Sapna Bhavnani | The Spool

Setting the scene

Sapna asked us to meet her on Carter Road in Bandra. We did the interview in her beloved Mahindra Thar.

You seem to be on this path of lifelong self-discovery…

Oh wow

… so how far along do you think you’ve come?

Fuck! I’ve come nowhere close to where I wanna be. I don’t know actually, in India I think the struggle is real.

I feel everyday I have to keep myself consciously angry. I do that on purpose. If I am not angry then I just get too relaxed and when I get too relaxed, nothing is gonna get done.

I don’t think I can ever move out of this city, because this city keeps me angry and that’s exactly where I wanna be. So I’m here, ready. And today is a great day because today is Nirbhaya’s judgment so the anger is very evident. Sorry you’ve caught me on a day where I’ve been on edge since I woke up in the morning. Because it’s been 5 fucking years, this is fast track and we still really have no idea what’s really gonna happen.

I also see a lot of happiness in yourself, I mean even though you are talking to me about the struggle but I feel you embrace so many things with so much openness

I think it’s very true.

I’ve come to a point in my life where forgiveness has played the biggest role.

I have come to a really beautiful space in my life where I have realized that this anger that I keep is for change. It doesn’t effect where I am in my life. Forgiveness, most important part is where I am and how I live my personal everyday life.

You have always been a mystery to a lot of people but some now say they understand you; they get a bit more of you.

I don’t know. If they are saying that, maybe there must be some truth to it.

But what I see is that this life long struggle that I have had since I was thirteen of being able to express myself the way I want to, without judgment, the judgment hasn’t gone away.

But there was never any fear of the judgment either. And I see that people now have come to a point where you see loads of men and women expressing themselves without the fear of judgment, so I feel maybe in that way they understand where I was coming from all these years. I see that a lot and I think that definitely is progress. The inside of me is I think so intense that even I don’t understand myself, so I don’t know. My counselor, I saw a counselor for the first time few days ago and the first thing I told her I was, ‘listen, I don’t like to talk so can you counsel me without me talking?’ Because as humans we are constantly judging people, whether it’s good or bad, we have this filing system. Whatever I am telling you right now you are filing – oh good – bad – good – bad – oh swear word – okay she’s bad – okay she’s good, that’s what happens. So I told the same thing to my counselor, I’m like, ‘listen you’re a counselor but you’re still judging me because you are a human’, so she started laughing and we have managed to come up with a way of counseling without speaking. Yea it’s very fascinating it’s happening. So this is what I feel,

I feel like this judgment that is all around us, a lot of us cave and a lot of us don’t care but even when you say you don’t care, you do care.

Do you think you sometimes try and outwit people like I am going to do something grander with gestures, experiments, I am going to baffle you even more and you can judge me as much as you like, you can think what you like.

You know maybe ten years ago I would say I would do that. I think that as time passes and I am becoming more of a cat and I am understanding the beauty of being a cat.

I also realize that because I am a cat, I cannot run in a rat race 

so why should I?

Being a cat, how?

I’ll give you a great example of cat and dog. I’ve realized that when a dog takes a shit they do this shit dance, right? They are constantly calling the whole world because they are fucking excited to take a dump, like look mom I took a dump I am so excited. But a cat takes a dump, covers it up, moves on. Nobody needs to know. And this is the biggest lesson I have learned in life,

‘cover your shit, move on’ 

There’s no need to throw a party around your shit folks, move on.

You started Mad O Wot about 15 years ago, what have the last 15 years been like for you?

I didn’t even know it’s been that long. If there was one word that could describe maybe me, I don’t know or my 15 years or Mad O Wot, I think it’s ‘illustrated’. Everything that I do it has to be illustrated and you can see it is very evident. One of my dear ex ex ex ex ex ex ex boyfriend had come up with this lovely book that he had made for me and it was called illustrated and though that boyfriend didn’t last, but that word really stuck, you know. So yea I see that word everywhere I go, everything in life. Even with hair, it’s illustrated right, everything I do is that word.

Tell me more about illustrated?

I feel there are many stories and many instances in life that, if you are like me whose memory is shit, you forget. I forget everything, like you know things that happened yesterday and I think that’s a really good thing and a bad thing. Especially people who come to my salon think that I know them because I cut their hair but I don’t remember shit. People I meet on the street and they say my name and I automatically think I know them because I don’t realize I was on that shit show on television (Big Boss) and because of that now everybody knows my name. So these illustrations somehow bring me back in check, I am not just talking about my ink, I am talking about my writing; I’m talking about my hair. Everytime I see a photo of my hair because it changes so often, it instantly brings me back to that moment. These are things that are very important to me. In my mind I am also constantly just drawing images to forget them tomorrow but in the moment it’s constantly happening. It’s a very big thing for me, my illustrations. Even in my book it’s going to have a big chapter on it.

So do you also use them as sort of milestones, visual points of where you are?

Yea yea, it’s like when you are making your matrix, eventually when that will happen and you are going to get trapped in it, I have left little hints. Like there was a point in my life when I was much younger and in Chicago and I was experimenting a lot with drugs and there were these wonderful little capsules I used to make, happy capsules with candy – I used to love lollipops obviously, every drug addict loves lollipops and Skittles – and I used to have all these candies and art and you know cats that I used to sketch and little happy notes I used to write for people and put them in the capsule. All of Chicago is full of my time capsules. This year actually I am going back to Chicago because I am writing my book and I think it’s important for me to be there and maybe uncover one of my own time capsules,  ‘cause that would be amazing. I leave behind these things that one day I will form my own matrix to strangle myself in.

So you started Mad O Wot, you turned it into this huge brand, it was different from other salons back then. Was it really a big hustle back then?

Actually it wasn’t a hustle at all because people were scared of me, I think. People just looked at me and nobody wanted to talk back. So if I said this is it, ok – they’d accept it. So it was really easy you know, because of the way I am. And of course, the press, any freak that they see they have to photograph and put them up in the papers. And I was like the freak that was everywhere and because of that I became really popular. Not because of my skill but because of the freak that I looked like. So be it.

What makes you so courageous?

Shit. I don’t know. My counselor asked me the same fucking question. I don’t think I am courageous. I think it’s your perception of me.

I think that sometime when people build you up to become a certain person, somewhere you think, oh fuck now I have to live up to this shit. 

So even if I am not courageous, maybe I’m not showing you I am not courageous because that’s what happens right? Because if you look at every famous person, do you really think that they are that fucking happy? No, but that’s the face they want to show you right? Because they don’t want to show you the kind of shit that happens behind closed doors. So everyone tries to be famous, whatever that is, but I think for me, since I have been put on this pedestal of role model I am a bit tired of it, because I am not a role model and I want to break this shit. That’s why even for my book my biggest thing is I want to write my book drunk. I am tired of being this good shit. You know fuck that shit. Too good is also not good. I am thinking I’m going to New York City, I wanna drink everyday. I wanna write my book drunk, I wanna see some naked chicks, I wanna see some naked men, I wanna experience life, I wanna experience shit that I haven’t in a long time in this country atleast. The minute you talk about, oh I’d like to see some titties, they’re like what? I wanna be in a country where I could say the word titties and it’s fuckin’ okay. I wanna go to a bar and just see it and it’s done with and so yea. I am telling you this, I don’t know if I am courageous. I don’t know this about myself. Everyday I find out new things about myself. But I do know one thing, that I don’t give a fuck.

Why do you not give a fuck?

It’s just me, it’s very inherent in me. I think at a young age, when I was 13 there was so much judgment coming at me that something in me just said, ‘hey, I don’t really care’. I think maybe that was the most liberating day of my life. Since then, I don’t care what you think of me. That’s why in this interview, I don’t care if you’re gonna find out I did drugs or I am gonna drink, or whatever, I don’t care. It’s the truth. And the truth is very fucking liberating. When you always say the truth there is nothing anyone can dig up on you right? So I have no fear. What are you going to come up on me that I haven’t told you already?

I want to know what are the things you care the most about?

I think at the end of the day I am a very emotional person. I don’t really show it too much but I am very emotional. I think that I care a lot about humanity as a race, I care a lot about where we are going, I care a lot about the generations that are coming up, that might not even get to enjoy a quarter of what I have been blessed with. And this is why maybe I don’t think I can ever settle down with one person, because I just feel like I have so much love to give and I have so much that I can do, that the minute I just settle with one person once again I am just gonna get comfortable. So I constantly try not to be comfortable in life. This is why I have to keep that anger trigger ready at all times.

The minute I am getting comfortable I have to snap out of it. That’s the only way I think I could be of some use to humanity.

A lot of people consider you really brave bold free in a lot of ways, and people want to be you. They look up to you and they want to be like that. But they do nothing about it, what do you think about that or have to say to them?

Hey no judgments, to be honest. Everyone has their own story, everyone has their own life. Everyone wakes up with things they fucking have to do. So if they are not doing something that they really wanna do, there must be circumstances that are stopping them. Just like if a woman is beat up by her husband but she’s not walking out, there’s no judgment there either. No one likes to get beat up do they, but why is she taking it? Must be something, yea?

So I have full respect for people who are sometimes trapped in circumstances and they are trying to find their way out and I have nothing but hope for them and I think that they will and that takes time.

I mean it took me twenty years to even come to terms with my own story. Does that make me weak? Fuck no! I think that to even hold something you have to be strong in order to even hold it and still push on through right? People have aspirations and that’s why people look at other people sometimes because they are not role models enough for themselves. And I feel that there is a time for everyone where they are gonna break free. Sometimes that time can take lots of time and sometimes it just happens. Everyone’s journey is their own journey.

You don’t seem to be driven by money, so what is it that drives you?

Umm… absolutely nothing. I think just truth. This is my money, greed, … this is why I have never really become big in that way. I say that also because I could have had 100 chains of my brand all over the place, I could have sold myself to every brand there is to sell ‘cause there are loads of hair brands that I could be the role model for but I chose not to do that. Because they are all crap at the end of the day, they are going to make me say a bunch of shit in a product that I don’t really believe in. So if I don’t believe in it, I just don’t wanna sell it. It’s just as simple as that. The constant search to be honest to myself is what drives me. So when I wake up and look at myself in the mirror, I am fucking good.

What’s the documentary about and what prompted you to start this?

I’ve been working on this documentary now for 3 years, but I started shooting it one year ago. We in India are only thinking of Pakistan in one way because that’s what the government wants us to think. People in Pakistan are are doing the same. And there’s not one thing that’s putting both of us together. And that is my goal and that’s what I am doing. I am not gonna give up till this is finished. I also feel I grew up singing the national anthem and in some way you know thinking oh Punjab, Sind, Gujrat, Maratha. Because I am born Sindhi, whatever that means, I have no clue what that means. And then as you grow up, you’re like but ye saala Sind hai kidhar yaar, matlab hai hi nahi? And the minute you start telling people, oh I am form Sind which lies in the P word and all of a sudden now you are anti-national, now as the way things are going, it’s really sad. So this is my goal and this is my mission to bring you Sind. Also because I am telling the story in a very interesting way, which I will not tell you now, but I will tell you it’s illustrated. But I can give you a hint because I am not going to Sind, I am going to build a set of Sind in Bombay and that’s what I am going to do and I am going to show the government and I am going to show every Sindhi out there – no visa, please come. This is Sind. That’s my goal and that’s what I am going towards. Thoda time lag raha hai illustration mein, par hone wala hai.

Wow, it seems like a busy year

See this year has been a very big year for me because I am simply working on myself. I am going now to do theatre in Sydney, which I am very excited about, which is a play called Jatinga. This wonderful woman called Suzanne, she has been coming for years and going to Kamathipura and working with the sex workers there and it was her dream to kind of come up with a play that would kind of do some justice to them. So Jatinga is this place in Assam where these birds are rumoured to go to commit suicide. A lot of speculation is there that are these birds really coming to commit suicide or are the villagers doing this to attract tourism? It’s a great metaphor for Kamathipura and the girls of Kamathipura if you really go to see. I am playing a character that I have created myself. I am playing this 500 year old woman. I love it. Yea so with the play in Sydney and coming back to my documentary and coming back to this nasty book that I am going to be writing. It’s a nasty year, it’s jam-packed.

How do you manage so many things, Sapna?

Because  this is the act of a magician. If you want magic you have to become a magician. What does a magician do? They throw things up in the air and magically make it happen. That’s how you do it, magic.

And we asked Sapna to tell us how she met MS Dhoni, watch her response

Do you ever think, nahi bas ab nahi hoga?

Nahiiiinnn! Are you mad! That’s never going to happen in my life. There is never going to be a moment where I’ll be like chal yaar ab retire kar lete hai, ab ek healing center khol diya hai, baithke yahan araam ki zindagi bechte hai. No, this is why I have opened a healing center, I mean I have built it but I am not opening it yet because I am not ready. Wahan bhi billiyan hai, uska naam Purr Om hai.

I am so not ready to just leave Bombay and just go and settle down somewhere and say yea this is it. And that’s never going to be it for me anyways. I am never going to be satisfied with one this is it. Just like maybe that’s why I am never satisfied with one husband also, so many. Arre abhi toh khaali teen hua hai, many more to come.


If it was not Mad O Wot, what would it be?

It can’t be anything else. I am really sorry, some things cannot be anything else. But there was a really good name, but I didn’t go for that because well … that was Salon-e-walequm. But we didn’t do it because we are sensitive to other people’s religions. Not that salon-e-walequm has got anything to do with religion, it’s a greeting.

Favourite tattoo artist?

At the moment, Yogi at Leo Tattoos at Parsi colony

You wanted us to talk to you in your car, why?

But why not? Isn’t it better to sit here and have this conversation than sit in a random room? I do love my car. I think everything happens to me in motion, the best things in life. It’s either if I am walking or if I am in my car, riding my motorcycle, when I am doing that there is some awesome shit happening in my head. This car means a lot to me. My last car was called Mary Jane because every car I had was called Mary Jane so I thought this time I will make it in the context of the country I am in, so this time Begum ho gayi hai. Toh hum begum mein hai.

Is Big Boss scripted?

Big boss is not scripted at all. But they have these psychologists who are watching you 24×7 so they know, like acha Sapna gets ticked off at anything that is live, so you put it to the forefront and she will automatically explode like a bomb. So they will make sure that everything that you do, bring these qualities up so you will explode. There are like a million cameras and people watching you, every move that you make and then making sure how they can use that to kind of create a bombastic episode.

Wishlist of people you’d like to collaborate with on Mad o Wot productions?

I really would love to do a spoken word piece with Swara Bhaskar, I love her. I think that she’s an amazing woman, she is a krantikari like I am, I love krantikari women. I love women who just state their fucking mind like they should, because it’s our right. I do wanna collaborate a lot with poets, magicians, musicians, ‘cause I think we have the ability to spread the message of love and hope and that’s what it’s all about. At the moment, there is this amazing musician called Saif Samejo, he is in Sind and produces Lahooti Live sessions.

What would you like written on your tombstone?

Maybe, ‘Meow’, that’s my final fuck you. Or maybe it can just be ‘I’ve covered my shit and I’ve moved on.’