From Sati Savitri to the Slutty Savvy

Last Updated: Thu, Sep 23, 2004 06:13 hrs

Bad is good… and boy, have the girls in Bollywood realized that!

Three decades ago in B.R Ishaara’s Log Kya Kahenge Shabana Azmi played a woman married to a widower. When her stepson sees her with her lover, she gets the child killed. (View gallery: Tabu as never before in Maqbool)

The role and the performance shocked everyone including Shabana herself. “I remember seeing that completely evil look on my face… and I was shocked by it. Was I capable of such evil?” she laughed.

Today the leading ladies don’t mind giving up being the `Sati Savitri` to be the `Slutty Savvy`.

“You slut!” Masumi, playing her sister-in-law, shouted at Shabana’s niece Tabu in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool earlier this year. Tabu played the ultimate female villain Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth who connives with her lover to get rid of her husband.

Go into any leading ladies’ repertoire, and she’s more than willing to play the wanton woman, even it takes away from the shine of being the glamour puss. Last year Preity Zinta got into a wacky wig to play the role of tycoon Randhir Kapoor’s spoilt rich daughter who makes life miserable for her doctor-husband Anil Kapoor and his former sweetheart the angelic Gracy Singh in Honey Irani’s Arman. (View gallery: Preity plays the slut in Armaan)

Four decades earlier in Kamal Amrohi’s Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayee Nadira had played Preity’s role… and she was an acknowledged, signed sealed and delivered vamp!

What prompted Preity to get into the malevolent mode in Armaan? “Very simple. I liked the challenge of being this slightly deviant woman who can go to any lengths to get what she wants. My character was grey and I loved playing it. It was a pity that the film didn’t work.”

Kareena Kapoor shares the same sentiments. While playing the libertine in Ken Ghosh’s Fida she was going against every rule written for the Hindi-film heroine. In playing a woman who in connivance with her lover brings about ther utter ruination of a boy besotted by her, Kareena gave what could be considered the first full wanton woman’s performance by a leading lady of her generation.

“Why do you say that?” Bipasha Basu laughs throatily. “I’ve played the `Bad Girl` in my first film Ajnaabee where Kareena was the more conventional heroine. Then there was Jism where I was this complete libertine who cheats on her husband and tells her lover, ‘Yes, there was no feeling for you. I did it all for selfinterest.’ I wasn’t scared of playing the role. But yes, it was daring even by today’s standards. Though I believe actresses in the past have played adulteresses.” (View gallery: Ajnabee marking a different trend)

Sure, in the past Mala Sinha in B.R. Chopra’s Dhool Ka Phool, Rekha in Dulal Guha’s Do Anjaane and Reena Roy in J.Om Prakash’s Apnapan ‘dared’ to step out of marital margins. But they lived to regret it. Ditto Mallika Sherawat in this year’s freak hit Murder. After doing things other than singing with her lips she realized her folly and returned to her husband with tears in her eyes. (View gallery: It all started with Murder)

Marriage, and the conventional heroine’s image, were saved. And that’s the secret of the film’s success. Aishwarya Rai tried to play the unapologetic `Bad Girl` earlier this year in Raj Kumar Santoshi’s underrated Khakee. Her role required her to entrap cop Akshay Kumar in collusion with bad-man Ajay Devgun. In the end she stunned everyone by shooting down the man who loved her.

Ms Rai laughs pleasurably at this evil presence in her career. “I thoroughly enjoyed shocking the audience and myself in Khakee. But to be very honest, I didn’t know about the twist at the end when I accepted the film. Only when we started shooting was this ‘little detail’ dropped on me. All the heroes and my director had laid bets that I’d say no to being the villain’s moll at the end. When I heard it, I quite readily agreed to do it. It seemed like a challenge for me to be accepted in a negative role, and I thought I was quite up to it. I don’t regret doing Khakee at all.” (View gallery: Bipasha, John in Jism)

And never mind if the audiences thought otherwise. “We can’t always go by their expectations. We’ve to create new expectations,” says Aishwarya pragmatically.

No matter how ‘bold’ the heroine gets she needs to get her act together before the final fade- out. Otherwise she’s in for trouble. That’s where Priyanka Chopra and Sameera Reddy come in. These are the post-`Jism` generation of anything-goes girls willing to take on roles that require them to get rid of more than just their inhibitions.

In Sanjay Gupta’s Musafir Reddy plays a bored small-town housewife who sleeps with a number of men who pass through. Priyanka Chopra got scared off. But Sameera is game. Will she click? (View gallery: Musafir, thanks to Sameera)

In Abbas-Mustan’s Aitraaz Chopra will be seen as a hot-shot entrepreneur who lusts after married man Akshay Kumar. When he rebuffs her advances she sues him for sexual harassment.

Shades of Demi Moore’s Disclosure? You bet! Moore is definitely less in Bollywood. Though in Hollywood Moore, and also Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct and now in Spider-Man 2 enjoyed being evil (and it showed in their performance) in Bollywood being evil is a relative term. You can get away with it if your relatives push you into it, ha ha. Hence in Mehboob Khan’s Mother India in the 1950s Nargis shot her own (anti-social) son and in Manoj Kumar’s Roti Kapada Aur Makaan in the 1970s Zeenat Aman chooses ‘money’ (Shashi Kapoor) over ‘love’ (Manoj Kumar) but lives (and dies) to regret it.

Cut to 2002. The year when conventional filmmaking triumphed resoundingly in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas. Wanton wife Amisha Patel in Abbas-Mustan’s Humraaz first cheats on husband Bobby Deol and then revolts against her co-conspirator Akshaye Khanna when the sanctity of her marital vows is threatened.

Humraaz was a hit. On the other hand films where the women are out-and-out evil like Kareena in Fida and Aishwarya in Khakee, have flopped.

The male stars play the game by more flexible rules. Right from the 1950s when the mighty Dilip Kumar played a rapist in Mehboob Khan’s Amar and a man lusting after another man’s wife in the same director’s Andaz, actors have had the freedom to experiment with evil without the fear of retribution.

While the masculine journey into malevolence was sporadic in earlier decades it became a full-fledged exodus from the mid-1990s when Aamir Khan played a communal rioter in Deepa Mehta’s 1947–Earth, Shah Rukh did his ‘evil trilogy’ Baazigar, Darr and Anjaam and Sanjay Dutt played the Khalnaayak to Jackie Shroff’s Naayak in Subhash Ghai’s film.

Saawan Kumar reversed the villain’s gender, and cast Anu Aggarwal in the title role in Khalnaayika, a remake of Hollywood’s hit The Hand That Rocks The Cradle which made Rebecca deMornay’s career, but put a full stop to Aggarwal’s career.

More and more male stars are venturing into vilification. In the last two years everyone from Ajay Devgan in Deewangee to Akshay Kumar in Ajnabee has tried a hand at villainy. But the ladies will just have to curb their baser instincts.

Home-wreckers are fine for a lark. But at the end of the day they have to go home to Mama.