Basanti (Hema Malini) is riding her tanga, yelling at the top of her voice, “Chal Dhanno, teri Basanti ki izzat ka sawaal hai”. Gabbar’s men are chasing Basanti on their horses and the suspense is building up. Will she escape the dacoits? Will Veeru (Dharmendra) make a heroic entry and save her? But, suddenly, the tanga hits a rock losing balance and Basanti falls on the ground. The director calls out “Cut” and we are taken to the sets of the film, where Malini’s body-double Reshma Pathan is squirming in pain. This is how Aditya Sarpotdar’s biopic The Sholay Girl unfurls and pulls us into the life of Reshma, Bollywood’s first successful stuntwoman.
ZEE5’s latest offering The Sholay Girl revolves around Reshma who played a body double to yesteryear female actors like Hema Malini, Sridevi, Meena Kumari, Dimple Kapadia and many others. It starts from what made her take up the profession of a stuntwoman at the young age of 14 and goes to a point where she is fighting for pay parity, gender biases, safety at the workplace and acknowledgement of the contributions of those who transform actors into heroes from behind the cameras. She even takes on harassment of women in the film industry. All of this happens in just 106 minutes and that’s the beauty of it.
The crisp narrative by Faizal Akhtar and Shrabani Deodhar answers all the four routine questions: How did she get into the profession? Did she work with famous Bollywood personalities? Has she been hurt? Is money in the profession good? But it never delves deeper into the flawed working of the film industry. Instead, it sticks to telling the tale of Reshma’s fierce commitment to her craft, her courage, strength and resilience. The Sholay Girl, at no point, fails to show how she was the real star of Bollywood.
Bidita Bag is effortless in her spot on performance as Reshma. One feels she deserves much more than what she has been offered in Bollywood until now. The scene where she performs summersaults in a street to earn a few bucks to feed her younger siblings and gets recognised by a Bollywood stunt coordinator (Chandan Roy Sanyal) evokes the memory of any movie of the bygone era. The supporting cast including Sanyal (Reshma’s Guruji), Vinit Raina (Shakoor) and Sujata Sehgal (Reshma’s mother) complement Bag’s performance.
The only problem, for me, was the fictionalisation and melodramatic presentation of a few instances of Reshma’s life. For instance, the scene where Bidita is beating up the local boys for teasing her or where a woman in the vicinity accuses her of bringing shame to the locality. The ones that have her in an altercation with her opposing father also lacks the touch of reality.
Towards the end of it, as Reshma hears people singing praises of Hema Malini for excelling the tanga sequence in Sholay, she is disappointed and tells her co-actor, “saara stunt main karun aur naam kisi aur ka ho.” As she utters these words, you feel guilty about being one of those who cheered always for the actor and never for those who shed sweat and blood to make a film superhit. It winds up on the same note where it started–a set of a film. The real Reshma Pathan, who is now a veteran, is seen in action in Rohit Shetty’s comedy film Golmaal Again. Even in its last moment, you are made to realise how the junior artistes of a film go unnoticed. This is what The Sholay Girl does to you.