Added: Ramon Just - Date: 07.11.2021 05:48 - Views: 26340 - Clicks: 5852
The Bollywood bad girl is still on your screens. Some stories centre entirely on two or more women struggling to define who they are, what they want, or doing what needs to be done, as in the films Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte SitareAndhadhun and Manmarziyaan In the long decades that stretched from the earliest Hindi talkies of the s all the way to the turn of the century, most mainstream heroines were devoid of agency. The vamps had agency but were expected to pay a heavy price for it. Things began to change in the feel-good romcom years of the late s and s, when the bad girl went from vampish outsider to forgivable but flawed stepmother, aunt or college mate in love with the same man.
Here, redemption came via failure. Plots and schemes collapsed as they were deed to, the hero chose the heroine, and the aunt, stepmother or jilted woman made her peace with their happy ending. The centre was still holding. By the late s, in an increasingly wealthy, ambitious and aspirational India, a new generation of storytellers teamed up with a set of A-list actresses looking for more to do than smile and dance.
She was taking up the whole screen. Fast-forward to the new millennium. A young India in the midst of a societal, sexual and economic revolution was now looking for their stories to be told. This was a generation marrying later than ever, living alone or with friends and partners, earning more and spending more. Mainstream tales began to incorporate their new reality, in all its shades. By the time the streaming platforms Netflix and Amazon Prime arrived inthe markets were ready.
A race began to see who could find the freshest and most relevant stories, and tell them most differently. The heroines more temperamental. The heroes less dashing but far more interesting. She was beautiful, sophisticated, lustful, and seemed to live to ensnare the innocent and unsuspecting hero. She was sometimes an evil socialite and seductress, sometimes an adulterous wife. That rather sassy song, Gore Gore O Banke Chore O, fair fair young boys was her, in Samadhiwhere she played both a seductress and a spy for the British!
She was a warning to men and women alike: this is what danger looks like, and only bad things can happen if you go down this road. The men she led astray invariably awoke to the error of their ways and returned to heroines played by the likes of Meena Kumari. Kaur usually ended the films dead; in the case of Samadhi, denounced by her one-time paramour and executed for treason. These same decades also saw the frequent appearance of the kitchen bad girls, led by the unparalleled Shashikala and Lalita Pawar. They were the villainesses of the less glamorous, less urban films, typically cruel and wicked mothers-in-law to the heroine.
Off-screen, this was a time when women had little agency. Most did not work outside the home, and had little financial independence or decision-making power. The mother-in-law-daughter-in-law discord was part of a very real struggle for relevance and belonging.
Shashikala and Pawar reflected this reality, often highly exaggerated for melodramatic effect. They plotted, poisoned, schemed against and gravely injured the bahus in their homes. By the s, audiences came to the theatre expecting fantasy, even titillation. Enter the cabaret vamp. These were typically lost women who danced and sang for a living, often in clubs.
They glittered with sensuality but were invariably lonely and miserable and often ended the film lonelier, more miserable, or dead. These characters became necessary because the heroines were allowed to do so little. Think of Asha Parekh or Nanda, standing virginally by in demure saris as plots unfolded around them.
Visibly uncomfortable with any displays of affection; deed largely to be objects of ardent love rather than participants in desire. It was the cabaret vamp, who looked like a million bucks, that kept the male viewers coming. What this did was mark the start of the vamp as a star. Helen, Bindu, Aruna Irani drank, smoked and wore glamorous, westernised clothes on screen. Their characters were smart, conniving, involved in plot twists. In a strange turn of events, mainstream Hindi cinema made room for three very unusual heroines at this time: Zeenat Aman, Rekha and Parveen Babi.
Still, they did not end the films happy. Janice, for instance, dies by suicide, unable to bear the fact that her parents and brother saw her drug-addled and consorting with hippies. The food scarcities and foreign aid of decades had given way to a growing economy. He could now be middle-class. And the heroines were often in college, planning careers. Instead, she often had a good reason for her misdeeds: she wanted her daughter to marry the good guy; she wanted her son to marry well.
Sometimes, she was a rich girl who had fallen in love with the hero. A popular trope of this time was the evil stepmother who saw the error of her ways. These villainesses were clearly destined to fail at their machinations, and were good for a few laughs as they stumbled along.
As for the rich girls, they always lost and ended up with literal or metaphorical egg on their faces. You could pity them, though, because although they had so much and so much more than the average person in the audiencethey eventually walked away with nothing to show for their efforts. Money could buy you a car or a bungalow; it could not buy you love. Women like Priyanka Chopra, Urmila Matondkar and Sonali Bendre were seeking ways to stand out, within a film and alongside the filmography of their peers.
Mainstream writers and filmmakers began to experiment with new kinds of stories. Kajol took the plunge with Guptwhere she played a serial killer. The film was a hit, and when that worked, for a woman who still had the candyfloss blockbuster of her career, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayengerunning in theatres; a movie in which she had so little agency that her father had to tell her to go after the man she loved as his train left the station for good; it opened the floodgates. Stars were lining up to take risks. And audiences were queuing up to see what these beloved actresses would get up to next.
Chopra saw her star rise with Aitraaz ; directed by Abbas-Mustanwhere she played a money-hungry, manipulative corporate boss. Bendre played a killer in Duplicate ; Mahesh Bhatt. Four years after her blockbuster Rangeela, Matondkar played a psychotic killer in Kaun? The list kept growing. Bipasha Basu played a greedy seductress in Jism Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was the accomplice of a rogue cop in Khakee Kareena Kapoor Khan played a con woman and killer in Fida Some of these were hits, some flops, but together they gave the mainstream a whole new layer: women who owned their villainy and took up all the space on the screen.
It was a retelling of the classic tragic love story Devdas, but her subplot was based also on news reports of a similar incident in a Delhi school. Her character would eventually become Chanda, the prostitute. Plots and storytelling methods were changing.
A new generation of storytellers was accommodating more of the real in the mainstream. Bythings had changed enough for Gulzar to write Ishqiya, and for Vidya Balan to star in it. She was dressed in cheap synthetic saris, her hair in an oily plait. As these films fared well, space opened up for a new generation of writers, filmmakers and actors, male and female, to take the stage, tell new stories, and tell them differently.
By the time Netflix arrived in India inthe market was ready. India already had its own streaming platforms. Amazon Prime entered the market later the same year too.
And the race was on for who could tell stories that were relevant and fresh, and do it differently. Streaming platforms are changing our notions of what constitutes a star, as film critic Anupama Chopra put it in a recent column. And the women in the lead roles have gone from good or bad, good or lost, good or evil to inhabiting the entire spectrum of the human experience. Struggling, winning, grieving, losing hopelessly, celebrating, loving, looking in the mirror and not recognising what they see.
Share Via. By Madhusree Ghosh. A string of stylish home-wreckers remember Nadira and Manorama? Deadly and doomed: Disco lights, cabarets, arm candy By the s, audiences came to the theatre expecting fantasy, even titillation. In came the sexy but doomed characters played by the likes of Helen. These were single, independent women who drank, smoked, wore western clothes, and invariably died at the end. Rohini Hattangadi and Sridevi in ChaalBaaz These bad girls were stepmothers, aunts, part of the family and essential to the plot, not just pasted in.
But even so, they were comical and destined to fail. They ditched their cute-girl image to play killers and stalkers in lead roles. The bad girl was now taking up the whole screen. Bya new breed of storytellers was bringing more of the real into the mainstream. The film was an unexpected hit.
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