Mumbai: More than a decade ago, actor Mallika Sherawat shocked the audience with her uninhibited expression of sexuality on-screen, but she says the image came with a price as people, including directors and co-stars, thought she would easily "compromise".
Mallika, who shot to fame with Murder in 2004, became synonymous with everything bold on-screen. The actor says this image became a point for people to pass judgement on her character.
In an interview with PTI, Mallika says, "There were so many accusations and judgements on me. If you wear short skirts, kiss on screen then you're a fallen woman with no morals. Men tend to take liberties with you. This happened with me too.
"I was thrown out of projects because heroes would say 'why can't you be intimate with me? You can do it on screen, what's the problem in doing that with me in private?' I've lost so many projects. It's very reflective of the society, what women deal with in our country."
The 41-year-old actor says she was aware that her film choices were unconventional and believes she could have done much better if she "wasn't swimming against the tide".
"I'm a very headstrong woman, I can't compromise. I've a lot of pride and self respect. There were times when directors have called me and said 'come to me at 3 am.'
"I was so scared to talk about it because I thought they are going to blame me, that I must've behaved in such a way that prompted the director to say this. There is that victim blaming mentality which exists in our society and I always felt scared to talk about these things."
The initial phase of her career was interesting for Mallika as on one hand, her stardom was on the rise but on the other, she constantly felt being judged for her choices.
"When people judged me, it made me very insecure, overtly critical of myself and question everything I did. It's not a healthy space. At that time, a large section of the media was antagonistic towards me. They were always interested in sensationalism, which hurt me.
"My story, where I come from and what I battled, was overlooked, and it was all about how many kissing scenes I had. It made me insecure because I thought I had so much more to offer. But there was only one aspect of mine being highlighted and I really suffered because of that."
She recalls a national TV interview with a senior journalist who asked her "horrendous, overtly sexual questions" but no one came to rescue.
"I cringe when I watch it today. I had just begun my career, Murder had released and I was so intimidated by this lecherous old man. There was no support for me, I felt so lonely, that was so painful."
Mallika has shared one of her "traumatic" experiences on ZEE5's The Story, a web series which chronicles real life incidents of actors.
The episode, which recently went online, features the story of a crazy stalker from Haryana who tried to kill the actor before the police nabbed him.
"He used to tell me, why do you wear short skirts, you're giving Indian culture a bad name, why can't you wear sari. I thought why are you telling me what to wear and is this an invitation for you to misbehave with me?
"I thought, 'let's do this episode', even though it was traumatic to relive that again. In the episode we talked about self defence. I had to put my story out there," she adds.