Shamita Shetty calls out patriarchy and narrow-mindedness with new film 'The Tenant'

The actress and reality television star said her character Meera reflected who she was in real life


Enid Grace Parker

Published: Thu 2 Mar 2023, 5:43 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Mar 2023, 3:47 PM

Shamita Shetty portraying a single woman who moves into a housing society that judges her every move in new film The Tenant, is, in a way, a case of art imitating life.

The Bollywood actress and reality TV star called out patriarchy and narrow-mindedness (in The Tenant and in real life) over a recent Zoom chat with City Times.

She said she was drawn to the role of independent Meera in this coming-of-age film directed by Sushrut Jain, because the story “kind of highlighted the right issues, centered around the hypocritical society we live in.”

Attractive Meera becomes the cynosure of all eyes when she shifts to a middle-class Indian neighbourhood, her wardrobe, marital status and morals all up for daily scrutiny. Thirteen-year-old Bharat (played brilliantly by Rudhraksh Jaiswal) is the only one among the society’s busybodies who doesn’t pass judgement and keeps an open mind.

Could it be because he has a little crush? But there’s much more to the characters, and the story, than that, which is what makes The Tenant beautifully engaging.

Shamita said she loved her character and related to Meera “in every way.”

“Unfortunately a lot of women are exposed to patriarchy; there’s a constant invasion of privacy. (People are) constantly judging women based on their profession, whether or not they are single…

“Out here if you’re single after a certain age, you’re labelled as ‘unmarried.’ And even today, it’s very difficult for single women to find an apartment to rent, because they are asked a lot of very personal questions.”

When Meera’s story unravels and throws up a big personal secret, all hell breaks loose. The judgment is magnified, the consequences severe. Will Meera - who aspires to showcase the paintings that litter her flat at an art gallery someday - be able to recover from this blow and make a fresh start? How does Bharat react to Meera’s situation?

Compassion is key

Shamita hopes viewers of all ages and backgrounds come away from watching The Tenant with a “little more compassion” to show each other.

“Everybody has their own story. Of course it’s only natural for us to have an opinion based on what we see, but don’t have such a strong opinion that it can be detrimental to a person’s present or future! If you don’t want to make an effort to get to know that person or what’s happening there, why someone is the way they are, then at least don’t have such a strong opinion!”

She recalled her personal experience of such attitudes.

“If you’re a woman from the entertainment industry and single, you’re considered a bad influence. I don’t understand why! Is that going to change if you’re with a man? Are you going to do things differently? You’re still from the same profession; you’re still the same person. So, yes, I would just say a little compassion is the need of the hour.”

Shamita Shetty and Rudhraksh Jaiswal in 'The Tenant'
Shamita Shetty and Rudhraksh Jaiswal in 'The Tenant'

Another striking aspect of The Tenant is its nuanced portrayal of an unlikely friendship between 13-year-old Bharat and a much older Meera. Shamita remarked that working with Rudhraksh (who was seen with Chris Hemsworth in Extraction) was “lovely” and joked about how, because the film took four years to release, the “small boy grew into a man.”

In The Tenant, Rudhraksh’s character Bharat goes through an evolution of sorts, despite being surrounded by pettiness and prejudice, and Shamita believes director Sushrut Jain has conveyed a little message in “such a beautiful way.”

“If we want a change in society, that change has to obviously be brought about with the right values set in the youth of the country. Older people are not going to change the way they think; they’re set in their ways. Every boy probably goes through this phase of having a crush on an older woman. But this boy had a choice between thinking in the same way as everybody else in his society, which is the so-called normal way, or being a better man.”

A bright future

Shamita, who had a spectacular debut in the industry over two decades ago with Yash Raj Films’ Mohabbatein, has often spoken about how she didn’t get the kind of projects she wanted in the wake of the film’s success. But things seem to be changing now.

Shamita's performance in 'The Tenant' has been appreciated by several critics
Shamita's performance in 'The Tenant' has been appreciated by several critics

The actress is hoping “some interesting work” comes her way soon as a result of her performance in The Tenant being appreciated by a number of critics.

“I think with OTT there are a lot more options open to actors now. There are so many new platforms; there is so much work being done out there. And (there are) people who don’t necessarily focus on whether or not you’re a ‘star.’ It’s talent that takes precedence on these platforms and it’s so refreshing to see that, as an actor.”

The Bigg Boss effect

Shamita did experience a whole new wave of popularity when she participated in Bigg Boss 15, which she said “was one of the most difficult reality shows to do.”

“I’ve done Jhalak Dikhhla Ja and Khatron Ke Khiladi; all of that was physically very taxing. Bigg Boss for me was extremely taxing physically, mentally and emotionally.”

She acknowledges the adulation as well.

“The kind of love that you get… people really relate to you, connect to the person you are. You can’t fake it on a show like this. And that’s not me as a person anyway; I will always be the person I am.”

“But with Bigg Boss, I think maybe I got to face a lot that I would not necessarily face in the outside world. The people (who were) attacking me constantly because they just felt I was privileged and they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do it outside, took the opportunity in that house. There were times when I really broke. But I truly discovered my strength in there. And it was a show that was a complete eye-opener. But anyway, it’s not something I would ever do again. It’s a once in a lifetime thing, you know what I mean (laughs)? But the kind of love that I got when I came out, it just made it all worth it!”

In this age of the Internet and social media, how does #ShamitaShetty affect her?

"(Laughs) It’s okay… today I’m trending, tomorrow I’m not. I can’t sit and focus so much on it. Yes, it makes you happy for, you know, a minute, but then what? You have to move on. It doesn’t bother me that much.”

She does have a message for all her fans, including those in the UAE. “I would firstly just like to say ‘thank you’ for showering me with so much love always, but I would go on with saying, spread a little more love out there and have some compassion. I just think the world really needs a lot of healing.”

The Tenant is slated to stream soon on an OTT network.

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