Half an hour into Aitraaz and Sonia Roy walks in like a fire, ready to blow up anything coming in her way. Sonia, played by Priyanka Chopra, was a femme fatale, unapologetic about her ways. She was not just bringing a storm in Raj Malhotra’s life, but also into Bollywood.
So what was it about Sonia that turned the tables about the way women were portrayed in our hero-centric Hindi movies?
Priyanka Chopra has been a risk taker. And so was her Sonia. With Aitraaz, Priyanka, just in her second year in films, took up a role that wasn’t quite explored till then – a gold-digging man-eater. Until now, PC had played candyfloss parts in movies like Andaaz, Kismat and Mujhse Shaadi Karogi. With Aitraaz, she turned bold. Her Sonia was a vicious scheming woman who was greedy and promiscuous. Sonia helped Priyanka cement her position in Bollywood, making it clear that the former Miss World wasn’t here just for song and dance.
Sonia Roy was a gamble for Priyanka. She was a seductress who had no qualms about keeping her former boyfriend as a “keep” for her sexual desires in exchange of monetary favours. Topping it with her enticing looks, husky voice and magnetic screen presence, Sonia stole the show from right under the nose of Raj Malhotra (Akshay Kumar) and Priya (Kareena Kapoor).
Aitraaz released in 2004. Till then, the main lead playing the villain was reserved for men. Shah Rukh Khan had specifically mastered this genre with Anjaam, Baazigar and Darr. Aamir Khan had also turned a baddie in 1947 Earth and Ajay Devgn in Deewangee.
But what about women? We can only remember Kajol playing a similar part in Gupt (1997) before Aitraaz. Post Sonia’s reign, female characters were no longer only meant to add the glam quotient.
In a strange coincidence, Aitraaz released on the same day as Veer-Zaara (November 12, 2004). Both had two heroines and one superstar male actor. But Priyanka’s Sonia ensured Aitraaz remained afloat in the big box office clash. And it did!
Aitraaz was the Bollywood adaptation of Barry Levinson’s 1994 thriller Disclosure. The Hindi version might have come a decade after its original, but the stuff it dealt with was still untouched here. Sonia is an ambitious model who prefers abortion over having a child and marriage. When she later becomes the boss of her ex-boyfriend who left her because of her choices, she takes the lead. She not only “physically assaults” Raj, but even questions him that if she has no qualms about an extra-marital affair, why does he. It was probably the first film which showed a woman as a sexual predator and a man as the victim.
Sonia’s defining moment, and also the film’s most striking sequence is when Raj rejects Sonia’s advances despite her playing à la Sharon Stone from Basic Instinct. Sonia’s memorable dialogue, “Show me you are an animal” while “attacking” Raj not just brought a major twist in the movie, but also showed the extremity she can go for her selfish desires. She even tells Raj that she isn’t asking him to leave his wife, just a physical relationship.
This scene triggered a lot of ideas for upcoming films. Sonia’s wicked part helped Bollywood discover a new territory, that even female characters can play the antagonist and even men can be subjected to sexual violence. Director duo Abbas-Mustan perfectly mixed Priyanka’s oomph with Sonia’s evilness.
To think of it now, nobody else could’ve played Sonia other than Priyanka Chopra.
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