I have to confess to a pet phobia. I’m petrified of snakes. I’d never keep a cobra for a pet. But I can see Mallika Sherawat, stretched out on a settee, with a serpent coiled around her. It’s so Madam M!
Irrfan Khan, her co-star in the just-released Hissss, agreed with me: “She suits the role to the T. It’s not an Indian
so she won’t have to sing and dance or speak either. But she’ll get to do all the other things that she is famous for,” he commented, tongue-firmly-in-cheek.
Among the things Mallika’s famous for are her lip-locks. If memory serves me right, there were 17 of them alone, in
that launched her in the lead. This was followed by
Kis Kis Ki Kismet
that had three kisses in the title itself. And then there was
Bheege hoth tere...
’ in Murder, which had her smooching Emraan Hashmi on a parapet in a high-rise in Bangkok. The riot police almost got them.
Surprising statistics from someone, who six years ago, had confessed to me that her first kiss had scarred her for life. “The smell of raw onions was nauseating. I’ll have to find myself a vegetarian, a no-onion, no-garlic, non-smoking dude. Bad breath of a guy is frightening,” she had shuddered in distaste.
I knew that Khan smoked and his diet definitely included onions, garlic and all things non-vegan. So, how did she agree to kiss him, I’d wondered when quizzing him on his modern-day nagin adventure? “Mallika doesn’t kiss me, if she did I’d die,” he had deadpanned, pointing out that he was not one of her victims in the film but her saviour. And that saved him!
When I’d brought up the subject of poison kisses with Mallika she had laughed, “Snakes don’t kiss, they swallow, didn’t you know that?” No, I didn’t. But then, Mallika knows so much more about reptilian hisssstory than I do. Her early memories are woven around the snake charmers who would pass through her village in Haryana.
Mine are woven around the
films of Vyjanthimala, Reena Roy and Sridevi that I would shiver through with half-shut eyes. In fact, so deep-rooted was my fear of the slithering creatures that if they crawled into newspapers or even school books, family and friends were instructed to tear out pages to preempt a storm of hysterical sobs.
Mallika has no such frights sparked off by unanticipated sights. She was clicking pictures at Cannes earlier this year using a snake as an accessory. “I’m not afraid of them,” she says fearlessly. “They are pretty fascinating creatures… Limbless, venomous, cold-blooded predators who swallow their prey whole. As a kid I enjoyed watching Sridevi in
. Tsui Hark's Hong Kong film,
, with Maggie Cheung and Joey Wong playing twin snakes, was interesting in a campy way. But strangely, one of my inspirations for
An American Werewolf In London
For a good part of a year, Mallika has been in make-up for four hours everyday. She has worn a body suit that has prevented visits to the loo and left her dehydrated for days. She had leeches crawling all over her and has braved freezing rain in the jungles of Kerala on some days. You’d think she’d hate snakes by now. But no, Madam M is open to the idea of a sequel to her first productions.
So, will the hisssstrioncs continue…