By Shatabdi Chakrabarti
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Videographer / Director: Shams Qari
Producer: Shatabdi Chakrabarti, Ruby Coote
Editor: Alberto Falcone
Sunder Ramu began his campaign after becoming increasingly concerned about the insensitivity of Indian society towards women and their safety.
And so, deciding to open a dialogue for awareness and equal rights by meeting and talking to women, he began his mission to go on 365 dates, which has earned him the title of India’s Dating King.
Sunder, who juggles his acting with being a photographer and footballer, kicked off his journey in 2015.
He explained: “I was getting a little depressed looking at all the things going wrong. And there are so many issues. Things are reaching such a state that even Superman can’t fix it all.
"The way people treat each other, the way animals are being treated, so many things need fixing. So when I was making my New Year’s resolutions in 2015, I decided it was time for me to do something to at least start some kind of a change. No matter how small, but it would be a start, since I strongly believe that most of the issues we are facing today are connected somehow.
"You start with one and then move on to the next. If you start itself by trying to work on all of them, nothing will get done.”
Sunder decided to pick up a cause and, with the memories of one of India's most brutal rape cases still fresh, he started thinking about women’s safety and gender sensitisation as a cause.
He said: “The Nirbhaya case had happened and so many cases of violence towards women were being reported. I thought, If people don’t care about other people, they are not going to give a damn about other things.
"If you can’t be respectful and caring towards your own kind, you won’t even think about the melting ice caps or the disappearing Amazons. So I decided to pick up this social issue and try and see how we can fix it.
And also try and let people know that fixing social problems doesn’t need to be time consuming, financially straining or boring."
And so the initiative to go on 365 meal dates began. But Sunder is keen to dispel the idea that he is some kind of Lothario.
He explained: “It’s not 365 dates. It’s actually 365 meal dates. But it’s been now looked upon as dates, which is fine by me because I want people to break down the taboo of dating.
"The idea was to go out and try and see all the inequalities towards women. And try and see how we can fix at least a few."
“We look at dating as a Western concept and I want to break the taboo surrounding this term. Men should understand and respect a woman’s decision. If a woman declines your offer, you should take it in your stride and not think that she is attacking your ego or how dare she refuse.
"She has her rights and can make her own choices. But it’s more than that. It is not like all Indian men are rapists and not like all women need saving. It’s not man versus women. It’s people against these issues of violence and safety and inequality."
Since January 2015, Sunder has gone on 300 dates with different women - some friends, some family and some strangers. He now wants to finish the remaining 65 dates outside of the country to bring more awareness and to address the issue from a global perspective.
Sunder has had dates with the woman who cleans the streets in his locality, women he knows already and even his own 105-year-old grandmother. And he insists that the time shared over those meals has made the existing relationships only stronger.
Sunder lets the woman decide the time and place for the meeting. He lets her pay and then, at the end of the month, donates a matching amount to a charity. By choosing the place and the kind of ‘date’ the women feel a sense of security.
He explained: “It’s completely up to them what they want to do. Some have cooked a beautiful meal for me, some have shared a watermelon on the street side with me while some have planned it for months!
"When I went to meet my grandmother, she wanted to go on a drive. That was the first time she had stepped out of the house after my grand father had passed, 22 years ago. With these kinds of experiences you feel like you get to know a person all over again just by spending some one on one, quality time with them.”
And Sunder has been delighted and encouraged by the attention his campaign has attracted.
He said: “The number of people that I have met, the conversations I have had and the insights I have got from all these women, I now know for a fact that we have a voice.
"We still have a long way to go, but it has begun. I never expected it to go this viral or get this much attention. It was mainly to try and find answers and see what we can do. And personally it has been a fabulous journey. Everybody wants to help. Everybody wants to make things better."
But despite the success of his venture, Sunder still doesn’t consider himself an expert in dating.
He said: “Trust me, I am not a Casanova. I do not have pointers to give for getting dates. All we should do is respect and care for the other person.”