The second edition of Brunch Dialogues – Conversations With Indian Cinema set the tone for a night of Bollywood discussion that went beyond filmi gossip. The spotlight was trained on cinema’s female side; because where would our blockbusters be without their leading ladies, their fearless heroines, their sultry seductresses and their irresistible girls next door?
Our films have celebrated women down the ages, but do our new films break stereotypes or simply create new ones? How far has the female lead come? How far will she go? And who’s taking her there? Two panels (of powerful filmmakers and stunning and equally powerful actresses) discussed all this and more at the Taj Lands End, Mumbai, on a glittering Friday evening. The city played a great host and the Mumbai rains decided to come too. Read on...
SESSION ONE: Emerging From The Stereotype
“Actresses prefer to remain an object than a subject”
by Rachel Lopez
The panelists: Siddharth Roy Kapur, MD, Studios, Disney UTV; Madhur Bhandarkar, Director, Heroine, Fashion; Rajkumar Gupta, Director, No One Killed Jessica, Aamir
Moderator: Vir Sanghvi, Advisor, HT Media
Four men sit down to discuss women…
And it turns out to be a pretty upbeat evening – quickfire quotes, surprising truths, money talk and good natured ribbing. But then we’d expected nothing less.
It starts off with a bang. Madhur Bhandarkar is discussing his new film Heroine, explaining how his central character, the fading star Mahi (Kareena Kapoor), is based on people from Bollywood, Hollywood and the film industries of South India.
Mahi is not a one-dimensional character. She’s fragile, temperamental, neurotic, unstable…
And heroines are like that?
It’s a dramatisation of what is already the case. It’s about dealing with fame.
But why do people only focus on neurotic women? What about the men?
It’s audiences who’ve made female protagonists a better bet than before. Umrao Jaan, Arth and Bhumika had strong female roles. But they were called “different” films. It’s changed. Movies that were art cinema earlier are now mainstream.
But isn’t it true that cinema looks at women as either weepy or ball breaking? There’s Rani [Mukerji] in No One Killed Jessica…
As a director, you have the creative liberty to give the character an edge – to do what you want to do.
Even Heroine is 70 per cent real and we needed to add 30 per cent of drama to Kareena’s character. It was the requirement of the film. For Chandni Bar I went to a lot of bars, but the film itself was made in a budget of one-and-a half crore. In Heroine, Kareena’s costume budget alone was bigger…
And it’s required for her character. If you’re making a film like Heroine then you can’t buy clothes from Fashion Street. Heroine’s entire budget is Rs 20 crore. And costumes actually cost more than the Rs 1.5 crore.
Well she has some 127 costumes…
What draws you to women-centric films?
The nature of the story. The story of struggle is what is most inspiring. I take inspiration from the papers, the headlines. Ordinary people in extraordinary situations.
And how do audiences react to something like this?
Male-centric movies are always entertaining but women centric films are more commercially viable. I don’t think the audience wants to see Katrina or Kareena playing Salman’s role in Ek Tha Tiger – they want glamour. A male film can be over the top, but a woman-centric film has to be real. Earlier a strong female protagonist was either a devi or a prostitute. Today women
characters have shades of grey…
Actresses too prefer to remain an object than a subject. They prefer mainstream movies because it means a big actor, an item number, endorsements and money.
From the front row...
...actress Poorna Jagannathan asked why there were no women on the panel (well, that was panel number two) and whether filmmaking was male dominated or not.
Rajkumar Gupta’s response: For anyone who thinks this, you have to come on the sets to see how many women work in a film. Women form 70 per cent of the crew.
Adman Alyque Padamsee declared that cinema was just using women as legs and cleavage today. “People seem to have forgotten when there were Nargis, Meena Kumari as leads.”
Vir’s response: So films just use women as props... And of course, advertising never does this!
SESSION TWO: I was married to Saif in my mind the day I met him
By Parul Khanna Tewari
The panelists: Actress Sharmila Tagore, Kareena Kapoor and Karisma Kapoor
Moderator: Vir Sanghvi, Adviser, HT Media
Never before have the three been on-stage together. So, the discussion was bound to be eclectic, interesting, cerebral and fun with loads of daughter-in-law and mother-in-law chemistry and sibling chides (and support). The older men in our audience couldn’t get enough of their yesteryear hearthorb Sharmila and the younger couldn’t chose between Kareena or Karisma while the three along with the Vir Sanghvi (the lucky man) discussed films, heroines, marriage, playing call girls and their relationship with their husband and fiancé.
How has the face of the Indian heroine changed?
Sharmila: Today, money is in place. A film is made in real time. Earlier, sometimes, it would take two to three years to make one film. Unless, it was a Yash Chopra or a Raj Kapoor film. Also, there was a clear demarcation of stereotypical roles. What a heroine couldn’t do, ramp would. And she would have stereotyped names like Dolly and Lilly. Vamps were far more interesting and layered than heroines who were all goody, goody. The latter lived for the community, even a grey character like Roasie in Guide and Kalyani in Bandani lived for the society. But before this time, there was the Fearless Nadia. She was a bigger draw than Salman Khan today but the triumvirate Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand changed things and started the whole male star domination in the industry and in the process the heroine was overlooked. And after the war, the male gaze (towards women) and values in the society too changed.
Even today, when more women are going out to work and things in society has changed, by and large things are same in cinema. Women are still playing second fiddle to actors. There is nothing written for the older heroine. The change is very superficial, actresses are wearing modern clothes, but things are the same. By and large, the film industry is still traditional.
Vir Sanghvi: Do you agree with Sharmila? You can disagree, I am sure she won’t mind…
Kareena Kapoor: I know (embarrassed laughter).
It is a great time to be in the industry today. Things are looking up since 2010. Actresses are taking up prominent roles. Take Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture or Priyanka Chopra in Saat Khoon Maaf, or Barfi. The girls are ready to take challenging roles.
Also, take my role in Heroine for instance. Most girls get to play either black or white roles. My role in the movie is grey. I was very skeptical about taking it up so I asked Saif about it. He told me that sometimes one should take up roles to satisfy oneself and I thought I was ready to play a little grey. Everyone wants to be pristine and pure and the girl-next-door. Nobody wants to show the darker side but Madhur Bhadarkar is a director who likes the darker side of a woman.
When I had done that song, “Sexy sexy”, it was something very unheard of and there were lots of reactions. Later, I was literally in tears. I hadn’t a clue about things as I was straight out of school and on the sets. The words were even changed to baby baby. Kareena was very young and she watched me cry when the song came out. Now things have changed. Sexy is not an unheard word.
I remember going to a village where I was allowed to use the toilet but another girl (whom I don’t want to name) and who was a vamp wasn’t. Now, the audience is watching western films and is exposed to people playing a range of characters. Today, Saif can play Langda Tyagi in Omkara, something a hero couldn’t earlier.
At this stage in your career, you don’t need a Madhur Bhandharkar…
Kareena: I would want to act all my life but I don’t know if I will have a choice all my choice. Today, I want to experiment with my roles and I have the choice to do so. I did a street walker when I was seventeen. My mother-in-law essayed a role of a call girl in Mausam. That’s great inspiration.
Vir Sanghvi: You are calling her mother-in-law already?
Kareena: Of course! It’s an honour to have someone I can look up to at home.
Vir Sanghvi: You were one actress for whom roles were written… Would Zubeida have been made had you not agreed?
Karisma: (Referring to her role in Zubeida). I am sure anyone would have played that role. But I felt that role for written for me. Khalid Mohammed also told me that he saw me as his mother.
Vir Sanghvi: Your most films were with Rajesh Khanna who was a big star…
Sharmila: Actresses never had professions, except in Dooriyan or Safar and playing a call girl (in Amar Prem) doesn’t count. In films like Aradhna and Amar Prem, we had visibility but the male gaze prevailed.
Vir Sanghvi: Amar Prem was a Rajesh Khanna film. How difficult was it to get noticed when the best lines were given to Rajesh Khanna?
Sharmila: It is not the best example because we both had very good lines.
But while shooting, we would be ready by the call time and then would wait hours for actors, except Shashi Kapoor, to turn up. Nobody said anything to them. But that is the way everyone worked. I have no complaints. We all worked and got along. Now, things are more professional – you have a ten hour contract and when if you come late, you have to shoot for that much time. You come and do your work. There are systems and money in place.
Vir Sanghvi: You were of the generation of actors that was a bridge Sharmila’s and Kareena’s generation of change.
Karisma: I remember when Akshay and I were very new, we went for a shoot not knowing what we had to do that day. So once we went to the director and asked him, “Shoot kya hai?”. He said,. “Fikr mat karo, kuch likh lenge aur kuch shot laga denge”. And those movies went on to become hits. You can ask Akshay this actually happened.
Kareena: It happens even now in some films. Not every director has a bound script. Very few like Zoya Akhtar, Farhan Akhtar and Rajkumar Hirani have bound scripts.
Vir Sanghvi: In Refugee, you didn’t know?
Kareena: We both were new and JP Dutta works like that. His actors don’t know but he has a defined idea of what needs to be done.
Vir Sanghvi: In his head?
Kareeena: That’s how I got my training.
Vir Sanghvi: You are the first Kapoor girls to be in films? Kapoor girls were not supposed to join films
Karisma: That is the greatest myth. My grandfather (Raj Kapoor) wasn’t against women from his family working in films. I want to clear it once and for all. He advised me, “Once you are in the industry, you are on your own. You will have to prove yourself. The industry is a not a bed of roses”.
After marriage, Geeta Bali and Jennifer worked because they wanted to. My mother and Neetu aunty didn’t because they didn’t want to. My dad’s sisters were never interested in joining films; they were more interested in good food.
And Kareena and I worked because we wanted to.
Kareena: When I joined films, I felt more like Karisma’s younger sister. I felt responsible in some way to my family, more so, because Karisma had proved herself. My mom and dad were very cosmo and liberal. When I chose to do Chameli, my father called and said that it was a wonderful decision.
Vir Sanghvi: Did it help being a Kapoor?
Karisma: No. It was more difficult because the expectations are so much more. With someone else, people are like; this person is at least trying.
Vir Sanghvi: Would your grandfather be ok with the song Sexy Sexy?
Karisma: He would be fine. It is a profession. In fact, I think he has given us his blessings as it is very rare to see two siblings so successful.
Kareena: I wish we could revive the RK Banner and I wish my father could direct me. It is on Karisma and my minds even though we haven’t spoken about it. If we get the opportunity, we would definitely like to do it. In fact, we tell our mother how lucky she was to have acted in one film with our dad, …..
Vir Sanghvi: Time right for Kal Aaj Aur Kal?
Vir Sanghvi: You got married to a more famous person than you. Did it affect your career?
Sharmila: Yes. Marriage does affect a woman’s career. I was a star but I wasn’t affected by stardom so I handled. Also, Tiger didn’t mind my working. He was absolutely supportive. I was very lucky to have a partner and friend who allowed me to have an individual life. I had wanted to work, I didn’t want to give up on that. Also, it didn’t make a difference to the audience. I did Amar Prem after marriage. It was such a hit. Was I an exception? I don’t know.
I was married and I worked, that was hara kiri and I worked even post having kids, that was double hara kiri.
Vir Sanghvi: Is your marriage going to affect your carrer?
Kareena: I don’t think so. I wouldn’t sacrifice my work for my love and my love for my work.
Kareena: There is a lot of debate about my marriage. Saif and I are overwhelmed. I am not surprised but Saif is bobbled. My personal life is different from what I am onscreen. And I am grateful to have met Saif. I was married to him in my mind the day I met him. I don’t know about him but I feel head-over-heels in love with him.
Vir Sanghvi: Did Saif fall head over heels in love with Kareena?
Sharmila: I don’t know. He didn’t confide in me. I am very happy they are getting married. They look very good together. Saif is very fortunate to be marrying Kareena.
Vir Sanghvi: You were seeing each other for?
Kareena: We are going around with each other for five years. I enjoy his company and I am always laughing when around him. And he never asks me what I am doing. He hasn’t even seen Heroine yet. I have seen all his movies but I don’t think he has.
Vir Sanghvi: Tiger didn’t see all your movies?
Sharmila: He didn’t. He liked Vyajanthimala. His children’s films he would see on the computer.
From HT Brunch, September 23
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