Most Indian film-goers know Cate Blanchett as the powerful actor who has done two Elizabeth movies with Shekhar Kapur in the last decade. But if you see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, you’re likely to rediscover Blanchett.

PS: Blanchett outshines Pitt in Benjamin Button.

Brad Pitt, did you say? Oh yes, he shows up after director David Fincher has spent 2 hours or so playing around with computer generated imagery— sticking Pitt’s aged face on all types of actors. When Pitt finally appears as himself, he looks great as always. But this movie belongs to Daisy—Benjamin’s childhood friend, played by Blanchett.

Blanchett looks so stunning you’ll never believe it’s her.

And when she first meets Benjamin, all grown up, and whirls around (foreplay ballet, if you will) in a red dress to die for, she is much, much sexier than one of the world’s sexiest men. She plays a ballet dancer in the film and except for a series of fouettes and an extension, she’s apparently done all the dancing herself.

And those of you who believe a dress is only as good as its luxury brand should see this film too. For Daisy’s look, costume designer Jacqueline West referenced Claire McCardell, the mother of American ready-to-wear. West said Blanchett turned into a ballerina during fittings, and that she reminded her of the graceful Tanaquil Le Clercq, who was a New York City Ballet Company star in the 1940s before she was diagnosed with polio at 27.

Seeing Blanchett, who is older than me, slide gracefully from one unbelievable contortion to another made me want to be fit again. I promptly rushed off to the park to run-walk my way through the weekend (although I read a while ago that running after her children and acting in those heavy Elizabeth costumes has been Blanchett’s primary exercise this past decade).

The film also reiterates the quality of female acting talent in Hollywood. Three women were nominated for academy awards from last year’s Doubt. Goddess Kate Winslet received rave reviews for her performance in The Reader and Revolutionary Road. Penelope Cruz and Angelina Jolie may be rated among the world’s sexiest women, but hey, they can act too.

So why does our Hindi film industry have such a paucity of good female leads? Chitrangda Singh was the last actor who made an impression on us around three years ago in Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi. Tabu would love to work with international directors, but Woody Allen’s only asked Freida Pinto. Even Konkona Sen Sharma looks like she’s sleepwalking through her movies now. In fact, if I look at the past six months, both the actors who were halfway decent (Asin in Ghajini and Mahie Gill in Dev D) came from regional cinema.

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen several new male faces who might turn out to be the next big thing—Ranbir Kapoor, Imran Khan, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Abhay Deol (and I’m sure we’ll look at Shahid Kapoor differently after Vishal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey is released later this year). But women? More than 20 years after she died, I’m still nostalgic for Smita Patil. In fact, her son Prateek Babbar (you saw him in Jaane Tu... last year) is another young actor who could surprise us in the coming years.

I guess you can’t do anything about the female vacuum in Bollywood, but you can see Button to be inspired about how you should look when you’re Cate Blanchett’s age.

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