A recent article by my senior Sneha Bengani in the Hindustan Times questioned why yesteryear actresses in the Hindi film industry are mostly offered stereotypical roles of mothers and mother-in-laws. She explained why we deserve a Meryl Streep, why we deserve the female counterpart of the evergreen Amitabh Bachchan.
I put my thinking cap on and recalled the number of times these actresses have been roped in to do something conventionally reserved for young actresses – ‘item numbers’. While there has always existed another stereotypical breed of ‘item girls’ like Jacqueline Fernandez, Sunny Leone, Nargis Fakhiri and Malaika Arora Khan, why were these yesteryear actresses chosen to shed off their rust and induce the men to lust after them:
1. Rekha in Kaisi Paheli Zindagani
Can you imagine a Katrina Kaif philosophizing about life in this peppy jazz number? While I don’t deny her dancing ability, this song from Pradeep Sarkar’s Parineeta (2005) demanded an actress who had stood the test of time and who could have done it better than Rekha, a timeless style icon.
2. Hema Malini in Ehi Thaiyaa Mothiya
Madhuri Dixit had not made her comeback by then. Who could have pulled off this Bharatnatyam number from Laaga Chunri Mein Daag (2007) in her absence? Taking a page out of his previous book, Pradeep Sarkar approached Hema Malini, a trained Bharatnatyam dancer, to play a courtesan in his film. The item number was integral to the narrative as well, as Malini’s performance influences Rani Mukherjee’s character to turn to prostitution to meet her ends.
3. Madhuri Dixit in Ghagra
By the time Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) released, Dixit had not only made her comeback but also moved back to India from the USA. It was only a matter of time that her fellow judge of the dance reality show Jhalak Dikhla Jaa, Karan Johar asked her to lend her thumkas and jhatkas to his production. Also, her dance number alongside Ranbir Kapoor introduced and established Kapoor’s character Bunny and also conveyed to the audience right at the start of the film that they were in for a fun filmy ride.
4. Raveena Tondon in Mohabbat Buri Beemari:
From her dance numbers with Govinda in the 1990s to this jazz number in 2015, her infectious energy galvanized the silver screen like nothing else. We are glad that her long-time friend Anurag Kasyap decided to go all mainstream with Bombay Velvet and approached Tandon to perform on a couple of jazz numbers in his film.
5. Urmila Matondkar in Mehbooba Mehbooba:
Well, nepotism does not always bear fruit. Even Matondkar’s fluid moves could not save this blunder. A remix of Helen’s iconic number from Sholay, Ram Gopal Varma thought he had it sorted when he asked his discovery Urmila to recreate the Rangeela magic. But the gritty and in-your-face editing and treatment of this song from Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag (2007) proved to be a disaster. Add to that, Abhishek Bachchan. Facepalm!
6. Preity Zinta in Happening:
Taking a break from her happening life off the 70mm screen, Zinta accepted good friend Salman Khan’s offer to do an item song in his brother Sohail Khan’s film Main Aur Mrs Khanna (2009). While it was interesting to see her share the screen space with her Jaan-e-Mann co-star after three years, it was the final sequence, loaded with oomph, which stole the show – a dance showdown between Preity and her contemporary Kareena Kapoor.
Yes, we do look forward to more Meryl Streeps in Hindi Cinema. But we don’t mind if we see the Hemas, Rekhas, Jayas and Sushmas shake a leg or two on the screen once in a while.