The world’s oldest profession - sex work - is also one of Bollywood’s oldest roles. In some movies, the sex workers are trying to get out of it - Preity Zinta in Chori Chori Chupke Chupke - while in others, some are just getting initiated - Kalki Koechlin in Dev D.
With Vidya Balan hitting the theatres on April 14 as a sultry and bold brothel owner in Begum Jaan, we figured it’s high time to toast our favourite sex worker roles from Hindi films:
1. Kareena Kapoor Khan in Chameli (2004) and Talaash (2012)
Kareena first played the role of a sex worker in Chameli, where she impressed Rahul Bose’s character with her attitude, strength, generosity and kindness. After being sold off into the flesh trade as a young girl by her uncle, Kareena, a street-smart but naive hooker, meets a well-to-do banker, Rahul, both of them stuck on the road during a downpour. The two connect with each other, unexpectedly.
The second movie, where the Kareena plays a sex worker, named Rosy, is the psychological supernatural thriller Talaash. Directed by Reema Kagti, the film also starred Aamir Khan and Rani Mukerji.
2. Tabu in Chandni Bar (2001)
Chandni Bar dealt with the underworld of Mumbai, where the sons of gangsters take up arms and the daughters of bar dancers and sex workers end up in dance bars. Tabu won many awards for her role as Mumtaz, the bar dancer who gets married to a gangster and has to resort to sex work to provide for herself and her family.
3. Rani Mukherji in Saawariya, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag (both 2007)
Rani Mukherji played Gulabji who narrates the story of Saawariya and falls in love with protagonist Ranbir Kapoor. But, as is usual for the sex workers in Bollywood – she loses him to another woman (Sonam Kapoor). But Rani’s most remembered performance as a sex worker was in Laaga Chunari Mein Daag. The film is a heart-wrenching tale of a young woman who leaves her family in Varanasi to get a job and provide for them, but ends up as a high-profile escort in Mumbai.
4. Preity Zinta in Chori Chori Chupke Chupke (2001)
Chori Chori Chupke Chupke saw Preity Zinta as the ‘other’ woman. It is a story of the transformation of a modest sex worker to a well-groomed lady (that smacks of Pretty Woman) by a businessman (Salman Khan), who needs her to be his infertile wife’s (Rani Mukherji’s) surrogate. While Preity takes up the job for the money, she cannot let go of her baby and falls in love with Salman’s character.
5. Kalki Koechlin in Dev D (2009)
The new-age Chandramukhi of 21st century Devdas, Kalki is a highly-paid sex worker by night and a college student by day. Dev D throws light on the modern-day phenomena that drags a regular woman to sex work – an MMS scandal that jolts the girl’s family into shame. A strong woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it, Kalki’s character adds a new dimension to the role.
6. Manisha Koirala in Market (2003)
Market shows an under-age Manisha being sold off into the flesh trade by her Arab husband. The 2003 film follows the story of Muskaan Bano from her life in brothels after being sold there by her husband to her attempts at revenge later in life. In a role that was surprisingly underrated, Manisha was brilliant as a sex worker who goes on to avenge herself.
7. Neha Dhupia in Julie (2004)
Neha Dhupia entered Bollywood after winning Femina Miss India title in 2002, but her most-acclaimed role came in 2004 with Julie. She did not disappoint in her performance of a heartbroken girl, who chooses sex work as a career.
8. Kangana Ranaut in Rajjo (2013)
In Rajjo, Kangana plays a seasoned sex worker residing in a red-light area in Mumbai. Chandu (Paras Arora), a young boy from a good family falls for her. The film delves into their love story and the troubles that ensue. While Kangana looked beautiful in the film, her performance was not much talked-about.
9. Bipasha Basu in No Entry (2005)
Bipasha played a sex worker in the 2005 comedy helmed by Anees Bazmee. Bobby (Bipasha) is a call girl hired by Prem (Salman Khan) to seduce Kishen (Anil Kapoor). No Entry, being an out and out comedy film, did not require the actor to perform too many steamy scenes.
10. Huma Qureshi in Badlapur (2015)
In Sriram Raghavan’s revenge drama, Huma played Jhimli, a sex worker who is forced to help Raghu (Varun Dhawan) reach his wife’s murderer by divulging information about her boyfriend Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) in a bank robbery case. Even though Huma did not get a lot of screen space in the film, she played her role with conviction. Huma was nominated for her performance as a supporting actress in several awards, including Filmfare and IIFA.
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