The Cat Race
It has not been hotter than this before, though there has always been a race for the numero uno slot between Bollywood heroines. But open bitchiness and rivalry had never been as rampant as it is today, both in and outside the media. Even on the sets. It has been quite a while that Kareena Kapoor left others far behind in terms of demand and the price she was asking, followed closely by Priyanka Chopra taking advantage of which, and basking in the glory of growing popularity, Katrina Kaif entered to make it a three-cat race. And hold your breath; it is Rs 5 crore per film. Leaving the likes of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan miles behind, gasping for breath both in terms of demand and price. And one should let the others just throw tantrums.
But what comes as a great surprise is that during her present visit to Mumbai, Madhuri Dixit (whose Yash Raj Films starrer, Aaja Nachle 2007, licked the dust) is again being chased by producers. And at 40, not necessarily as the heroine because past co-star (with whom she also shared her manager, Rikko Rakeshnath) Anil Kapoor invited her to play mother to daughter Sonam—an offer she steadfastly declined. And to the others, she is willing to offer her services for nothing less than Rs 5 crore for which there aren’t many takers. “We feel she is definitely worth the price she is quoting. She is a superstar with an enviable fan following even today,” says the wise-old manager. Her last hit had not been a solo, but heavy star-cast, Devdas—opposite Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai—and Jackie Shroff almost a decade ago. And since then she has been happily welcomed with her winsome smile on the television screen.
In Bollywood, you are as good as your last hit. In any case, in no era, a solo heroine starrer has ever worked. There are reasons besides the obvious. Unless of course it is a low-cast movie which found screen space in the theatres.
In her hay days, when she gave one super hit after another her main rival had been Sridevi, though the likes of Meenakshi Sheshadri and Dimple Kapadia basked in the glory of their rejects. Before that there had been unfair comparisons between Hema Malini and Rekha, Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi, and even earlier the Bengal tigresses, Sharmila Tagore and Rakhee. The black and white era of the Sixties was probably the only time when they, the entire galaxy, like their male counterparts, were neither in “camps” nor vying for the roles suitable for the other. Each one of them was irreplaceable in the kind of roles they specialised in. A practice which is now being unabashedly indulged in the new century, a time when bitchiness has become the “catch word”, and stealing the other’s thunder “fashionable”.
During the Fifties, the race for bigger stardom rested solely between Suraiya and Nargis and while the emerging male stars such as Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor were in no position to demand a price, Suraiya got the highest. She reportedly commanded a price of a hundred thousand, almost double of what her contemporaries such as Nargis and Madhubala got. Both retired in the late Fifties, shedding the glorious legacy of the Forties behind them. In the Sixties, almost every other major heroine was working with top heroes of the time. Nutan, Meena Kumari, Mala Sinha, Nimmi, Vyjantimala to name just a few. The stakes were smaller, and even flops did “average” business. No one talked about who got what in terms of money. What was paramount was who suited which role, and the matter was put to rest, unless a producer or director stuck on to a particular heroine.
The role of the heroine was almost always subservient of or supportive of the hero. From the mid-Sixties to the early Seventies, or until the magic or charm lasted, it was taken for granted that no matter who the hero, the heroine in a Nasir Hussain will be Asha Parekh—take it or leave it. Call it foolhardiness of whatever, Chetan Anand preferred to abandon the hugely sellable Salim Anarkali with a fast-rising Amitabh Bachchan, because of his insistence on casting Priya Rajvansh as Anarkali, even though the tall hero promised any other heroine the director pointed his finger at. There was no way another heroine would step into an RK film, until Nargis herself walked out. V Shantaram would not make a film without second wife Sandhya. Grapevine is full of such love lore. But then that’s how Bollywood would function, no matter what the odds.
Today, Kareena Kapoor has emerged as the first choice of both heroes and directors. Beginning with JP Datta’s Refugee (2000) opposite Abhishek Bachchan, this 31-year scion of the famous Kapoor clan has worked in about 40 films opposite all major heroes, including the past lover, Shahid Kapoor and the present live-in Saif Ali Khan, of the day. She has already won six Filmfare trophies in a decade-old career span. On the other hand, Priyanka Chopra, a former Miss World, coming from the back-of-beyond Jharkhand made her debut in the Tamil film, Thanizan (2002), rapidly come up the ladder (reportedly now again in-relationship with Shahid Kapoor) and has since cornered three Filmfare awards—including two in negative roles and a National Award to boot for her performance in Fashion.
The third Queen-B is a late bloomer. Born of separated English mother and Muslim father, Mohammed Kaif, Katrina who came to India at the age of 14 looking for modelling assignment was voted the Sexist Asian Woman for three consecutive years 2008-10 by Eastern Eye. Reportedly until recently Salman Khan’s love interest, Britain-born Kathrina Kaif cooled her heels for a long while before appearing in a small role in Kaizad Gustad’s forgotten Boom (2003), followed by more sidey roles in Sarkar and Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya opposite Salman Khan in 2005. Namastey London (2007) opposite Akshay Kumar became her ticket to big league, followed quickly by the blockbuster Singh is Kinng. Though crowned for her performance in Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti, the subsequent disastrous run of her movies, particularly Tees Maar Khan has suddenly raised a question-mark about her box office reign.
By the way, if “cats” start bitching what will the “bitches” do?
By Suresh Kohli