Sonam Kapoor has been hogging headlines mostly for her fabulous sartorial sense and her rude tweets. This fortnight, she has yet another chance to prove that she is more than just a clothes horse with a smile wider than the Brahmaputra. Whatever you make of Mausam’s promos—and Shahid Kapoor’s Hitleresque moustache—at least it isn’t a remake of a Tamil or Telugu hit. It doesn’t star Salman Khan. It isn’t a love story between a beefcake and his treadmill. Rather, Mausam is an old-fashioned romance between a man and a woman.
Perhaps we are being too optimistic about the length and impact of Sonam Kapoor’s role in Mausam, which marks the directorial debut of noted actor Pankaj Kapur. Women have got a bum deal at the movies this year—nothing new, but surely more can be expected from an industry that claims to be trying out new plot lines and storytelling techniques? It doesn’t help that the leading female actors are either disinterested in playing the game any other way or incapable of doing so. Katrina Kaif had a plum, author-backed part in Mere Brother ki Dulhan, but this was the first time we wanted to see more of Imran Khan and Ali Zafar than her. Kareena Kapoor was content playing the dumb-blonde foil to Salman Khan’s even more dim Bodyguard in one of this year’s biggest hits.
Women stood by and approvingly watched the journey of self-discovery undertaken by the three male leads in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara—in fact, Kalki Koechlin’s character is the closest the film came to having a villain. The rest of the year’s eagerly anticipated releases are all dominated by their male leads—Ranbir Kapoor in Rockstar, Shah Rukh Khan in Ra.One, Saif Ali Khan in Agent Vinod and Shah Rukh Khan again in Don 2: The Chase Continues.
This has been the year when male stars didn’t just retake control of the box office, but also snatched the pin-up status from their female counterparts. While men like Salman Khan and Ajay Devgn have been furiously baring their bodies to the delight of their unreconstructed male fans and gay admirers, women have been exposing other bits of themselves, like their ability to be “bold”, make out and cuss. Female actors have had to become sassy in order to appear substantial and get noticed, whether it’s Rani Mukherjee’s profane and sexy Meera in No One Killed Jessica or Priyanka Chopra’s putatively scandalous, much-married and murdering Susanna in 7 Khoon Maaf or Kangna Ranaut’s alcohol-swilling Tanu in Tanu Weds Manu. In That Girl in Yellow Boots, Koechlin’s Ruth has to give hand jobs and tolerate a drunk boyfriend and a lecherous gangster in order to get by. Vidya Balan cast the first stone in 2010’s Ishqiya, and in the upcoming Dirty Picture, she looks all set to bring a whole quarry along with her. Mahie Gill too attempts to raise temperatures in the 30 September release Sahib Biwi aur Gangster, in which she plays an oppressed housewife who has an extramarital affair.
Love in sepia: Shahid Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor in Mausam.
Only two female characters have managed to show some spine and evidence of a brain thus far—Monica Dogra’s photographer in Dhobi Ghat and Poorna Jagannathan’s television reporter in Delhi Belly. Jagannathan’s refreshingly casual look, tousled hair and devil-may-care coolness are a welcome departure from Hindi cinema’s ultra-feminine heroes. When Imran Khan makes a literal dive for her in the end, you can totally see why.
Mausam released in theatres on Friday.
Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org