Choosing Off-track Careers and breaking Stereotypes: New Woman’s Ride of Self-discovery

Nothing is impossible in this world. Firm Determination, it is said, can move heaven and earth. Things appear far beyond one’s power, because one cannot set heart on any arduous project due to want of strong will.
-Yamamoto Tsunetomo

In recent years, there has been a noticeable shift in the number of women choosing to pursue off-track careers. Many groundbreaking women have been breaking stereotypes and following their inner voice, steering away from traditional career paths and blazing their own trails. This empowering trend is shaking up society’s expectations and encouraging more women to listen to their inner voices and embrace unconventional career choices.

For decades, women have faced societal pressure to conform to certain expectations. Society has often dictated that women should pursue careers in fields such as teaching, nursing, or administrative roles, reinforcing traditional gender roles. This limitation has perpetuated stereotypes and hindered women from exploring their true passions and potential in alternative professions.

Embarking on adventurous journeys or choosing off-track career options is an authentic approach to breaking stereotypes, listening to inner call and discovering ‘Self’. For example, when we think of a biker, an image comes to mind of a macho man like Hrithik Roshan, John Abraham or Salman Khan with a cool bike stealing the hearts of girls.

Contrarily, to reject such a stereotype, the Movie ‘Dhak Dhak’ stages such a story of four ordinary women who as bikers decide to reach Khardung La Pass in the Leh district of the Indian union Territory of Ladakh which is famous as the highest motorable pass and a favourite spot among bike riders and override social schema showcasing their passion and determination.

In the show, Fatima Sana Shaikh as Sky, a motorcycle reviewer and influencer, aims to break free from her scandalous social media image and shines as a strong-willed woman battling her inner demons and fighting chauvinism. She gathers all other three bikers to embark on a transformative journey that is inspirational in many ways to chase their own adventures and follow their hearts overcoming all hurdles though many called it an overdose of feminism.

In the role of Mahi, a loving and mischievous Punjabi grandmother, Ratna Pathak Shah seeks appreciation and recognition from her family and wants to prove her, does a commendable job. While Dia Mirza as Muslim woman Uzma, a housewife and mother of a teenage daughter and a resourceful mechanic with suppressed dreams feels unappreciated in her own home and makes many women her story as their own. Manjari’s mother forces her, who is a clumsy young girl from Mathura and an ardent devotee to Radha-Krishna, into an arranged marriage being over-protective for her and unfortunately she is not able to deny it.

‘Dhak Dhak’ takes the audience to crisscross a medley of sub-narratives woven into the main story, each a unique brushstroke that shades the struggle, agony and audacity of these lady bikers who have come from different backgrounds yet ready to shatter stereotypes, to raise voice against patriarchy and to speak for ‘Self’. It revolves around their experiences, misadventures, and the bond they form as they embark on a life-changing journey.

The prejudices are highlighted against female drivers and the lack of safety for women, however we progress, the issue of women safety is yet a big shark in the society driven by males who are not ready to change their mindset as it is favourable to them in many ways. Yet as exception, a truck driver when finds Manjari in problem, encourages her and offers the advice of becoming a good neighbor of herself.

Reel versus real life heroines if we take for example, Neharika Yadav, a dentist by profession, have raced at the JK Tyre Superbike Championships. On the other hand, the Author of ‘Road to the Mekong’, Piya Bahadur says- “It all starts from within, you have to decide your destiny and that comes with your inner confidence. There are multiple things to hold you back, it’s you who needs to evaluate and reprioritize yourself.”

Rightly advised by Bahadur to listen to one’s inner voice, since it is one of the most pivotal factors in women opting for off-track careers. Society often dictates that women should prioritize nurturing and caring roles over their ambitions. They lack the confidence to express what they desire and wish to do. Shilpa Shetty through her role as Sukhpreet in the movie ‘Sukhee’ exerted to deliver a message that this culture of self-sacrifice and conforming to societal norms has forced many women to suppress their own desires and aspirations.

However, empowered women have now realized the importance of following their inner voice and pursuing careers that align with their true passions. The decision to pursue an off-track career requires immense courage, determination, and resilience. Women who choose this path often face an uphill battle, encountering scepticism and doubters along the way. However, by breaking stereotypes and achieving success in areas traditionally dominated by men, these women become beacons of inspiration for future generations.

The impact of women embracing off-track careers reaches far beyond the individual. By challenging stereotypes, they are eroding societal limitations for all women. They are paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable society where opportunities are not dictated by gender but rather by talent and passion. To illustrate, Founder of ‘Biking Queen’, a Women’s Biking Club in Surat, Sarika Mehta entered the world of this due to someone making a nasty comment on women riding bikes and took it as a challenge to learn and make other women learn.

Rubbernecking female biker delineates prevailing sexism yet has not been able to stop women to ride bikes. Additionally, when women choose such off-track careers, they bring their unique perspectives and strengths to traditionally male-dominated industries fostering innovation and driving progress but males are not mentally ready to accept that and it takes time and more energy of women for establishment in such arenas.

However, in recent years, either it is reel life or real one, there has been a notable rise in women playing bold roles coming out of conventional shell, challenging these stereotypes and opting for off-track careers. We are witnessing a surge of women choosing careers in fields, which were earlier dominated by men such as spying, bike racing, wrestling and even as mafia leaders or it is about talking about their sexuality or desires.

Acclaimed Authors and hosts of podcast ‘Not Your Aunty’ Kiran Manral and Shunali Khullar Shroff become loud enough to shun the sexist remarks with their puns and punches picking up new and trending issues in their episodes. On the other hand, Seema Anand, a mythologist, sexual health influencer and author of ‘The Art of Seduction’ speaks boldly about doubts and taboos prevailing in the social amphitheater related to sexuality and sex. By making these bold choices, women are shattering societal boundaries and proving that talent, dedication, and ambition surpass gender norms.

Moreover, to instill audacity, feminist approach has been a trend in contemporary Indian Cinema, which accentuates and discovers those aspects that have hitherto been overlooked. ‘P.I. Meena’ and ‘Kaala Paani’ are also such web series that unsheathe the layers of patriarchal mindset with strong witty female lead characters and the intricate threads that make up the fabric of human struggle for survival and existence.

In ‘P.I. Meena’, a complex narrative and gripping mystery, Tanya Maniktala as a young female detective, exerts to fathom the unfathomable with her will and wit though goes through unfavourable course being a female detective. On the other hand, in ‘Kaala Paani’, a survival thriller Netflix series, Mona Singh, Arushi Sharma and Radhika Mehrotra as medical practitioners with their sharp intellect, strong will power and firm determination discard patriarchy to safeguard humanity from nature’s wrath.

Different shades of new women are portrayed through shows like ‘The Trial: Pyaar Kanoon Dhokha’, ‘The Night Manager’, ‘Saas Bahu aur Flamingo’ and ‘Scoop’ where Kajol acted as a lawyer and mother, Tilotama Shome played the role of RAW Officer, Dimple Kapadia as Savitri who runs a drug cartel and Karishma Tanna as journalist Jigna Vora where they utterly discarded patriarchal codes and led as powerful and stimulating women.

Likewise, the women who opt for off-track careers serve as role models for future generations of young girls who may have been hesitant to explore their ambitions fully. And no doubt, actresses in these shows have encouraged for the same drilling nerve. By observing successful women in various fields, young girls are encouraged to follow their passions without the fear of societal judgment.

Thus, the rise of women pursuing off-track careers is a powerful movement that breaks stereotypes and encourages women to listen to their inner voice. By deviating from traditional career paths, women are challenging societal expectations and empowering themselves and others who come after them. These women exemplify the importance of following one’s passion, regardless of gender or societal norms. Their accomplishments leave an indelible mark on society, creating a world where talent, ambition, and dedication replace gender biases in the professional realm.

Dr Shalini Yadav
Professor & Author