Girl,Won’t You Be a Woman Soon?https://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/girl-wont-you-be-a-woman-soon/

Girl,Won’t You Be a Woman Soon?

Like too many Hindi film actresses,Preity Zinta has refused the pleasures of growing up.

I’m getting older,and I’m okay with it. So why can’t a leading lady,who wants to lead from the front,do the same? The answer is blowing across a Bollywood billboard. I don’t have to be the dream girl of a million men. I don’t have to get into impossibly skimpy outfits to aid such enticement. Nor do I have to slave at what’s euphemistically called a bikini-ready body. But them leading ladies,they got to do this stuff,even if they are Preity Zinta,who has the wherewithal to start her own production house,to make a movie without any strings attached,or having to toe the male superstar line.

If not her,who else? This is an actress who was A-list from the word go. She came out opposite a superstar actor,and a celebrated director. Dil Se,directed by Mani Ratnam,was pallid at the box office,but what it did for the perky debutant,whose dimples matched her co-star’s,was what first-timers dream of: it took her straight to the stratosphere,where she was showered with public affection,and producer love. Brand endorsements,more films. Some good performances,even. And it led her to being a cash-rich IPL team owner,schmoozing with other rich and (in)famous types,with practically no films.

She started off as Miss Bubbly (never a Babli,because she looked too,well,classy for being a mere Babli; for that there was the homey Rani) in her debut,and she played it to the hilt. We all remember how her leading man choked when he was asked that virginity question. Shah Rukh Khan’s expression was priceless; so was that moment from Dil Se. Because she bubbled well,that’s what she was going to have to do from then on. With an exception or two where the Zinta girl was allowed to shed tears,she was That Girl Who Bubbled. Like Peter Pan,she was never allowed to grow up.

A few days ago,she was back after a gap in a film that tried to position her as that slightly older girl (the slightly older is implicit,age being only in the mind,and never stated in a film) who is ditsy and fun-loving and commitment-phobic. She dresses young (short skirts and boots and berets,she being half-French,therefore gamine),speaks young. Ishkq in Paris was produced by Zinta herself. She wrote the screenplay herself. Clearly,she could have done anything she wanted. She could have been brave,and given herself more. More years,more living,more laugh lines. Just more.

That sort of heft is missing in action with Bollywood heroines,who always want to be frozen in time. With a little help from friends and chemicals that smoothen your wrinkles. Karisma Kapoor,who ruled the roost a little before Preity,also chose to come back with a film called Dangerous Ishq. Sitting through that load of poppycock was certainly a grave danger to one’s sanity. From the pictures we see of her pushing almonds as the best breakfast kiddies can have,we can see she is still a good-looking woman,who wears herself beautifully. So what is the problem with acting her age on screen?

As soon as I ask it,I know that it is redundant. Because Bollywood can write older,more real roles for non-leading ladies. Seema Biswas may be a contemporary,but because she is a certain kind of actress,she can play older. She can be a witch. Or a housemaid. Or even a grandma. Biswas is an actor,not a heroine,and certainly not the sort of A-lister that sells scooties and pink cellphones and colas.

Many years ago,when Aishwarya Rai was not a Bachchan,she had begun her own production house too. And the first film that came out had,no surprise there,Ms Rai as lead character,with the dishy Arjun Rampal playing side dish (Dil Ka Rishta). That one was equally forgettable. It was the same fear of being a character,being something other than cookie-cutter pretty that did her in,other than the fact of the film being most soggy in the first place.

Sridevi was wiser. Or was it the filmmaker that was wise,having cottoned on to inevitable audience derision if Sri was made to act 20 rather than going-on-50,which she is. In English Vinglish,she played her age,looked radiant,and walked away with the film. Girliness is for girls,womanliness is sexier.

All this reluctance reminds me of a Harry Belafonte ditty,in which he calls out to,rhetorically,it turns out,Women over Forty. The soundtrack at this point gives us dead silence. And then he says,“I know they are out there.”

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