Short Take

A word of advice for college admission seekers: Be more than the sum of your marks

Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get what you want in the college or course of your choice. Learn from the finest minds – YouTube, books, museums and movies.

My grandmother stopped reading the newspaper when she crossed into her seventies. The coiled and unopened newspaper lay on her verandah floor like something waiting for the bomb squad. The macabre crime tales of Delhi and beyond left her bitter like the taste of the black tea that she drank in the morning. Today, when I opened the newspaper to read that the cut-off for admission into the English Honours programme at St Stephen’s College in Delhi University was just one percent short of 100, I think I know what she felt.

After a happy childhood of little or no serious reading (unless you think that comics like Tinkle, Champak and Asterix belong in the same company as Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Muktibodh), I was stumped by a pointed question during my interview to study English at St Stephen’s. “But you haven’t really read any of the classics. Why do you think you’ll read them now?” I did not have a satisfactory answer to give then, and I don’t think I have one today. But in true Delhi jugaad spirit, I had borrowed and quickly read Jane Eyre two weeks before my interview. Of course they never asked me anything about it. Having established the fact that I didn’t read books, they wanted to know what did I do with my time?

So I told them about my love for the National School of Drama’s Ghashiram Kotwal, and when I left Bhagalpur House after watching a play, I felt I had lived another life, become someone else, and learned a new language to understand the world. I panicked when the then Principal, Anil Wilson, sitting directly in front of me, asked me to name my favourite literary character. Tarzan, Chacha Chaudhari, Nagraj, Super Commando Dhruv – I almost mentioned one of my heroes, when PG Wodehouse’s cool, dandy and unflappable Psmith (who added a P before his name to distinguish himself from other Smiths) rescued me. “Okay, Why does he inspire you?” they asked. “Because he’s unscrupulous,” I answered, thrilled that I had used such a big word. Just then two out of three interviewers looked down and scribbled on their notepads, but Wilson grinned from ear to ear.

In the next three years, I learned that words are things: we live the metaphors that we use, and that poetry brings us closer to something that will always be bigger than us, like the mountains.

All this is to say that students, when they apply to undergraduate courses, must have the freedom to do what they have never done before. They must be able to explore new disciplines, discover their love (or not) for it, and find out that it does not matter what you learn as long as your teacher loves what she teaches. So dear student, don’t be disheartened if you don’t get what you want in the college or course of your choice. Dive into your discipline and try to learn from the finest minds – online, offline, YouTube, books, museums, and movies – on your subject. Just as the literary does not only live inside books and the historical is not just about the past, you will always be more than the sum of your marks.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.