More often than not, well-known actresses who are cast as prostitutes end up giving award-winning, if not immortal performances. Decades back in Vasant Joglekar’s Adaalat in 1948, the late Nargis bathed herself in everlasting glory as the tawaif (prostitute) who sacrifices all for the sake of love.
The image of the martyred prostitute has stayed with the Hindi film heroine. In the 1960s another brilliant actress Suchitra Sen gave yet another award-winning performance as a woman pushed into prostitution to bring up her daughter in Asit Sen’s Mamta. And in the 1970s it was Sharmila Tagore who inbued an imperishable aura around her stardom by playing the golden-hearted whore in Shakti Samanta’s Amar Prem.
The image of the all-giving self-annihilating whore was further accentuated in the unforgettable performances of Meena Kumari in Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah, Sharmila Tagore in Gulzar’s Mausam, Mumtaz in K. Balachander’s Aaina, Rekha in Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan and Shabana Azmi in Pravin Bhatt’s underrated Bhavna. Tabu in Madhur Bhandarkar’s lusciously lauded Chandni Bar gave an outstanding performance as a woman forced to sleep with men for her son’s education.
All these memorable films about the fallen women proved to be among the highest points in the individual actress’ career, and ones that the actresses cherish to this day.
It looks like the other potential awards winners of the year have unexpected competition from Kareena Kapoor. In the title role as Chameli she finally breaks free of her ‘Poo’ image to deliver a performance that puts her firmly where she always belonged: at the very top of the histrionic heap.
The layered subtle performance will shock and silence Kareena’s detractors. After Meena Kumari in Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah, Rehana Sultan in B.R. Ishaara’s Chetna, Sharmila Tagore in Gulzar’s Mausam and Rekha in Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan, Kareena gives yet another sensuous spin to the role of the golden-hearted prostitute.
In the past most prostitutes in Hindi films including Manisha Koirala in last year’s Market have been portrayed as angelic victims of circumstances. For the first time since Ishaara’s Chetna, Kareena portrays a prostitute who doesn’t spill tears over her fate. Some other actresses in the coming year would be putting their own spin to the prostitute’s role.
But Kareena’s Chameli is expected to win her all the popular and National awards. So shall we ‘flesh’-forward to 2005?