India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Cover Story
August 12, 2008

Big Time Sensuality

Text by Sona Bahadur. Photographs by Joy Datta. Styling by Freanka Dhanak. Make-up and hair by Vipul Bhagat

She embodies Bollywood’s new sexy. With her caramel skin, melting eyes and smouldering intensity, Chitrangda Singh would be striking in any age. Her strong individualism and unconventional roles add to the actor’s sensuality, making her an interesting study in what makes a woman hot on 70 mm today, discovers Verve

Step aside, size-zero bikini bods and raunchy item sirens. It’s time for sensuality with some real substance and soul. The new sexy goes way beyond physical attributes. It’s about soft edge. It’s about a bolder take on things. It’s about smarts. It’s about being imperfect yet comfortable in your own skin. It’s about sensuality 360o. Chitrangda Singh fills the bill perfectly.

Styled like a Greek goddess by Verve in graceful, fluid drapes by Shantanu and Nikhil and Gayatri Khanna and shot against the grainy drama of a building in renovation, Chitrangda makes a striking contrast against the rubble. It’s an apt visual metaphor for the actor who recently decided to resurrect her career after a mysterious three-year vanishing act. Billed the next Smita Patil after her sensational debut in Sudhir Mishra’s 2003 political epic, Hazaron Khwaishen Aisi, her sudden exit from films caused near panic among the industry’s ‘thinking’ directors. Serious about her second innings, the actor is here with Onir’s Sorry Bhai and is excited about portraying an ultra-stylish, modern-day Chandramukhi in mentor and close friend Sudhir Mishra’s Aur Devdas, a political adaptation of Devdas set in contemporary times.

Interestingly, her absence only seems to have added to her enigma. After nearly doing a film with Aamir Khan, she has now been signed opposite Saif Ali Khan for Mishra’s next, The Nawab, the Nautch Girl and the Johns Company. Up close and personal with her after the shoot, I discover Chitrangda’s magnetism is not merely about her looks. Be it her size-zero defying curves, her dusky skin, her unconventional choice of roles or her continuing popularity despite motherhood, the stunner is at the cutting edge of change, breaking stereotypes and established notions of desirability in Bollywood. Here’s how she exemplifies the new sexy:

Sexy is curvy
While men will happily vote for voluptuous curves over a skinny frame anytime, Bollywood has been under the spell of emaciated bodies in recent times. Think Aishwarya in Dhoom 2 or Kareena in Tashan. Fortunately, waif-like frames epitomised by supermodels like Kate Moss in the ’90s are on their way out. A welcome change from the current size zero obsession with boyish frames, Chitrangda’s womanly figure adds immensely to her sex appeal. Here’s a real woman with a real body. Shakira, Beyonce and Bipasha would approve.

Sexy is dusky
With bronzers flying off shelves, sunkissed is the new pretty. While actresses like Smita Patil and Deepti Naval were once considered an exception because of their complexion, today a growing tribe of sultry beauties like Bipasha Basu, Samira Reddy and Konkona Sen-Sharma are challenging the cult of fairness. Supremely comfortable in her dusky skin, Chitrangda reasons, “Considering the number of Fair and Lovely creams we sell, maybe the masses still prefer the light-eyed, fair girl. But the West celebrates darker skin and that has influenced fashion and cinema in India as well. We have started appreciating dusky beauty. For me it has always been an asset, personally. It takes that much less to make a dusky woman look beautiful!”

Sexy is real  
Super woman is out. Real woman is in. Honest enough to admit she acted impulsively when she decided to quit acting three years ago, Chitrangda says she was hurt when a couple of associations went sour soon after Hazaron…. “I was a bit of an emotional fool but it seemed right then. I felt I was not cut out for the industry and went into a shell. I’m not blaming anyone. I needed to be sorted in my head to realise cinema is a business.”

Sexy is flawed
Perfection is passé. Be it Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’ Diary or Cher in Moonstruck, imperfection is deeply appealing. It has edge and texture. Plus, we all relate to fallible characters. In Hazaron…Chitrangda left an indelible impression as the London-bred Gita, who ends her marriage with an IAS officer to live with her Naxalite lover and even has a child out of wedlock. The woman who evolves by making her own choices and mistakes is still fresh in the collective memory of audiences. “I don’t think a woman in India has ever been portrayed where she is with three men but doesn’t come across as a slut. Hats off to Sudhir Mishra for presenting her with such dignity. She’s as much of a man as a man. But in the end, it’s not about being a man or a woman. It’s about being human. That’s the beauty of Geeta’s character.”

Sexy is grey
Miss Goody Two Shoes isn’t too popular on Indian 70 mm anymore, witness recent characters played by Katrina and Bipasha in Race or Kangana Ranaut in Gangster and Woh Lamhe. Chitrangda naturally gravitates towards characters flecked with grey. Interestingly, obsessive love, a theme that runs through Hazaron Khawaishen Aisi also recurs in Chitrangda’s upcoming films Aur Devdas and Onir’s Sorry Bhai.  The actor can relate to the emotion: “People think obsessive is crazy because they haven’t experienced anything like it. But if there’s a feeling of not being able to carry on without a person, you have to make yourself complete with him or her. It’s great to be able to experience that emotional high at least once in life. Yeah, it turns negative sometimes but it’s mostly a positive emotion.”

Sexy is complex  
The intense actor, who loves Meryl Streep’s role in The Bridges of Madison County for its complexity, gravitates towards layered, multi-dimensional roles. In Onir’s Sorry Bhai, she plays Aliya, a film student in Mauritius who falls in love with her fiance’s brother. “Something like this needed to be handled very delicately. I like the fact that I play a woman who follows her heart. The complexity in the romantic angle was interesting.” Totally convinced about the role, she argues it’s about “being true to your emotion. You’d rather be clear in your head now and not spoil another guy’s life by getting married to him even if it’s because you’ve gone and fallen for his brother!” Dismissing rumours that there’s trouble in her own marriage, Chitrangda admits love has become a lot more complicated in our times. “If you have true feelings for a person, you’d want to be true to him or her. But it’s totally possible to fall out of love and meet someone else who’s right for you. It’s very personal. Ultimately your heart tells you what to do.”

Sexy is smart  
Nothing spells sexy in the 2000s than smarts. Too intelligent looking to play the bimbo, Chitrangda admits she’s fortunate to be in the industry at the right time. “Bollywood is being forced to open up because people want to see more intelligent stuff being made. A new crop of directors have come in who don’t only want to stick to masala. Earlier a female actor had to be this coy, dumb chick, but today if a woman looks intelligent and sexy, there is scope for her to do a good role and even have the film all to herself. It’s fabulous!” The actor, who admits “sincerity and honesty have actually gone out of fashion” is making her professional choices with a lot of care. She refused an item number in Tera Kya Hoga Johnny. “I love to dance but it’s a little senseless to be part of a film just because you want to do some latka-jhatkas.” Her patience has paid off. As a nautch girl in Sudhir Mishra’s period drama, The Nawab The Nautch Girl and The Johns Company, she gets ample scope to display her dancing skills as the main lead.

Sexy is strong  
The new Bollywood hottie makes her own decisions and lives life on her own terms. A bold attitude that reflects both in her screen portrayals as well as her choices offscreen. Geeta in Hazaron…was arguably the strongest character in the film. The sexual degradation she suffers at the hands of the police does not break her spirit and courage and she goes back to Bhojpur to continue teaching children of the marginalised class. In Aur Devdas, Chitrangda pushes the envelope with her portrayal of the modern Chandramukhi, a powerful high-society socialite who falls in love with an aspiring politician. “She’s not someone who sits there and does nothing about her love. Unlike the original Chandramukhi, she takes it on herself to make her Devdas’ dream come true. This Chandramukhi is selfless but not sacrificing in the old sense of the word. She’s not falling all over her man. She has her own plans and is very much in control. And she uses her sexuality to her advantage when she needs to.”

Sexy is assured  
From Bipasha to Kareena, Bollywood’s new ‘it’ women exude supreme confidence. Chitrangda is no exception. The actor, who prefers to be called sensuous rather than sexy, considers it a huge compliment nonetheless. “To be wanted and desired is any woman’s dream. I would love to play such a woman on screen. A man going around showing his biceps and looking fit is okay. When a woman wants to show it, she’s called cheap. But she’s not. I feel she’s confident of her sensuality. What’s wrong with that?” Keen to work with Ashutosh Gowarikar, Rakeysh Mehra, Sriram Raghavan and Imtiaz Ali in the coming days, she admits she might not be able to pull off a slapstick comedy. Nor does she want to do a Kareena. “Her personality suits the roles she does. I have a different personality so I can’t possibly do the same roles. Any one who tries to push herself into another skin is being a fool. But it’s not like I’m a parallel cinema actor. I want to do commercial stuff as well.”

Sexy is grown-up
Unlike Hollywood, marriage has traditionally been perceived to sound the death knell for an actor’s popularity in Bollywood. Today, veterans like Kajol and Madhuri are changing this mindset by proving that a mother can be commercially viable and desirable on screen. But while these women ruled the big screen for years as single women before their second innings, Chitrangda is virtually entering the industry as a mom. Married to golfer Jyoti Randhawa and mother of one-year-old Zorawar, the actor does not see her personal situation as an issue. “No one till today has said to me, ‘Oh, are you a mother?’ So I don’t think about it. I’m here for work. As long as I look good and deliver, it doesn’t matter. What if I had a kid at 18? That doesn’t make me old or redundant at 18, does it? Besides, I don’t think being married makes you any less desirable in today’s times. In fact, it’s nicer and much more interesting to see a woman who has seen a bit of life and experienced things. I’d imagine you’d find someone like that a lot more attractive than someone who’s like… sweet or whatever!”

Sexy is understated
Gyrating to an item number is no longer the only way to be considered sexy on the screen. Remember Bipasha Basu’s chic look in Corporate. Chitrangda’s über sophisticated Chandramukhi in Aur Devdas is all about subtlety and refined seductiveness. Dressed in designer business suits, cocktail saris and bandgalas in the film, she’s someone with a high fashion sense throughout. The actor’s own personal style reflects a penchant for minimalism. Chitrangda likes the classic look, places a premium on clean cuts and doesn’t care for very ornate styles. “I keep going back to brands I like — Zara and Mango, and Aldo for footwear.” Designers she likes include Sabyasachi, Raghuvendra Rathore, Ferragamo and Roberto Cavalli. For jeans and white shirts, it’s Massimo Dutti all the way. “My style is comfortable, classic, not too look-at-me.”

Sexy is balanced  
In an age where the emphasis on holistic living has become ubiquitous, an actor who has a life beyond the arc lights and seeks balance between work and personal fulfillment sends out a vibe that’s so new age, and yes, sexy. Chitrangda believes her hottest attribute is that she is at peace with herself and the world. “My peace, my balance and my personal happiness matter most to me. I’ve learnt to protect these and still carry on doing what I have to do.” The Alchemist-spouting artiste describes her return to acting as life actualisation. “If you really want something, the whole universe colludes to make it happen for you. I think I needed to act to complete my life. If you’re talented, it’s a bit of a curse. You can’t just lead an ordinary life. You have to work your talent.” Her son Zorawar has made her more assured and centered. “Before you’re a mother, you run around in circles; after motherhood circles run around you. You somehow become the centre of things. That’s beautiful. It just reassures you.”

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