Luscious Goes Rustic
It is a well known fact that the Hindi film industry suffers from a herd mentality, making so much song and dance about anything that succeeds in a couple of movies, instantly becoming a formula turns turtle at the box office in no time. There is nothing new about an item or a cabaret number, first introduced in the late forties and early fifties. The star performer was Cuckoo who was replaced by Helen who became an icon, the ‘H-Bomb’. Came the sixties and the boneless dancer became the villain’s mole, grey shades were added to the character, a la Nadira in Shri 420, to make the persona vampish but with a heart of gold. Followed the Aruna Iranis, Madhumatis, Bindus, Padma Khannas, Jayshree and Meena T (even Tamilian sensation, Silk Smitha) each with a distinct style but seldom coming anywhere close to Helen of a 1000 films, aptly described by Jerry Pinto as “a white woman in a brown world, a woman who could produce sensuality out of golden cages, flamingos, an excess of blue eye-shadow and oversized orange earrings.”
Dancing to the hero or the villain’s tunes has been the mainstay of Hindi cinema, the best known example being Hema Malini (Jab tak hai jaan jane jahan mein nachungee, mein nachungee) in Sholay, or the heroine participating in a raunchy number a la Madhuri Dixit (Choli ke peechhe kya hai, choli ke peechhe) in Khalnayak. A leading lady making a guest appearance has also not been an uncommon factor. But a top ranking heroine performing a seductive number in a villain’s den sounded blasphemous until two or three years ago. But then it all changed when Aishwarya Rai seductively lured both father and son Bachchans in Bunty aur Babli with Kajra re kajra re tere naina. Yet, it appeared to be a sort of one-off thing even after this 2005 release. She had earlier too gone out of the way and performed to one of the sexist number Ishq Kamina in Shakti (02) which had Shah Rukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor in the lead. Also in the Kareena-starrer Omkara (06) Bipasha Basu had given two sensational songs Bidi jalaile jigar se piya and Jabaan pe laga laga namak ishq ka that went on to make the film a roaring success though she got little credit for her lustrous performance. Then there was, of course, Kareena Kapoor’s Helenesque Yeh mera dil pyaar ka deewana in Don 2. In a rare show of comradie she also featured in King Khan’s Marjaani marjaani song-dance-number in Billu, a remake of Rajinikanth’s Tamil hit.
The real breakthrough or the beginning of using an item number was, perhaps, the unintentional Munni badnaam hui darling tere liye by Malaika Arora Khan in the home production Dabangg. It wasn’t something new or sensational as she had earlier done so with equal sexuality in Chhaiya chhaiya, chal chhaiya chhaiya in Dil Se. But then she was the reincarnation of Helens and Silk Smitha in skin show. In many ways there is nothing new as there have earlier been instances of heroines dancing and performing as a surprise element in a big budget film like Urmila Matondkar tentalisingly singing Chamma chamma in China Gate (1998); Shilpa Shetty ‘s Mein aayee ho UP-Bihar Lootne with rowdy men rolling all over in National Award Winner, Shool (99).
But merely foot-tapping, fast paced raunchy can run a film proved a big no no when Mallika Sherawat’s Jalebi bai or Razia gundon mein phas gayee failed to get the cash registers ringing the way Katrina Kaif’s Sheela ki Jawani worked even in a rank bad film like Tees Maar Khan. Zarine Khan’s much touted performance with Salman Khan in Ready failed to work for her even though Character dhila hai even though the film had the cash registers ringing all the way. But then hers was not merely an item number, she was the heroine who was bringing in the audience. Is that because of Kaif’s star power? It is too early to gauge the extent to which her Chikni chameli number enhanced Agneepath’s box office impact. On the surface nothing because the film would have been a hit on the strength of Rishi Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt and Hrithik Roshan power packed performance not to speak of the screenplay itself. Deepika Padukone in the rehashed Zeenat Aman’s Dum Maro Dum number from Hare Rama Hare Krishna did not go beyond the curiosity factor in the film with the same title. The same could be said about Kareena Kapoor’s Chamak Challo in Ra.One even though she was the heroine of the film.
Comparisons are always odious, and exceptions cannot always be the rule. But Hindi cinema is notorious for not seeing writing on the wall, and producer, directors blindly follow what is constituted to be a ‘hit’ factor. Both big and small time heroines are being roped in, as also the Veena Maliks (Gali Gali Mein Chor Hai, sporting a tight choli and knee length lehanga and Rakhi Sawants (the bust-rous raunchy number sporting a tight choli and mini something in the forthcoming Rakthbeej). Even the aging ones like Karishma Kapoor seeking a comeback of sorts will be gyrating with aplomb in the Akshay Kumar-Sonakshi Sinha starrer Rowdy Rathore before going whole hog with Vikram Bhatt’s 3-D thriller Dangerous Ishq.
Item numbers are now even being added to the completed films has not been the case only with Agneepath. Vidya Balan’s bold, uninhibited performance in The Dirty Picture has raised her star value to such an extent that even a producer like Vidhu Vinod Chopra has roped her in for an for an item number in Ferrari ki Sawari. A point worth taking note is that most of these numbers have been/are being done against a rustic backdrop. Bipasha Basu is once again performing a sultry, oompish number in her new film Jodi Breakers. A mature, somewhat sophisticated sultry siren like Chitrangada Singh has agreed to gyrate lustily to Kaafirana, a newer version of Munni badnaami in choreographer-director Farah Khan’s home production Joker with Akshay Kumar in the lead, vying for honours with leading lady Sonakshi Sinha who will be for the first time go round entertaining a group of villagers singing Dance karle English mein. Time, it seems, is not far off when the heroines, like the heroes of the past decade and a half doing comedy, action with shades of grey, will shake a leg or two making another Rakhi Sawant shout from rooftop “yeh to mera kaam hai.”
By Suresh Kohli