When 'bad' roles turn attractive
Bad is good, and the girls in Bollywood have realised that!
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
The leading ladies today don't mind giving up being goody, goody to become 'slutty'.
Three decades ago in B.R. Ishaara's "Log Kya Kahenge", Shabana Azmi played a woman married to a widower. When her stepson sees her with her lover, she gets the child killed.
The role and the performance shocked everyone, including Shabana herself. "I remember seeing that completely evil look on my face. I was shocked by it. Was I capable of such evil?" she laughs.
In Vishal Bhardwaj's "Maqbool", Masumi screams "You slut!" at Tabu, Shabana's niece. Tabu played the ultimate female villain in Bhardwaj's adaptation of "Macbeth" as she connives with her lover to get rid of her husband.
Go into any leading ladies' repertoire, and she's more than willing to play the wanton woman, even if it takes away from the shine of being the glamour puss.
Last year, Preity Zinta got into a wacky wig to play the role of tycoon Randhir Kapoor's spoilt rich daughter who makes life miserable for her doctor-husband Anil Kapoor and his former sweetheart, the angelic Gracy Singh, in Honey Irani's "Arman".
Four decades earlier, in Kamal Amrohi's "Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayee", Nadira had played Preity's role... and she was an acknowledged vamp!
What prompted Preity to get into the malevolent mode in "Armaan"?
"Very simple. I liked the challenge of being this slightly deviant woman who can go to any lengths to get what she wants. My character was grey and I loved playing it. It was a pity the film didn't work."
Kareena Kapoor shares the same sentiments.
While playing the libertine in Ken Ghosh's "Fida", she was going against every rule written for the Hindi-film heroine. In playing a woman who, in connivance with her lover, brings about the utter ruination of a boy besotted by her, Kareena gave what could be considered the first full immoral woman's performance.
"Why do you say that?" Bipasha Basu laughs throatily.
"I've played the bad girl in my first film 'Ajnaabee' where Kareena was the more conventional heroine. Then there was 'Jism' where I was this complete libertine who cheats on her husband and tells her lover, 'Yes, there was no feeling for you. I did it all for self interest.'
"I wasn't scared of playing the role. But yes, it was daring even by today's standards. Though I believe actresses in the past have played adulteresses."
Sure, in the past Mala Sinha in B.R. Chopra's "Dhool Ka Phool", Rekha in Dulal Guha's "Do Anjaane" and Reena Roy in J. Om Prakash's "Apnapan" dared to step out of marital margins. But they lived to regret it.
Aishwarya Rai tried to play the unapologetic bad girl earlier this year in Raj Kumar Santoshi's underrated "Khakee". Her role required her to entrap cop Akshay Kumar in collusion with bad-man Ajay Devgan. In the end she stunned everyone by shooting down the man who loved her.
Aishwarya laughs at this evil presence in her career.
"I thoroughly enjoyed shocking the audience and myself in 'Khakee'. But to be very honest, I didn't know about the twist at the end when I accepted the film. Only when we started shooting was this 'little detail' dropped on me.
"All the heroes and my director had laid bets that I'd say no to being the villain's moll at the end. When I heard it, I quite readily agreed to do it. It seemed like a challenge for me to be accepted in a negative role, and I thought I was quite up to it. I don't regret doing 'Khakee' at all."
And never mind if the audience thought otherwise. "We can't always go by their expectations. We've to create new expectations," says Aishwarya pragmatically.
No matter how bold the heroine gets, she needs to get her act together before the final fade-out. Otherwise she's in for trouble.
That's where Priyanka Chopra and Sameera Reddy come in. These are the post-"Jism" generation of anything goes - girls willing to take on roles that require them to get rid of more than just their inhibitions.
In Sanjay Gupta's "Musafir", Reddy plays a bored small-town housewife who sleeps with a number of men who pass through. Priyanka Chopra got scared off. But Sameera is game. Will she click?
In Abbas-Mustan's "Aitraaz" Priyanka will be seen as a hotshot entrepreneur who lusts after married man Akshay Kumar. When he rebuffs her advances, she sues him for sexual harassment.
In Bollywood, being evil is a relative term. In Mehboob Khan's "Mother India" in the 1950s, Nargis shot her own (anti-social) son and in Manoj Kumar's "Roti Kapada Aur Makaan" in the 1970s, Zeenat Aman chooses money (Shashi Kapoor) over love (Manoj Kumar) but lives (and dies) to regret it.
In 2002, the year when conventional filmmaking triumphed resoundingly with Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Devdas", Amisha Patel played the wayward wife in Abbas-Mustan's "Humraaz". She first cheats on husband Bobby Deol and then revolts against her co-conspirator Akshaye Khanna when the sanctity of her marital vows is threatened.
"Humraaz" was a hit. On the other hand, films where the women are out-and-out evil like Kareena in "Fida" and Aishwarya in "Khakee" have flopped.
Male stars play the game with more flexible rules.
Right from the 1950s, when the mighty Dilip Kumar played a rapist in Mehboob Khan's "Amar" and a man lusting after another man's wife in the same director's "Andaz", actors have had the freedom to experiment with evil without the fear of retribution.
While the masculine journey into malevolence was sporadic in earlier decades, it became a full-fledged exodus from the mid-1990s when Aamir Khan played a communal rioter in Deepa Mehta's "1947-Earth", Shah Rukh did his evil trilogy "Baazigar", "Darr" and "Anjaam", and Sanjay Dutt played the "Khalnaayak" to Jackie Shroff's straight guy in Subhash Ghai's film.
Saawan Kumar reversed the villain's gender and cast Anu Aggarwal in the title role in "Khalnaayika". A remake of Hollywood hit "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle", which made Rebecca deMornay's career, this one put a full stop to Aggarwal's career.
More and more male stars are venturing into roles with grey shades. In the last two years, everyone from Ajay Devgan in "Deewangee" to Akshay Kumar in "Ajnabee" has tried a hand at villainy.
But the ladies will just have to curb their baser instincts.