Year 2013: The changing face of Bollywood’s leading lady

2013 at the movies belonged to the ladies who wowed us with style,chutzpah and some fine acting.

New Delhi | Published: December 27, 2013 1:59 pm

Year 2013 at the movies belonged to the ladies who wowed us with style,chutzpah and some fine acting. They dazzled,they danced and trumped and boys.

Raja Sen looks back at the girls he loved.

I stumbled upon the most badass dialogue this year in a tiny indie film called Sulemaani Keeda. A character called Rohini — essentially radio jockey Rohini Ramnathan playing herself — looks derisively at the film’s hero passed out after a party.

She kicks at him a couple of times and suggests that the boy sleep it off on the living room floor. The hostess cautiously asks if he’s “safe,” and Ramnathan deadpans,“Dilli se hai par rape nahin karega”. In that one line — improvised by Rohini,one of the coolest women Bombay can hope to have on its side — she simultaneously acknowledges,skewers and subverts the cliché about Delhi and rapists,while putting the impotently anaesthetised boy in his place.

Chances are the boy,had he heard this jibe/endorsement,wouldn’t have minded. The average Hindi moviegoer might want to be like that Khan who hangs his Aviators behind his neck,but has more in common with the slack-jawed Sushant Singh Rajput of ‘Shuddh Desi Romance’,a man who — for all his practiced patter — knows when he’s licked,and prefers to take orders from his ladies. He’s cool enough to know that they’re cooler. In the film,Parineeti Chopra all but chews Rajput up,seeing through his offers of making tea,dismissing his charms,and even poking fun at his virility by devastatingly calling him bhaiyya.

The other girl in the film,Vaani Kapoor,is ditched at the altar,following which,during an awkward silence,the crowd looks at her,anticipating a breakdown. Instead,she breathes in the situation and wearily demands a cold drink. This is as monumental as it can get for a cinema reared on bangle-breaking biwis and self-pitying Savitris.

In the strikingly poetic Lootera,Sonakshi Sinha may have devolved into just such a self-pitying creature,but her character is sculpted at first with sassy ebullience,and later with restrained dignity. She demands that a rogue in Brando suspenders teach her to paint and,on discovering he doesn’t know how,begins teaching him instead. Much later,when he reappears in her life,she chooses him over reason and rage. Wronged she might have been,but her decisions remain her own.

This is lamentably rare,especially for Sinha,who regularly turns prop for some hero’s blockbuster buffoonery. The girl stemming that tide is Deepika Padukone. Over the year,Padukone’s confidence has skyrocketed so dramatically that her screen presence is now incendiary; she burns up celluloid while leading men stand alongside,getting singed. This year,she trumped Shah Rukh Khan,Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh,making the industry’s most charismatic stars (including her rumoured boyfriend) appear like they were around to hold her handbag while she dazzled.

As did Shilpa Shukla in BA Pass,a credible cougar casually popping a youngster’s cherry. A predator who loosens her pyjama cord with great intent,Shukla looks terrific in all the hats — older,immoral,opportunistic — good Hindi film heroines are traditionally warned to steer clear of. Her character is a foul,noir delight and she plays it with a chilled inscrutability,giving us a mere peek of her hand while keeping it close to her chest. In Ranjhanaa,heroine Sonam Kapoor,exhausted by the stalker hero ruining her life,plots to kill him. The idea is given to her by a female politician who knows which bread to butter,and her kind is magnificently typified by Shabana Azmi in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola. She does whatever it takes,from strategically getting her son married off to amusing a drunkard by licking on a lollipop. Another Bhardwaj production called Ek Thi Daayan sees Emraan Hashmi,our most testosteroney hero,bunged into the backseat as women take charge. Konkana Sen Sharma heads a well-cast coven as an enchantress taking men by the hand and leading them into nightmares. Long plaits will never be the same. Hurrah also for larger ladies,represented impressively by Vidya Balan in Ghanchakkar.

Playing a Vogueworshipping self-styled fashionista,Vidya Balan is loud,unashamedly technicolor and very much her own woman. The script kids about her weight,calls her names,and we must be thankful for how comfortable this brave A-list superstar is in her own skin. It’s a loony yet inspirationally cool character,albeit one who remains clueless about salting food.

Which brings us to that masterful ode to the midday meal. Nimrat Kaur is superb in The Lunchbox as a housewife on a tiffin-themed hunt for validation,but the woman of the year is the one we don’t see and yet recognise: Bharti Achrekar,as the offscreen Auntyji,cares for her vegetative husband with that every woman strength — seen in our mothers and neighbours and aunts — we often take for granted. She sniffs out cooking blunders,is eager to help,and knows where the audio cassettes lie. Bravo.

(Raja Sen is a film writer and critic)

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