshed in my memories, – Ripe fruits tend to dangle low, and similarly, a person with knowledge will always be modest.
The amazing personality of my #i_am_me series is Neerja Apte – A professional Anchor, Script Writer, Voice-over and Theatre Artist.
Coming from the beautiful city of Gwalior she was blessed with beautiful parenting of her broad-minded family wherein she was motivated for studies, sports, and vocational training as well. From completing her Masters in Social Science to later on getting married and finding herself among household choirs, Neerja was not meant to be bounded behind the four walls. She was always fascinated by the cultural programs that use to take place and also by the person holding the mic and introducing everyone.
Little did she know then, that this will become her fate too. This zeal gave birth to the hunch of being a professional emcee and make it a career later on. Her journey started in2004 in Muscat, Oman where her husband was posted two decades back. She used to host all the cultural shows for Embassy of India over there along with the Indian cultural gatherings but she used to cherish most the Celebrity shows that use to take place.
“When I came back to Pune, I thought this is what I want to do and started on my own. There was no Godfather or anyone else to show the path, but slowly and gradually I started getting events.”
What do you think has changed in this profession over the years?
“The new people I see who are active from the past few years, let’s say 4-5 years, they don’t believe in doing their homework properly. Digital Media has made things easy, so there’s no pre-work required. All answers are found in Google these days. So, talking to the artist, getting to know the flavour which he is going to deliver is not there anymore.”
Something which aches my heart is, their command over the language is nil, zero to be more precise. Be it Marathi, Hindi or English they don’t really focus on the purity of any language.”
And then I decided to ask a million-dollar question – Do Women get an upper-hand in this profession?”
And there comes the reply – “YES! Now, it’s all about pomp and show, these days’ designer clothes and good looks are in demand. Anchors are treated as a showpiece of an event, where it really doesn’t matter what you speak rather your bold looks are observed.”
She shared an incident from her career, “I had a similar encounter wherein I was asked for a show of a very famous Bollywood singer. The organizer contacted me, saying that they have got the reference from someone and requested me to take charge of the event. I started talking further to know more about the event and after a while when we were discussing the details of it, he suddenly asks me whether I always host events in the same attire (he already saw few pictures of mine from past events). I was startled but asked that what exactly he means by that, to which he said that normally the attire you carry on stage (which is always traditional, maximum Saree).
“Actually our requirement is different so whatever the dress designer gives you, you need to wear that. I said I don’t have any problem with it, but first I would like to see what kind of dress I get. So I received an email in which his designer send me the picture of what exactly they want me to wear. After seeing that, I had a word with the organizer and told him that this dress doesn’t suit my age, persona, and figure. I can’t wear this. So you know what happened next, I left the project.”
Who was your motivation in the difficult times?
“I belong to a very normal middle-class family. I never had a god-father in this industry but my main motivation was my family, they throughout supported me. My husband tirelessly is standing with me till today. He always has been my guide. My mother being my 1st teacher equipped me well with all the learnings of life which helped at every step. I work on my own terms and conditions and to date have never asked for work. By god’s grace, a few opportunities that I came across were nothing less than a miracle. For instance, the US tour with Shreya Ghoshal Ji or the various shows with Lata Ji. If you work sincerely and your work is good then you do get opportunities. It’s just that you need to believe in yourself. I come across a lot of newbie’s these days who think of themselves very short. This is not a great thing to possess. Self-believe is the key to success.”
“People just talk about Woman Empowerment, they don’t follow!”
To me, women empowerment is, believing in yourself and your abilities. If you don’t have that, you can’t talk of empowerment anywhere. I still witness in the so-called upper-class society of ours, that the woman is working and the boy just sits.
Household is still a women domain and I witness it in my circle also, where the daughter-in-law was working all the household chores, and the son was sitting on the sofa and sipping coffee, THIS IS STILL HAPPENING.
When I enquired about this, she said my son is not habitual to do all these. We live in a time where one woman doesn’t appreciate the other woman and pull her down. This is happening along with the abuse a woman faces There are still cases of rapes, dowry, burn, acid-attacks and people beating their wives. This is all common, still. Today a woman is still questioned if she has to go out. We just blabber, there’s still a long way to go.”
Remember the voice I was talking of at the beginning, wherein I mentioned that it’s firm as a rock! The honeyed voice has some very strong thoughts.
This whole conversation instigates that no matter which woman of what stature you talk to, they do have the same opinion regarding the treatment a society gives to women. After talking with her, I realised her persona and her experiences along with life lessons, are not meant to be covered in one article. The conversation left much to understand the woman or her perspective. I gained immense respect as I realised the struggle a woman goes through fighting the gender biases and prejudices she faces, though it was the tip of ice-berg, yet I did!