Anushka Sharma's decision to take sabbatical from acting shows actors like her rise above fear of irrelevance

Karishma Upadhyay

Aug 05, 2019 12:34:24 IST

Anushka Sharma has been on a break. Her last film release was Zero last December. She has not signed another film since. And, in these six months, there has been wild speculation about why she is not taking on any new acting projects. The gamut of reasons run from her allegedly being pregnant to her not getting any work post the failure of Zero.

In the latest issue of Filmfare magazine, the actress finally explained her reasons for taking time off. “I wanted to take a couple of months off after Zero. After I got married, it was like a whirlwind. I was back on set shooting for Sui Dhaaga: Made In India and later, Zero. I was just working back to back. Whatever time I’d get, I'd try to balance and meet Virat (Kohli, husband). But I was feeling too worked up. I needed to take two months off. I told my team I don’t even want to read anything right now. It's important as a creative person to take time off but you deny yourself that. Of course, there’s pressure. You’re constantly asked, Kaunsi film sign kar rahe ho?” (What film are you signing next?),” she told the magazine. 

Anushka Sharmas decision to take sabbatical from acting shows actors like her rise above fear of irrelevance

Anushka Sharma

That an A-list actress needs to justify why she has taken a short break speaks more about the archaic stereotypes that Bollywood’s trade still seems to function within, rather than reflect what the audience thinks. Remember in the late '90s, when Aamir Khan announced that he would only make one film at a time? This was when it was fashionable in the industry to be juggling at least a couple of films at the same time. The tradewallahs then predicted the end of his career. Almost two decades later, after he has delivered some of the biggest hits ever, his decision is referred to as a masterstroke.

Anushka is not the only actor on a sabbatical of sorts right now. Her Zero co-star Shah Rukh Khan also has not signed anything new since the release of the Anand L Rai film last December. "I have no film with me right now. I am not working on any film. Usually what happens is when your one film is coming to an end, you begin work on your next film and I get involved within 3-4 months. But this time I am just not feeling like...My heart doesn't allow me to..I just felt that I should rather take time out, watch films, listen to stories and read more books. Even my kids are in their college stage...my daughter is going to college and my son is about to finish his studies. So I just want to spend more time with my family," he told Filmfare in June. 

Shah Rukh Khan. Image from Twitter/@SRKsGladiator_

Shah Rukh Khan. Image from Twitter/@SRKsGladiator_

Again, if the hushed whispers in the industry are to be believed, producers are staying away from Shah Rukh. Given King Khan’s stature and body of work, this makes no sense, but very little does when judgments are passed on people basis a set of stereotypes. 

Our heroes cannot take breaks, because they will be forgotten apparently. And our leading ladies can only take breaks either to get married or to have kids. As an industry, we are just unfair to our talent because we base our judgments on the middle class values we have inherited from our parents. We are expected to grow up, get jobs and work every single day till we are too old to do anything else. We get married, have kids, and it is okay for a woman to then stay home and forget her career after that. This is how it still works for most of this country, so why should it be any different for our actors, right? 

Wrong.

Look around and you will see a privileged few in this generation that are changing these rules. This privilege does not necessarily have to do with income levels. It is more to do with mindsets and choices. Some people work, build careers and still find a way to pepper the best years of their lives with long breaks to explore other things and enrich their lives. Your bank balance is relative here — what is just enough for one person could be a lifetime of riches for another. 

Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma

Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma

For actors, a tribe that gets paid more than most of us, it is fair then to assume the pressure to keep working is not a financial one. It is more to do with that age-old cliché, ‘out of sight, out of mind’, that is constantly being hammered in by the trade and the media. Young actors are told that the more films they have signed, the more attractive they become to producers. That is how actors find themselves riding a never-ending hamster-wheel of pressure, one where five years and 20 films later, some find themselves facing burnout, very often with very little quality work to show for their time.

For an actor to take a break from films does not have to mean that it is curtains. When Vinod Khanna decided to take a five-year spiritual break in the early '80s, trade pundits wrote him off completely as a has-been or a what-could-have-been. His sabbatical, however, only served to make him an even bigger legend. When he came back in 1987 and delivered two colossal hits, Satyamev Jayate and Insaaf, he proved to the world that the only people you need to be popular with are your fans. 

Vinod Khanna/Image from Twitter.

Vinod Khanna/Image from Twitter.

In the age of social media, staying relevant is a summation of more than just one’s work; fans follow an actor’s life and a couple of posts a month are enough to keep people engaged. Priyanka Chopra has been away in Hollywood —she has gained fans there but has not lost any back home. That other Chopra girl, Parineeti, took a break a few years back to shed a few pounds. It has not chipped away at her stardom at all. While social media is a tool to be used strategically during a hiatus, completely vanishing can work wonders too. After all, absence does make the heart fonder, as TV actor Ram Kapoor would tell you. After a year-long disappearance for health reasons, Kapoor posted his latest pictures on social media a few weeks ago, and suddenly found himself trending on Twitter. And this is where one sees mindsets changing, and a generation that hails you for the personal choices you make.

The concept of a sabbatical is fairly new to us Indians, but if there is one universal truth that should bring comfort to anyone planning one, it is that your skills do not diminish while you are on a break. If you are good at what you do, you will always find work. Filmmakers and writers have been doing this for years but they are not really in the public eye as much as our actors. We are living in an age where the only opinions that count are those of the audience. Churning out four films a year does not make people superstars anymore. It is quality work that does.

Updated Date: Aug 05, 2019 12:34:24 IST