She Overcame Child Marriage, Abuse & Rape To Become Bollywood’s Most Successful Stuntwoman

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If you are an avid Bollywood fan, you will most likely have seen Geeta Tandon on screen without knowing it is actually her. As one of the industry’s most successful stuntwomen, she has doubled for well-known actresses such as Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, and Parineeti Chopra, just to name a few.

In a job that requires taking risks everyday and putting herself in danger riding dirt bikes, cars and doing other physical activities, this is nothing compared to the hardships she has previously overcome in her life. Geeta has overcome some pretty horrific experiences as a young woman, and recently told her story in an interview with Blush.

Geeta was only 9 when her mother died, and her father struggled financially to take care of her and her siblings. In India is it very common for families in poverty to view girls as a burden and marrying them off is often seen as the best solution. Geeta’s father married her off when she was only 14, to a man who was 24. As a young girl, she was a tomboy who loved playing sports and being outdoors. The thought from her family was that marriage would “cure” this personality streak.

At first she seemed hopeful at the thought of getting married, as her older sister ended up being partnered with a man who looked after her.

“Marriage for me meant the stability of a home with a loving family and food on the table – a lot for someone who never knew where she was going to end up next,” she told Huffpost India in an interview.

Unfortunately, the man Geeta married would become extremely violent with her, subjecting her to abuse and rape for a number of years.

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“I was a servant, a sex machine and a punching bag present to fulfill his needs. I got pregnant at 16, and was briefly happy thinking it would stop the beatings. But it only got worse,” she said.

“Barely five days after our wedding, my husband started throwing both tantrums as well as utensils at me. He was a drunkard, and would often pass out by the time he got home. Initially, the fights were fewer, but over the days they got more and more violent. My mind was conditioned to stay quiet and take the pain stoically,” she recalls about her turbulent marriage.

In the Blush documentary below she retells how her ex mother-in-law was complicit in the abuse, telling her son to rip her clothes and rape her if she wouldn’t have sex with him. By the time she was 20 years old, she had two children and somehow managed to survive being beaten and raped during each pregnancy.

At one point she even tried to tell the local police about her situation, but they were no help at all.

“The cops told me that marital fights should be kept within the walls of the house. I stopped trying to register complaints as I had no support,” she said.

Violence against women in the home is often a very tricky issue to navigate in countries where religious conservatism and traditional societal gender norms are where people get their cues from. Just recently we have seen a huge amount of international media coverage on violence against women in India sparked by the outrage over the news of a young woman being gang raped in Delhi in 2012 by a group of men who did not think it was right for her to be out at night with a young man who was not her husband or father.

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Because of this story, and many others like it which have been reported constantly in the news since, there has been a increase in the number of women coming forward about harassment, abuse, rape and gender violence, and we are starting to see a slow change in the legislative process in order to protect women from this epidemic.

For Geeta, she had to rely on her own strength to find a better life for herself. At the age of 20 she summoned the courage to finally leave her toxic marriage, but it would be a while before she found her feet financially. Because she had not college education or formal qualifications, it was a struggle to find a job.

“I have studied only till 10th standard. Working was an alien concept, but I never lost hope,” she said.

Geeta worked odd jobs to survive, and eventually became a paid dancer for weddings and events. In 2008 Geeta met a woman at the Bhangra dance company where she worked who asked her if she was interested in getting into stunt work. And having previously only said “no” to sex work, Geeta decided to give it a try.

Her first job involved being set on fire, which was a heck of a way to be introduced to the industry! But Geeta soon realized that this very physical job enabled her to tap into the tomboy side of her personality which has been locked away for many years, and so she decided to stick with the stunt work.

She learned to ride motorbikes and drive cars which started to set her apart from other women in the industry. She also registered with a movie stunt association who trained her for free and compensated for any travel as well as injuries, which would come in handy at certain points in her career.

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“There are no women who do car chases in India. Almost always the men do it. I can ride any car or bike – I have driven a Harley, a Bullet and a dirt bike. Most women don’t like to perform stunts that involve long hours in the sun or getting dirty in the mud,” she said.

“But I did it all. Recently, I did a car chase scene for Aishwarya Rai’s ‘Jazbaa’. It’s dangerous because you’re driving very fast in a compact space in proximity to many people and expensive equipment, and you cannot afford any mistakes. When I was done, the entire crew was up on their feet cheering and clapping for me!”

In an interview with Femina magazine, Geeta says there is an expectation that she won’t be able to do what men do, but she has managed to prove them wrong.

“I sometimes hear, ‘Oh, she’s a girl, so make the stunts a little bit easier!’ I fight back saying that I won’t compromise on any of my stunts. If a guy can do it, so can I. There’s no difference between men and women when it comes to action shots. Men will face the same amount of pain as me, so nothing should be made easier for me,” she said.

Geeta has had some close calls, including injuring her tailbone and suffering a spinal fracture from a stunt where she had to roll off a building. She landed too hard and ended up in hospital. She was told she would not recover from this injury nor work again as a stuntwoman, but true to her never-say-die survivor attitude, she did not give up.

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Today she is consistently working in film and TV, is highly sought after, and is financially independent, a lifestyle of which she could only dream as a late teenager stuck in an abusive marriage. Her children are now teenagers themselves and they are a close knit family.

“My children want to stand on their own feet before they get married. They say it is a life lesson I have given them,” she said.

Because of her own experience, Geeta plans to open a self-defense school for women to help prevent others from enduring what she did.

“Every woman should be able to stand up for herself instead of taking a beating,” she declares.

As for her own survival story, it is a testament to the strength of women in the face of great adversity that can hopefully inspire others who are struggling in their life right now.

“Life has roughed me up a lot, but my faith in God pulled me through it all. I owe everything I have earned in my life to my children. Their support and love kept me going. Quite early on, I realized that life is all about believing that good things will come your way. It is about keeping up the fighting spirit and facing all odds valiantly,” she said.

To get to know this brave, amazing woman, watch the Blush video feature below:


 

 

3 Comments

  1. Bravo for this amazing superwoman!

  2. Oh, darn–I want to be able to understand what Geeta is saying. Is there any way to see a version with subtitles? I’ve been looking at child marriage issues since I saw this video and love Geeta’s story of self-empowerment.

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