Strong is the new sexy: Katrina, Jacqueline, Alia, Shraddha become ‘action women’
That Katrina Kaif is a looker is hardly news; what impressed viewers about her performance as Zoya in Tiger Zinda Hai (2017) was her combat skills and strong physique. The actor, who enjoyed this “new challenge”, shared workout videos online, giving people a glimpse of her sweat and toil.
“Yeah, it’s scary but great fun. I’ve only done very feminine delicate roles so far. It is a new challenge for me. I guess that’s what I’m looking for at this stage of my career,” she said in an earlier media interview. Other leading ladies in Bollywood who’re taking action seriously are Jacqueline Fernandez in Race 3; Shraddha Kapoor in Saaho; Kangana Ranaut in Manikarnika; and Alia Bhatt in Brahmastra.
“These are all demands of the script” and these roles require actors to be fighting fit, says trade analyst Atul Mohan. “Zoya was a RAW agent and it required her to be good at fighting. Similarly, the other films also require their actors to perform action.” Also, he says, “You can do romantic films till you have age on your side, but action is something that’s not bound by age.”
Action director Allan Amin says that the trend is gaining pace because of how health- and fitness-conscious Indians have become. Moreover, “everyone is ready to experiment”, he says.
Shivam Nair, who directed Taapsee Pannu in the spy thriller Naam Shabana (2017), feels that when so many women-fronted films are being made in Bollywood, action is a genre that can’t be ignored. “It acts as a breath of fresh air. Shabana Khan (a character seen in the film Baby, 2015) had such a powerful presence even in those few minutes that the viewers were keen to know more about her past,” adds Nair, who’s planning to make another action-oriented film soon.
Ali Abbas Zafar, director of Tiger Zinda Hai, believes that the strong women on screen are a reflection of a social evolution. “Women are no longer shown as submissive. They have bigger roles to create an impact. And they’re also working hard to make sure they look convincing on screen. Katrina was focused and worked really hard to build an athletic body and acquire acrobatic skills. Her hard work paid off,” he says. He points out the efforts put into reaching peak fitness by Anushka Sharma for Sultan (2016), and by the four actors who played female wrestlers in Dangal (2016).
Fitness and action trainer Kuldeep Shashi, who’s training Jacqueline for Race 3 and Mouni Roy for Brahmastra, says that action on screen is all about postures and movements. “While male actors are stronger, female actors are fit and flexible, which is an advantage. Jacqueline wanted to do stunts and action and had told me about her wish when we worked in Judwaa 2 (2017). For her upcoming film, she has been practising for two hours every day for two months and working on her fitness for the same for the past four months. Mouni is also putting in a lot of effort. It’s a superhero film, so the style is different and requires flexibility. For Jacqueline, it’s mixed martial arts,” says Kuldeep, who also trained Sonakshi Sinha for her action scenes in Akira (2016).
According to both Atul Mohan and Shivam Nair, such films inspire young girls. “When they see [female] characters fighting for their rights and also be strong enough to confront their enemies, it inspires them and gives them courage to stand up for themselves,” says Mohan. Kuldeep shares that he gets female students who come to him for exactly this reason.
It seems that the trend won’t die anytime soon. “I do get calls from producers and filmmakers asking will a full-on action film on the lines of Charlie’s Angels (2000) work in India or not?” says Mohan. “After all, looking at how these films are faring at the box office, a lot of [filmmakers] are now thinking about cashing in on it.”
Interact with Shreya Mukherjee on Twitter @Shreya_MJ