Sumukhi Suresh’s Pushpavalli — an Amazon Prime Video show that premiered on December 15 last year — is path-breaking for reasons more than one.
To start with, it has a plus-sized woman playing — for once — not the funny sidekick, but the lead, and that too sans any apology or complexes that overweight women are usually straddled with. Second, it also marks a stand-up comic’s successful transition into acting and content creation. Pushpavalli won two awards in major categories — Best Actress (Comedy) and Best Comedy — at the News18 iReel Awards that were held in Mumbai on September 6.
Ask her how difficult bringing Pushpavalli to screen was, and the 30-year-old comic says, “If you are a show-runner, and you are writing it, acting in it, and doing it all for the first time, you become five years older in one month.”
But Sumukhi’s sort-of autobiographical debut show, which depicts the journey of a girl from Bhopal to Bangalore in pursuit of a man she likes, has proved to be a landmark project in her career. She agrees. “For me now, it’s pre and post Pushpavalli in life. Now that it is done, people are like, ‘Oh, she is legit. She is something to look forward to’. I am no longer just the actor you’ll hire as the fat best friend. I can actually be the lead,” she says.
While creating the show, was she conscious that she was representing one of the most under-represented groups — plus-sized women — on film, especially in India? Sumukhi says she didn’t want her size to be the show’s focus. She made it clear right at the beginning that she wanted to be styled like any other girl, and was only glad to find her director and stylist in agreement.
Talking about misrepresentation and stereotyping of overweight women on screen, she says, “We have a long way to go. I am sure I too have made mistakes representing girls who are big. All of us are going to make mistakes but it’s okay. Let us at least come ahead and start doing things.”
“How many of us — whatever our body form — are taking the initiative? We are waiting for someone to write for us. Let’s learn and write. I used to be a food inspector and now I am a comedian. If I can do it, lots of other girls can also do it,” she adds.
What, then, is the Sumukhi way of dealing with body-shaming? “The moment we think we are different or disabled or not the norm, everything goes downhill. People will pin you down even when you’re skinny. Look at the amount of things thin girls go through. That’s why body positivity is for all — thin and big women, and also men. We have to like ourselves. It’s a really tough job but we’ve got to do it. If you don’t think you’re a star, no one’s going to think it,” she says.
Being the influencer that she is now, what does Sumukhi Suresh have to say to the women wanting to do comedy? “Please just go to the nearest open-mic. Write a show. Make a video. There are a thousand men for one woman who make horrible things and are still walking around with a lot of confidence and panache. So it’s okay even if you make something bad. But please make, create, walk around with panache and we are all good to go.”
Standing where she is now, is there something that she wishes she could tell her 12-year-old self? Pat comes the reply, “Yes. Make sure you make all the mistakes, because that’s how you create a show.”