Vidya Balan: knocked up and vengeful. Bipasha Basu: competitive and vengeful. Deepika Padukone: drunk and insecure. Kareena Kapoor: insecure and competitive. Priyanka Chopra: mentally challenged. Sridevi: linguistically challenged. Katrina Kaif: histrionically challenged.
Not a bad year so far for some of Hindi cinema’s female actors. A few of them have had to play neurotic or borderline insane characters, but at least they are doing more than scattering a few hundred men in all directions in slow motion. Salman Khan will probably headline year-ender special issues for his ability to convert mediocre films into monster hits, but the box-office drawing power of Kaif, his rumoured ex, can’t be underestimated.
Kapoor doesn’t have Kaif’s box-office allure, but she has far greater presence—see how beautifully Sriram Raghavan uses her large eyes and sharp cheeks in her introductory scene in Agent Vinod—not to mention more visible acting chops. Kapoor’s off-screen hauteur will hopefully enliven the embittered and insecure actor whose story is the focus of Madhur Bhandarkar’s Heroine. The women in Bhandarkar’s morally righteous cinema do not have a reputation for complexity, and the entire movie will hang on Kapoor’s limited but undeniable acting abilities.
Kapoor and Kaif are competing for a “No. 1” slot that once belonged entirely to Sridevi. Before being eclipsed by Madhuri Dixit’s superior dancing skills and greater sex appeal, she commanded meaty roles and the respect of film-makers and audiences. Sridevi will make her comeback in October with English Vinglish, in which director Gauri Shinde makes clever use of the Tamilian actor’s restricted Hindi-speaking skills.
Sridevi’s accented Hindi was hidden from northern audiences for years since her dialogue used to be dubbed by the former child star Naaz. But she sounded just fine in Tamil cinema, and it was only in Moondram Pirai (made in 1982 and remade the following year in Hindi as Sadma) that many of us noticed just how squeaky her voice could get.
Tamil speakers of a certain vintage (or their children at any rate) remember her as a tomato-nosed, wide-hipped woman who held her own against Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth in the movies of realist melodrama specialist K. Balachander. Those were the late 1970s and early 1980s, when it was all right for a leading woman to be plump and wear mismatched saris. The new Sridevi, with a face and body nearly as chiselled as Kapoor’s, is an altogether new creature.
It doesn’t matter whether Sridevi will embarrass or enthral her fans with English Vinglish. What matters is that she is back, as will be Dixit in 2013 with Dedh Ishqiya. This is already turning out to be the year of women and womaniyas, and we haven’t yet reached Aiyya, starring Rani Mukerji as a lavani dancer, Yash Chopra’s forthcoming untitled romance, in which Shah Rukh Khan romances Kaif and Anushka Sharma, and Talaash, in which Aamir Khan shares the screen with Mukerji and Kapoor.
Heroine releases on 21 September.