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Playing Bollywood's golden-hearted sex worker

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

More often than not, well-known actresses who are cast as sex-workers in Bollywood films end up giving award-winning performances.

In Vasant Joglekar's "Adaalat" in 1948, the late Nargis bathed herself in everlasting glory as the tawaif (sex worker) who sacrifices all for love.

The image of the martyred sex worker has stayed with the Hindi film heroine.

In the 1960s, another brilliant actress, Suchitra Sen, gave yet another award-winning performance as a woman pushed into prostitution to bring up her daughter in Asit Sen's "Mamta".

And in the 1970s it was Sharmila Tagore who played the golden-hearted whore in Shakti Samanta's "Amar Prem".

The image of the all-giving self-annihilating whore was further accentuated in the unforgettable performances of Meena Kumari in Kamal Amrohi's "Pakeezah", Sharmila Tagore in Gulzar's "Mausam", Mumtaz in K. Balachander's "Aaina", Rekha in Muzaffar Ali's "Umrao Jaan" and Shabana Azmi in Pravin Bhatt's underrated "Bhavna".

Tabu in Madhur Bhandarkar's well-lauded "Chandni Bar" gave an outstanding performance as a woman forced to sleep with men for her son's education.

All these memorable films about the fallen woman proved to be among the highest points in the actresses' careers.

And that is why it looks like the other potential award winners of the year have competition from Kareena Kapoor. In the title role of "Chameli", she finally breaks free of her image.

The layered subtle performance will shock and silence Kareena's detractors. Kareena gives a sensuous spin to the role.

In the past, most sex workers, including the role by Manisha Koirala in last year's "Market", have been portrayed in Bollywood as angelic victims of circumstances.

For the first time since Ishaara's "Chetna", Kareena portrays a sex worker who doesn't spill tears over her fate.


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