She’s just been voted ‘Bollywood’s sexiest woman’ by a leading film glossy. Yet, Kareena Kapoor insists that she will never wear a bikini on screen, ever again. That statement took me back almost a decade to the time when I was just starting out as a journalist and had landed the plum assignment of chronicling B-town’s bathing beauties.
My research took me into our archives where I found cover girls — Saira Banu, Mumtaz and Sharmila Tagore — togged up in tantalising beachwear. Dilip Kumar’s demure ‘begum’ looked like a ‘desi’ Bo Derek in a one-piece that was gold net and shimmer. Mumtaz was ‘bindaas’ in candy pink. And Sharmila daring in black-and-white.
I managed to track down Dheeraj Chawda who had shot the La Tagore cover that had created a flutter even during Question Hour in Parliament. Dhirajji, who described himself as an "orthodox photographer", recalled Sharmila casually sailing into his studio one day for the photo shoot. Trunks of clothes did not follow her. In fact, except for a small purse, Satyajit Ray’s Devi carried absolutely nothing with her.
"Where’s your outfit?" Chawda wondered aloud, and the actor, who was looking for a change of image with Shakti Samanta’s An Evening In Paris, drew out the itsy-bitsy bikini and a pair of designer glares from her clutch.
Then, as Dhirajji’s camera clicked, she stretched out sensuously on a chaise, provocatively licked a lollypop and then struck a Jezebel-like pose that made it to the cover of a movie mag.
The actor, I was told later by director Shakti Samanta, had wanted to wear a bikini on screen too but Shaktida had insisted on a one-piece swimsuit, not wanting to stir up trouble with the censors, the year being 1965. The Bengal Tigress finally had her way during the cover shoot that banished her ‘Devi’ image forever.
Another veteran photographer, Kamat of Kamat Photo Flash, reminisced about Nalini Jaywant, the middle-class Marathi ‘mulgi’ (girl), who back in the early ’50s had seduced her Sargam ‘hero’, Ashok Kumar, by the pool. And then, while shooting the publicity stills in his Dadar studio in the swimsuit, had blushed a bright crimson, drawing amused smiles from her suave, worldly-wise co-star.
Nutan I met just once. She looked every inch a dignified maa. Yet, one afternoon, while wading through piles of photographs in the library, I came across a still of hers in SD Narang’s Dilli Ka Thug. The ‘perfect 10’ figure was on display, as was all the poise that came from a Swiss finishing school.
From seniors, I heard about Meena Kumari’s ‘hot’ poolside scene in Footpath. And watched Awaara to see Nargis in a ‘costume’.
Today, all these actors, are remembered for their ‘performances’ rather than their ‘swimsuit appearances’. And I’m sure, down the decades, Kareena’s dhokla-fafada drunken scene in 3 Idiots and her street-smart sassiness in Chameli will be recalled more than her size-zero figure in Tashan or the bikini babe of Kambakhht Ishq. But a few of us will have our sizzling memories of her too.