Sixteen Shades of the Bollywood Eve
(Continued from Part 1)
She is the one with a resilient spirit. She takes up an issue and brings it to a logical conclusion.
Nadira started this trend in Hunterwaali (The Lady with a Whip) way back in 1935. Several others followed. Hema Malini played a role with negative shades in Laal Patthar (Red Stone, 1971). Rekha extracted a revenge in Khoon Bhari Maang (The Blood-filled Hair Parting, 1988). In Insaaf Ka Tarazu (Scale of Justice, 1980), Zeenat Amaan took a serial rapist to court. Mirch Masala (Spices, 1987) depicted a fiery Smita Patil who resists the amorous advances of a village headman. Zakhmi Aurat (Wounded Woman, 1988), had Dimple Kapadia avenging her rape by means of castrating the perpetrators of the crime.
Damini (Lightning, 1993) raised the issues involved in bringing a rapist to justice. In Bandit Queen (1994), we had Seema Biswas portraying Phoolan Devi, a real life character who avenges her humiliation on her own terms. Corporate (2006) had a business executive using her charms to steal a competitor’s marketing plan from his laptop. In No One Killed Jessica, (2011), Rani Mukherjee worked with a missionary zeal and secured justice for a bereaved family. A supposedly pregnant Vidya Balan avenged the death of her husband in a terrorist attack in Kahaani (Story, 2012).
The delicately nurtured are invariably shown to suffer silently, a virtue which was much celebrated in the past. However, with social changes, women have assumed a more assertive role.
Leela Naidu suffered due to neglect at the hands of her professionally committed doctor husband in Anuradha (1960). Tapasya (Penance, 1976) had a woman sacrificing her own interests so as to take care of her family. Jaya Bachhan silently tolerated a difference of opinion with her husband in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (Happiness at times, Sadness at times, 2001). Earlier, in Abhimaan (Pride, 1973), she had suffered because of the superior quality of her singing as compared to that of her celebrity singer husband who developed an inferiority complex.
These are archetypal kinds, for whom the marriage is sacrosanct, the only deliverance being death.
No movie could be complete without her. There are finer shades in their portrayal as well.
The Sacrificing and Crying Ma
The mother of all mothers was Nirupa Roy who acted in over 400 films and played a mother in most of them. Deewar (Wall, 1975) and Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) are two movies which readily spring to one’s mind. She cried when she lost her children, when she found them, when she either got separated or rejoined them, when she turned blind and when she regained her vision.
In Leela Chitnis, we had the aboriginal kind mother who was the eternally sacrificing type. Whether it was Hum Dono (Both of Us, 1961), Guide (1965) or Waqt (Time, 1965), she played the role of a devoted and suffering mother to the hilt.
The Dominating Ma
Lalita Pawar has left a deep impression on our minds, playing the role of a dominating mother and mother-in-law who is adept at creating trouble for her daughter-in-law. She embodied the nasty woman who terrorized her family and the audience.
The Revengeful Mother
The wronged mother, the one who suffered at the hands of the villain and patiently waited for her sons to grow up and then beat up the bad guys. In Karan Arjun (1995), we had Rakhee playing this kind of a mother.
The Doting Ma
Here is the sweet and indulgent mother who doubles up as a friend. Rakhi in Kabhie Kabhie (At times, 1976) played such a mother to Rishi Kapur. Reema Lagoo in Maine Pyar Kiya (I Fell in Love, 1989), Hum Aapke Hain Kaun….! (Who Am I to You…!, 1994) and Hum Saath Saath Hain, (We Stand United, 1999), Farida Jalal in Dilwaale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (The Bravehearts will Take Away the Bride, 1995), Dil To Paagal Hai (The Heart is Crazy, 1997) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (I Feel Something, 1998) and Kirron Kher in Devdas (2002) and Dostana (Friendship, 2008) played similar mothers. And yes, in Hum Tum (You and I, 2004) we had both Rati Agnihotri and Kirron Kher playing a friend, philosopher and Ma to Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee. Helen had a simiar role in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (I Have Already Given My Heart, Darling, 1999).
The Manipulative One
We had Aruna Irani portraying a manipulative mother in Beta (Son, 1992). In Hum Saath Saath Hain (We Stand United, 1999), Reema Lagoo mistreated her adopted son under the influence of malicious advice from her friends, only to repent later.
The Modern Ma
We get to see fashionable mothers as well. Aaja Nachle (Come, Let’s Dance, 2007) had Madhuri Dixit playing a single mother guiding her teenage daughter through the by-lanes of a small town in India while attempting to revive a theater. Vicky Donor (2012) had Dolly Ahluwalia, hero’s mother, bonding well with her mother-in-law while sharing a peg or two. Forget self-pity; in English Vinglish (2012), we had Sridevi learning the English language, eventually winning the respect of her derisive family.
The Revolutionary Ma
In Shaheed (Martyr, 1965), we had Kamini Kaushal playing the role of revolutionary Bhagat Singh’s courageous mother. We also got to see a homely mother turning into a revolutionary, like Jaya Bachhan in Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa (The Mother of 1084, 1998).
The Stiff Upper Lip Ma
She is a stickler for principles and invariably assumes a high moral ground when dealing with an errant child. In Mother India (1957), we had Nargis killing her own son because he misbehaves with a girl from the village. Durga Khote essayed the role of Jodha Bai in Mughal-e-Azam, (The Emperor of the Mughals, 1960) torn between the loyalty to her husband, Prithviraj Kapur, and the love for her son, Dilip Kumar.
In Julie (1975), Nadira softened up with her daughter only in the climax scene. Dina Pathak in Khubsoorat (Beautiful, 1980) played a disciplinarian who exercises strict control over all her family members in all spheres of their lives. In Khamoshi-the Musical (Silence, 1996) and Vivah (Marriage, 2006), we had Seema Biswas playing a mother who does not approve of the goings-on.
We had Reema Lagoo in Vaastav (Reality, 1999) who shot her own son, Sanjay Dutt, dead. Dimple Kapadia in Luck by Chance (2009) disapproved of her daughter’s relationship with a struggling hero. At one stage, she even shares with her daughter the kind of casting couch harassment she herself faced at the beginning of her career in Bollywood.
The Mumbling Ma
Here is the kind who ends up embarrassing her children. She is a simpleton with a heart of gold and a childlike simplicity. She lacks the social grace and manners, thereby becoming an object of light-hearted ridicule. Pearl Padamsee portrayed such characters with great finesse in movies like Khatta Meetha (Sweet and Sour, 1978) and Baaton Baaton Mein (Just Like That, 1979).
The Ma-like Women
Lalita Pawar played the role of a caring motherly figure in Shri 420 (1955), Anari (Simpleton, 1959) and Anand (1971). Meena Kumari played a central role in Mere Apne (My Own, 1971), exhorting the young ones to give up violence.
In several movies, we find strong and independent women who live life on their own terms. They walk into the sunset, head held high.
In Anupama, Sharmila Tagore broke the emotional barrier of paternal authority and scorn to join up with Dharmendra, the love of her life. Guide had the heroine walking out on her husband to pursue her dancing career. In Aandhi (Storm, 1975), Suchitra Sen pursued her ambitions in the realm of politics at the cost of separating from her family.
In Arth (Meaning, 1982), Shabana Azmi refused to take her husband back while also spurning the offer of companionship from Raj Kiran. In Videsh (Heaven on Earth, 1998), a fiesty Preity Zinta walks out of an abusive matrimonial relationship. Astitva (Existence, 2000) had Tabu confronting her husband despite the social stigma of adultery.
In Zubeidaa (2001), Karishma Kapoor stood up against her family and carved a new life for herself, even leaving behind a child from a failed marriage. Filhaal (Momentary, 2001) was based on the theme of surrogate motherhood. Sushmita Sen went against the wishes of her fiancee and offers timely help to Tabu who had had a miscarriage.
Lakshya (Goal, 2004) depicted a heroine who walks away first from a relationship because the hero is clueless about his career goals, she also decides to break an alliance to pursue a career of her choice. Chak De! India (Go India!, 2007) had a similar character who ends a relationship so as to be able to focus on her choice of playing hockey.
In Paheli (Riddle, 2005), Rani Mukherji opted to live with a caring and loving ghost, knowing fully well that he is just a look alike and not her real husband who is away on a professional errand. In Dor (String, 2006), a widowed Ayesha Takia chose to run away and face an uncertain future rather than facing illegitimate pressure at her in-laws’ place.
Provoked (2006) depicted a harassed Aishwarya Rai burning her husband alive. The judiciary eventually allows her to walk away free. In Fanaa (Annihilated, 2006), Kajol put her patriotic feelings uppermost and killed Aamir Khan who played a terrorist.
Priyanka Chopra was shown having carved a niche for herself in a challenging industry in Fashion (2008). In The Dirty Picture (2011), Vidya Balan demonstrated how sleaze could be made fashionable and marketed in the world of cinema.
Whether it is memory loss or disability, heroines have managed to keep our tear glands in an active mode. Some have evoked pity whereas some have given us hope and the courage to face adversity. Many have protected men who suffer from some ailment.
Nutan took care of an ailing husband in Khandan (Family Tribe, 1965). In Khilona (Toy, 1970), it was Mumtaz’s turn to do so. The role of a nurse essayed by Waheeda Rehman in Khamoshi (Silence, 1969) would remain etched in our minds for a long time to come. Eeshwar (God, 1989) had Vijayshanti taking care of a mentally challenged Anil Kapur.
Sridevi was simply brilliant in Sadma (Trauma, 1983). Maushumi Chatterji played the role of a blind woman in Anurag (Affection, 1972), as did Madhuri Dixit in Sangeet (Music, 1992).
Rani Mukherjee portrayed the role of a deaf and blind girl in Black (2005) with much aplomb. Likewise, we had a blind Deepika Padukone in Lafangey Parindey (Cheeky Birds, 2010), trying to fulfill her skating ambitions. Priyanka Chopra excelled in her portrayal of a woman suffering from autism in Barfi (2012).
Kajol was not daunted by cancer in We Are Family (2010), adopted from Stepmom. Vidya Balan was courageous in the face of progeria in Pa (2009). Tisca Chopra took her own time in coming to terms with dyslexia in Taare Zameen Par (Like Stars on Earth, 2007).
The social stigma attached to widowhood and the issue of a widow’s remarriage has been tackled in quite a few Bollywood movies. Most of the roles evoke sympathy whereas some turn amorous.
In Bahu Beti (Daughter-in-law, Daughter, 1965), it was the father-in-law who organized the remarriage of his widowed daughter-in-law. A well made movie in this genre was Prem Rog (Love Malady, 1982), where Rishi Kapur and Padmini Kolhapure got united after the latter gets widowed. Likewise, in Baabul (Girl’s Father, 2006), Amitabh Bachhan, playing a doting father-in-law, got Rani Mukherjee remarried to her former lover.
All these roles reinforce the overt dependence of a woman on a man in her life. All these movies depict the men taking decisions over the fate of women. However, viewed against the backdrop of the social norms prevalent in India, the importance of a widow being shown to getting remarried itself deserves to be appreciated.
In Choker Bali (Sand in the Eye, 2003), we found Aishwarya Rai unleashing her charms on the males she comes in contact with. A moving narrative of the widows’ plight appeared in Water (2005).
Comely heroines do spring a surprise when they turn out to be villains in some of the movies. Nanda in Ittefaq (Chance, 1969), Kajol in Gupt (Secret, 1997), Preity Zinta in Armaan (Desire, 2003), Aishwarya Rai in Khakee (Brown Uniform, 2004) and Pink Panther 2 (2009) and Katrina Kaif in Race (2008) are some examples which come to mind.
Rekha played the role of a don in Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (Player of Players, 1996). Shabana Azmi played an underworld don’s role in Godmother (1999). Neha Dhupia portrayed the role of a gangster in Phans Gaye Re Obama (We are Stuck, Obama, 2010). Amrita Singh played a negative role in Aurangzeb (2013). In Ram Leela (2013), Supriya Pathak sprang a surprise in a similar role.
From Nagin (Female Snake, 1954) of earlier days to Hisss (2010) of recent times, several movies have captured the role of a vengeful female snake assuming a human form. Shabana Azmi surprised us with a weird role in Makdee (Spider, 2002). Konkona Sen played a witch in Ek Thi Daayan (Once There was a Witch, 2013).
- · The Seductress, The Adultress
In few movies, women have been shown to have extra-marital relations. In some, they come out as ambitious seductresses.
Parveen Babi in Deewar (Wall, 1975), Rakhee in Parama (The Ultimate Woman, 1984), Rekha in Aastha (Belief, 1997) and Silsila (Continuity, 1981), Tabu in Maqbool (Accepted, 2003), Urmila Matondkar in Pyar Tune Kya Kiya (Consequences of Your Love, 2001) and Bipasha Basu in Jism (Body, 2003) are some of the portrayals which fall in this category.
Shubha Khote followed by Aruna Irani played such roles with much aplomb opposite Mehmood and other comedians. Manorama, Farida Jalal and Tabassum kept this tradition alive, till the omnipotent heroine herself donned the mantle of keeping the audience in good humor. With ready wit and renewed self-confidence, a middle aged Farah Khan charmed us admirably well in Shirin Farhaad Ki Toh Nikal Padi (How Shirin and Farhad Had Trouble, 2012).
Women of course appear as helpful sisters as well. This aspect has already been covered in an earlier post.
Objectifying men, for a change!
In the Tamil language fantasy Irandaam Ulagam (Second World, 2013), it is the heroine who walks up to him to tell him she wants to marry him. For a change, it is the man who ends up being objectified, with comments being passed on his eyes, lips and thighs.
In Singh Saab the Great (2013), women dominate not only with wits but also with muscle power.
All About Money, Honey!
To set the cash registers tingling, our dream merchants have a standard recipe – shock and awe. Glorification of stalking, objectification of women, endorsement of lewd behavior and sexual harassment continue to be part of the box-office winning formula. With each passing year, the envelope only gets pushed more and more. The probability of commercial success of a movie is believed to be directly proportional to the skin exposure and the bold content, rather than to a strong script or a realistic characterization. Increasing number of explicit scenes go on to prove that it is all about money, honey!
In a scenario where art takes a back seat and the concern to draw customers into theater seats reigns supreme, there is limited scope for flexibility in plots; moviegoers largely want their expectations and prejudices reinforced.
At the same time, innovation is the only key to sustained engagement, so newer and bolder themes ahead of their times always keep coming up. Movies like Mera Naam Joker (My Name is Joker, 1970), Rihaee (Release, 1988), Lamhe (Moments, 1991), Fire (1996) and Nishabd (Without Words, 2007) came when the audience was not really ready for them. Some of these achieved a cult status after many years.
The Entertainer’s Role
In a recent interview, Aamir khan aptly summed it up by pointing out that we have entertainers who use cheap jokes and lewd comments to appeal to our baser instincts. Then there are those who create a movie lovingly, rich in poetry, music and visuals, thereby appealing to our finer sensibilities.
But they have a much larger role to play in society, by being graceful in presentation, by instilling higher values in the younger generation and by enriching the moral fabric of our society.
Bollywood can play a very important role indeed in making women safer in our public spaces. Movies from such directors as Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Gulzar, Basu Chatterjee and Sooraj Barjatya have repeatedly proven that a decent depiction of women does not mean absence of commercial success.
Some of the women directors who have wielded the megaphone have also come up with sensitive portrayals of women. Aparna Sen, Deepa Mehta, Kalpana Lajmi, Zoya Akhtar and Gauri Shinde have given us remarkable movies which were not only artistically rich but also commercially successful.
As a mature industry which is now a century old, it is unfortunate that there are very few women-centric movies Bollywood can boast of. Old values continue to get perpetuated, reinforcing a patriarchal mindset in the society.
Our dream merchants would do well to introspect on this account and start regaling us with movies which transform the society’s attitudes towards women. This would make it easier for a woman to enjoy social freedom, respect and dignity she truly deserves.
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