I watched 'Brick Lane' at a multiplex last night and was happy to see at least fifty people in the same theatre in which there were precisely two (besides my family of four) last week for 'Kites'. Since I do have an eccentric taste in movies, no prizes for guessing I loved 'Brick Lane'. No point comparing it to the book ( I loved that , too). But as cinema, it was moving and lyrical with superlative performances from the ensemble cast - Satish Kaushik was outstanding. As was Tanishtaa, who played the long suffering Naazneen, seething and smouldering within, till she discovers her own identity and asserts herself - gradually and gracefully.
As a jury member for Sushmita Sen's Miss Universe ( India) contest, I was hugely impressed by the confidence level of the contestants - most of them were not 'lookers'. But they weren't - sorry to say this - hookers, either. Two finalists had flown in from America and Canada, and were highly educated, top ranking professionals. The other 30 on the short list were equally accomplished with interesting day jobs in various fields ranging from dentistry to chartered accountancy. One called herself a 'Prosperity Manager' ( now that's a new job description!) Refreshingly, there were no giggly bimbettes in this beauty pageant. Sushmita herself, made a stirring speech after a dramatic entree in a harness suspended from the high rafters of the NCPA stage. She lip- synched her anthem ( 'I am'), and set the tone for a slick ( but way too long) show that featured Saif Ali Khan ( energetic and surprise surprise -no left feet), Kareena Kapoor ( listless, lifeless and bored) and Shah Rukh Khan , who effortlessly stole the show with his charm and wit as he interviewed the five finalists in his usual breezy, irreverent style. But for me, the two really special people that loooooooong, interminable night were Farah ( Triplets) Khan and Malini ( Free Spirit ) Ramani. It was such a pleasure interacting with these two very spontaneous, very intelligent and very down to earth women. How 'I am' !!
This column appeared in Bombay Times today....
Let’s start with Bollywood stereotypes . In the good old days when Dharmendra ruled, and even an eccentric like Raaj Kumar had a following, there was no ambiguity, no debate – Garam Dharam was a full- on macho man and everybody could see what Hema Malini saw in him ( definitely not his brains). He still projects the same image and there is no mistaking his alpha male status. Rajesh Khanna was dubbed The Phenomenon ( guess who pleads guilty?), but was never in the hard core ‘mard’ category.
Vinod Khanna would have made the cut, but he was way too laid back and waltzed away from movies at the peak of his career. There the list ended.
The scenario as it stands today is pretty bleak. The ‘Mard’ stakes have hit an all-time low and just one name pops up instantly – Akshay Kumar’s. It has nothing to do with being an action hero. It is his pure , unadulterated testosterone that does it. And that can only be compared to the high octane petrol pumped into Formula 1 cars. Both deliver results. Talking about his incredible male energy to young girls recently, I was amused by a remark passed by one of them who said Akshay is the only Bollywood hero who makes her feel shy!! She has never met the guy, has no desire to, either. This is her raw reaction to his screen presence alone. I asked this small group why they couldn’t come up with more names ( the most obvious one would be Salman’s!) for the ‘Mard Maharaja’ title. Their sharp and shrewd analysis deserves a more detailed thesis, but let me give you a jhalak. According to them, Salman looks ‘unstable’ and therefore, that makes him ‘undependable’ in the eyes of women. SRK and Saif fall into the old and overdone ‘Metro Sexual’ mould …. despite the six pack (SRK’s) and the newly acquired biceps ( Saif’s) women think of them as best buddies or casual lovers. Not future husbands ( Kareena to note). As for John and Arjun , their sex appeal works for their countless gay fans – but they make good looking women feel competitive and disadvantaged! Especially since both guys project a high level of vanity (“ I’m too sexy for my body’’). Ranbir is cute. Period. That leaves Aamir who is too cerebral to be considered seriously sexy. And sweet Abhishek Bachchan ( my personal favourite ), who is seen as being a bit too ‘shareef’ and good- natured…. in need of protection himself ( he brings out the mother in every woman). We have their equivalents in Hollywood – let me stop at Russell Crowe – almost alarmingly all-male. But a bit too volatile for any woman’s comfort. Brad Pitt has been reduced to acting like Angelina’s pet poodle. Besides, she is the more overtly macho of the two.
Our Bollywood ladies are less interesting and if one were to identify Akshay’s female counterpart, it would probably be Katrina Kaif– deliriously feminine and appealing – in an environment which encourages heroines to turn into unattractive , aggressive Amazonian creatures, more muscled than Dara Singh in his prime. It’s that, or starved and pinched leading ladies with the tight, narrow, boobless, hipless bodies of fourteen- year- old boys. Katrina should hang on to those curves and keep smiling. Young men want to date ( and preferably bed!) Cuddly Katrina. They fantasise about her in the clean way even their ‘naanis’ would approve of. She projects warmth, dresses like a regular girl ( looks great in tees and jeans), wears minimal make- up,handles herself very well ( no attitude, no tantrums ) and works her natural charm on one and all, right across the board.
Since I have exceeded my word limit ( if not your patience!), I’ll have to sign off.
But not before I leave you with an interesting thought : What’s the bet you’ll look at Abhishek differently after his performance as a ‘dus sar walla’? He is one of our best actors. About time he got his due.