She made her debut in cinema as a child artist in Hindi films before she became a number one heroine in Tamil cinema ruling the 1990s. In fact, Khushbu Sundar became so popular in south cinema that fans even built her a temple in Tamil Nadu. The actor moved into the political arena in 2010 when she joined the DMK and later the Congress in 2014. The Congress national spokesperson is someone who has always stood up for women’s rights and doesn’t mince her words when it comes to politics either. Here are excerpts from the interview with The Daily Guardian:
Q: In Chennai, there’s a lot of anger against the government as they haven’t been able to contain the spread of coronavirus.
A: To be honest, if there was a complete failure on the part of the government, we’d have seen a huge spike across Tamil Nadu and not only just Chennai. They’re able to sustain the spread of Covid-19 in other districts and this gives a lot to think about. When I step out today, I see people having a lethargic attitude, not wearing masks and not maintaining social distancing. So, tell me, how much can the government do if people aren’t aware? Now, there’s a stigma and fear of death attached to being Covid-19 positive so they don’t want to get tested or quarantined. People need to look at the positive side — the rate of recovery here is 65% and death about 1%.
Q: There has been extensive criticism to the Centre’s handling of Covid-19 and the migrant issue. In fact, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has offered 1,000 buses in UP to send migrants home. But the BJP accused Rahul Gandhi of playing “politics with misery” and not helping migrants in states they were in power.
A: This is not the time to play politics. It’s there for the world to see how the Central government has failed completely in working on the basics of implementing the lockdown. This was about millions of migrant workers who needed to get back home — with no transport, how will they get back home? When Rahul Gandhi spoke about the seriousness of coronavirus in early February, he was told that he must not talk about it because it was not a national threat. But here we are, sitting at seventh position in the world in terms of highest number of Covid-19 patients. If we had taken it more seriously back then and planned it better with regard to the migrant workers, the businesses, the poors, etc, we wouldn’t be in this situation. Parliament continued till 23 March because they wanted to bring down the government in Madhya Pradesh. When the WHO said this would be a pandemic and when Tablighi Jamaat happened, they should have shut it down. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was trying to send buses and the UP CM tried to stop this. And the blame game started. Even an actor like Sonu Sood could send so many migrants back home in a week’s time! It took the Central government more than 70 days and yet they have not got it right. The Shramik special trains have started running but there are no facilities, water or food; more than 80 people have died and it’s so painful.
Q: The IANS-C Voter State of the Nation 2020 Survey shows that Rahul Gandhi’s national approval rating is lower than the CMs in Congress-ruled or alliance-led states.
A: People should stop being obsessed with Rahul Gandhi; he is just an MP from Wayanad now. I don’t understand why these surveys, the media or the BJP are obsessed with Rahul Gandhi. You don’t want to give him chance, yet you continue to say he is not of any hope. Let him live his life and you live your life. The minute you keep talking about him, plant trolls and memes and keep defaming him, shows very well — irrespective of what the surveys say — how obsessed people are with Rahul Gandhi. We should be concentrating on Moody’s India’s credit rating which has been downgraded in the six years of BJP rule.
Q: With the 2021 elections approaching in Tamil Nadu, is the Congress alliance with the DMK still going strong? How prepared is the Congress for this tough fight with the AIADMK?
A: I wouldn’t be able to answer that. I am a national spokesperson, so I leave it to the senior leaders and the TNCC president to speak about this. Now, the elections are not about J. Jayalalithaa but an individual called Edappadi Palaniswami and how well he has done as the CM. We will know only at the time of elections since we don’t have the two stalwarts, Amma Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK and Dr Kalaignar of the DMK. It’s going to a different election altogether in Tamil Nadu. For the first time, we are going to see an election where both parties have two new leaders.
Q: Interestingly, two of your colleagues and friends from the film industry, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, are now both in the political sphere. If Rajinikanth, who doesn’t want to be Chief Minister, steps into politics, how do you think it’ll impact the political scenario in Tamil Nadu?
A: Since we don’t have the two stalwarts, Amma Jayalalithaa and Dr Kalaignar, there is definitely a vacuum. People can also look for the third front but we’re not sure we can form a triangle. We still don’t know what Rajinikanth’s ideas are for the state and the people, while Kamal Haasan has done well for himself in the last elections. We’ll have to wait and watch, but the elections will be different. I hope Rajinikanth starts his party early because I want people from the film industry to come into politics — it shouldn’t end with Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan — but other youngsters should come and make a difference. If you have backing of the people and they trust you, then whoever is interested in politics should take the plunge. I must also say that Rajinikanth shouldn’t be the kingmaker but he also has to be the king. Only then people are going to vote for him.
Q: With regard to women’s issues and rights, you have been one of the strongest and most powerful voices. How important is it for women to stand up for themselves? What advice do you give your daughters?
A: The only advice I give my daughters is stand up for what you feel is right. Only when you believe in yourself, you can speak with honesty, conviction and confidence. You cannot be a parrot repeating what someone else says. It pains me to see in the 21st century that despite women have moved ahead, we’re still talking about women breaking the glass ceiling. We have moved way beyond that! We have to get rid of the hierarchy and patriarchal attitudes where women need permission from a man to decide what she wants to do with her life — it’s her life and she should decide what she wants to do.
Q: More young girls are now prone to sexual harassment like the “Bois Locker Room” scandal recently. Where do you think we are going wrong as a society?
A: I’d like to answer this as a mother. Most parents don’t want their kids to trouble them so they hand over their mobiles and iPads to them. You don’t know what is going to pop up from where on these gadgets. You are so focussed on your own life that you don’t know what these kids are watching or doing. Kids don’t feel secure in their family environment; they see how women are treated in their family. Women are subjected to verbal, physical, sexual or mental abuse, and they see women keeping quiet and taking it, so they think it’s part and parcel of marital life. We might think small kids don’t understand this, but today’s kids understand matters far more than what we were in our childhood. We parents have to trust our children but keep an eye on what kind of friends they have, where they’re going, what they’re watching, etc. Any hint of change in behaviour or language, we need to probe into it and speak to them. That’s where we generally go wrong.
Q: Last year, you made a statement at an event, saying men don’t know what women want.
A: True, very true (laughs). None knows what a woman wants. There’s a mystery to a woman. My husband knows me well for the last 25 years but there’s a mystery to me which I like to keep to myself. Men definitely don’t know what women want — only we know what we want. Unless we keep some part of ourselves a mystery, then men will stop trying to read us and lose interest in women.
Q: Lastly, how do you manage to successfully handle your numerous roles as a wife, mom, politician, actor and producer?
A: Very simple formula — if there is a will, there is a way (smiles).