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June 12, 2013

Women We Won’t Miss

Text by Shashi Baliga. Published: Volume 21, Issue 6, June, 2013

Indian cinema has completed 100 years and we have all been reading about the women we love — the most beautiful and the most unforgettable women. Shashi Baliga shortlists the women who won’t be missed

THE MACHINATING MOTHER-IN-LAW
No, Indian mothers-in-law haven’t entirely given up on their malevolent ways; they’ve just beaten an ignominious retreat from Hindi films. Bilious old Lalita Pawar who managed to stare her poor bahus down with just one good eye has had her day. M-i-ls have not only gotten real, they’re also (relief!) better looking. Like the beauteous Hema Malini in Baghban. If you thought her character was over-glamourised, take one look at Dimple Kapadia, the hottest m-i-l in India that we know of. Life can be more glamorous than fiction, baby.

And then there is the diametric opposite, the bed-ridden crone in Peepli Live, whose constant nagging is briskly ignored by everyone. Really, who has the time now to listen to nagging m-i-ls (or husbands for that matter)? If the m-i-l has any sense, she’s going to be like Kamlesh Gill, the whiskey-drinking saas who enjoyed a drink with her bahu in Vicky Donor.

But what does the out-of-work machinating m-i-l do in that case? Move to TV, of course. Let’s see how long she lasts there.

THE LOVING SISTER
Thank heavens Farida Jalal got out of her wheelchair. After years of sisterly torture, the pyaari behna received her just reward with those wonderful roles as the mother in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and daijaan in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.

There was a time when sisters seemed to exist in Hindi films only to be married off (such a huge burden for the hero) or be raped (even more hard work for the hero to rescue her modesty in time).

Thankfully, Bollywood has woken up to the fact that we can manage on our own, thank you. And look after our brothers, if need be, sometimes till the very end: remember Karisma Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan in that heart-breaking scene in Fiza? On a happier note, the most heart-warming new-age siblings in recent times have to be Khushi Dubey and Naman Jain in Zoya Akhtar’s segment of Bombay Talkies. You can never start too early.

THE CHIRPY CHATTERBOX IN TWO PLAITS
In Hindi cinema, the two-plait hairdo has a dual identity (but naturally). One of them is cinematic shorthand for a ‘simple girl’ (whatever that means). Like Sridevi as the quiet twin in Chaalbaaz. The other (along with ponytails or pigtails) is for the painfully chirpy chatterbox: Sridevi in Lamhe. Rekha in Khubsoorat. Jaya Bhaduri in Guddi. The last instance was one of the very few times the plaits made sense. The rest were unbearable – both the hairdo and the grating chatter.

So what do actresses playing young ’n’ chirpy opt for now? The colourful hairband: think Katrina Kaif in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani or Alia Bhatt in Student Of The Year.

THE HAUGHTY THAKURAIN
Her last memorable outing was in Devdas when Aishwarya Rai’s Paro becomes the lady of a manor. But that was a film from another world, another mindspace. Luckily, society – or one section of it at least—has moved beyond the feudal mindset. So, praised be the cinematic gods, we have got rid of the haughty malkin jangling around with a giant set of keys to her minor kingdom. No more does the poor heroine, dressed drably and smeared with dust and/or cowdung have to be accused by her malevolent mistress of having stolen cash or jewellery from the tijori.

Alas, this feudal stereotype, like the filmi m-i-l, has moved to TV serials – where the two avatars combine in one frightening figure overdosing on venom and jewellery. Makes you despair… and wonder when we’ll ever see the last of her.

THE TRAGIC TAWAIF
Tawaifon ki taqdeer mein shauhar nahin hote.

Tawaifon ki toh taqdeer hi nahin hoti.

Aurat maa hoti hai, behen hoti hain, patni hoti hai, dost hoti hai… aur jab woh kuch nahin hoti toh tawaif hoti hai.

Aren’t you glad we’ve seen the last of this rubbish? Actresses like Meena Kumari, Waheeda Rehman and Rekha looked so exquisitely tragic and spouted such poetic lines that they carried off those really offensive lines – in another era. Not any more. When Laaga Chunari Mein Daag (one more of those regressive phrases!) tried to work the ‘self-sacrificing call girl with a heart of gold’ theme, some years ago, it bombed. Give us Rosie in Talaash any day – she had a heart of gold too, didn’t she?

THE SELF-SACRIFICING MOTHER/WIFE/SISTER/COURTESAN/FRIEND…
In short, a woman with no needs of her own. Or at best, a woman who will bury all her emotional, physical, financial, maternal, marital and human needs so deep that they daren’t pipe up and say, hey, what about me? All of which reaches its irrational pinnacle with the Holy Maa.

But think about it: the two most famous mothers in Hindi cinema – from Mother India and Deewaar – were women who were not afraid. Women who stood up for their rights, for other women’s rights and what was right. Women who did not indulge their wayward sons. Women who are rightfully iconic.

Thankfully, the sacrificing, sacrificial lamb of a woman is a stereotype that’s fading. Like Jaya Bachchan in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, she finally reached wake-up point. But afraid this one’s not leaving in a hurry; we’ll have to wait a while longer.

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