By Nazmin Akthar

2021 is the year where we have been encouraged to ‘choose to challenge’ (the theme of International Women’s Day) and promote ‘better relations between men and women’ (the theme of International Men’s Day). Despite the very important messages being shared, a gripe that is often expressed about awareness raising days is that any pledges shared tend to be limited to just the day and do not convert into concrete actions.

Perhaps one of the reasons is the perception that mountains need to be moved to achieve gender equality, when in fact even the simplest of steps can help make a difference. This is where role-modelling plays a critical role and why it is important in particular to highlight how men can contribute to bringing positive values within their immediate surroundings and to the world.

If we put the spotlight on the South Asian film and television industry, there is a clear need for immediate cultural shifts in attitudes and behaviours and not just in terms of the working environment. What can be a bigger example of this than an actor being accused of sexually abusing a young child and members of the fraternity and his fans rushing to defend his character without a seconds thought that they should wait for investigations to be completed?

Neil has had quite the interesting and varied career, and is certainly an inspiration to children and young adults.

One man who does appear to stand out amongst the crowd, albeit in the quietest possible way, is Indian television star Neil Bhatt. Neil has had quite the interesting and varied career, and is certainly an inspiration to children and young adults. From law to dance to acting to even a stint at shadow directing, Neil has highlighted the importance of working hard, remaining resolute on your path but also being open to seizing opportunities to develop yourself and diversify your experiences. Unlike others in the industry who may have achieved immediate fame, Neil’s growth has been slow and steady but meaningful. Whether we look at his dance and choreographic achievements, his television roles in which each character played by him has been different to the one prior, or his acting in the regional Gujarati film ‘Bhanwar’, he has always left a memorable impact on audiences.

However, it is the actions of the actor behind the character – or the individual that is the actor – that we hope all his fans will take a moment to learn from; particularly in the context of women and youth empowerment. More specifically, it is his support of others that deserves our attention. Once driving past a traffic accident on his way to work, Neil noticed that the person who had been hit was lying on the floor in a pool of blood and no one was helping. Sensing that time was critical, he reversed his car and took the man to hospital despite the fact that he was expected on set shortly and he was very much in the early stages of his career. Yet, in that moment, saving a life was more important. It is perhaps no surprise then that in the work environment too, his colleagues are regularly found to praise him for his support of them.

Notably, it is his working relationship with co-star Ayesha Singh that needs special mention. Despite the differences in their acting experiences (Neil having worked in the industry for a decade and Ayesha being a relative newcomer), this powerful pairing has taken Indian television by storm with their on-screen chemistry and synchronisation – and it is clear to them, their colleagues and audiences that this achievement is due to the healthy working relationship that both have with one another.

The duo work together, treat and respect each other as pure equals; just as it should be in every workplace for all men and women

It would be wrong to call Neil Ayesha’s mentor because there is no hierarchy in their working relationship. Ayesha is an example of a woman brimming with talent, who would have found success one way or another. Nevertheless, her spectacular development and rise in such a short period of time is indicative of just how important a positive support system is for gender equality. Ayesha would have smashed ceilings anyway because of her innate talents and beautiful personality but by finding a partner-in-crime in the form of Neil Bhatt, she was able to do so better and sooner - just like all women would be able to if barriers were removed. Likewise, Neil has equally benefitted from this partnership; the magic Neil has been able to create with Ayesha on screen has given him a level of popularity and success that we are sure Neil will agree he has not experienced before. The duo work together, treat and respect each other as pure equals; just as it should be in every workplace for all men and women. Their message behind their partnership is clear: Supporting others will not dampen your light. If anything, by working together in a collaborative manner will make you shine even more.

Neil has garnered many fans across the world, including the South Asian community in the UK. His role as ACP Virat Chavan in particular has become a favourite amongst South Asian women, perhaps because of the way the character Virat challenges gender stereotypes. However, we hope that his fans will take heed of Neil’s own words when he urged fellow men to be the ‘new man’; one that supports others and accepts weaknesses. The ‘new man’ is a male champion of women and youth empowerment but understands that being a champion is not about stretching your hand out from above to those below. Rather, it is about standing side by side. Guiding yes, protecting maybe, but never dictating and certainly never hindering someone else’s opportunities.

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