It's Tabu versus Mallika this week

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
4/2/2004 12:00:00 AM
This Friday, two actresses of amazing contrasts - in terms of personality, vision, intent and projection - will be pitted against each other at the box office.

Two tellingly dissimilar films and actresses take centre-stage - Mallika Sherawat in Anurag Basu's "Murder" and Tabu in M.F. Husain's "Meenaxi".

While one is spunky, spirited and unabashed, the other is enigmatic, bridled and discreet.

While Basu's in-your-face thriller seeks inspiration directly from Adrian Lyne's erotic steamy thriller "Faithful" about a housewife's sexual romp with a horny stranger, "Meenaxi" is an abstract poetic journey into the heart and mind of restless womanhood.

Tabu in a surreal avatar portrays three women named Meenaxi, Meenakshi and Maria, all pursued and studied by a writer (Raghuvir Yadav).

The theme and treatment of "Meenaxi" wouldn't lend themselves to popular appeal, more so since the whole world already knows what Husain is capable of as a filmmaker after the Madhuri Dixit-vehicle "Gaja Gamini".

Though the music score by A.R. Rahman has acquired a humming life of its own, "Meenaxi" will be released and seen on a very restricted level.

Though after "Maqbool", Tabu has again played the enigmatic diva in "Meenaxi" with consummate fluency, the film is unlikely to get her anything more than good reviews.

Consequently, this Friday is open to the other release.

The Bhatts, starved for a hit -- all their recent films, including Basu's earlier work "Saaya", have been thundering flops -- are cashing in generously on their leading lady's uninhibited image.

Because of Mallika's presence, "Murder" has become one of the hottest films among distributors and exhibitors. Their spirit isn't dampened by the debacle of the peep-show "Hawas", based on the same Hollywood film ("Unfaithful") as "Murder".

The sensuous promotional spin and sumptuous music score by Anu Malik are already hits. Will "Murder" the film follow suit? According to exhibitors, the film is expected to be the first bona fide success of the year.

Mallika, who was a hit heroine in her flop debut film "Khwahish", is crossing her fingers, hoping her second stab at stardom would pay richer dividends.

Interestingly, both of this week's releases depend entirely on their leading ladies for creative and commercial sustenance.

"Meenaxi's" male actors are Raghuvir Yadav and debutant Kunnal Kapoor. "Murder" features the producer's nephew Emran Hashmi and Amisha Patel's brother Ashmit. Hashmi made his flop debut last year in Vikram Bhatt's "Footpath" while Patel fared no better in the same director's "Inteha".

The onus of delivering a box-office slammer must go to the leading lady.

Isn't it ironical that there's more hype about a film featuring a one-film-old sex symbol than a seasoned multiple-award winning actress of tremendous substance?

Mallika has the last word on the subject. "In a battle between the intellect and flesh, flesh always wins. A dancing girl always attracts a larger crowd than a choir singer. Sad, but true."