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Katrina, Vidya, a filmy paradox

Does the Hindi film audience love Barbie doll and Ma Durga in equal measure? It seems so, from the box office successes of our desi Barbie Katrina Kaif and Vidya Balan, Ma Durga incarnate in Kahaani...writes Lena Saha

chandigarh Updated: Jun 02, 2012 23:32 IST
Lena Saha
Lena Saha
Hindustan Times

Does the Hindi film audience love Barbie doll and Ma Durga in equal measure? It seems so, from the box office successes of our desi Barbie Katrina Kaif and Vidya Balan, Ma Durga incarnate in Kahaani.

While Katrina's stardom gives credence to the belief that the Hindi film industry as well as the audience admires hourglass figures and fair faces, especially if they are foreign, Vidya dispels these notions, sometimes with her curves, sometimes with her unglamorous looks, but most often with her strong performances.

Except Rajneeti, where Katrina is seen with little or no make-up in the second half, it is her slim and dolled-up image in all her other films that has made her the darling of the audience. But before you conclude that the audience always favours female stereotypes, take a look at Vidya's roles too.

A voluptuous screen goddess (The Dirty Picture), a young woman wearing T-shirts twice her size, big glasses and no make-up (No One Killed Jessica) and a woman with a baby bump (Kahaani) - they all shatter the stereotypical portrayal of women on screen. And these are the characters that have brought the bouquets for Vidya.

This is heartening because it suggests that the audience has become mature. The days when Madhuri Dixit, despite being a fine actor, earned the applause of the audience mostly for her song-and-dance routine and not for playing strong-willed characters like Ketki in Mrityudand, are hopefully behind us.

Katrina's body of work shows that she has mostly chosen films with strong male leads or those having an ensemble cast. This has paid off for her as these films have been her most successful ones. Barring New York, Namaste London and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, three hit films where Katrina is the sole female lead, her others - Partner, Welcome, Race, Rajneeti and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara - have female leads apart from herself and the protagonists are always the male actors.

In New York too, she is a pivotal, but not central character. Despite starring in multi-starrers, Katrina has held her own in all of them, instead of being lost in the crowd. That speaks volumes about her charisma and star power over a prolonged period.

Vidya's dream run at the box office is, however, courtesy films where she has a strong role or is the central character. Be it Ishqiya where she keeps two small-time crooks wrapped around her finger, No One Killed Jessica in which she is one of the two protagonists (the other being Rani Mukherjee) or her biggest success The Dirty Picture, for which she has won a National Award, playing Silk, inspired by 1980s Southern siren Silk Smitha - all of them have instant recall value because of her characters.

In her latest Kahaani too, Vidya is the only lead character. The film has become a superhit, prompting many to call her the female Amitabh Bachchan of the film industry. But even when she shared screen space with Saif Ali Khan and Sanjay Dutt in her debut Parineeta in 2005, Amitabh Bachchan had confessed that he couldn't take his eyes off her throughout the film.

Katrina has made a career out of playing NRIs or those having some foreign connection, which can account for her accented Hindi. Even in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, the filmmaker's only justification for Katrina's accented Hindi is that she is the daughter of an Indian Foreign Services officer! Vidya, on the other hand, with her classic Indian beauty, has made a splash with roles that are intrinsically Indian.

The soaring popularity of these two actors, who are antithesis of each other, is a fascinating paradox. Although their Hindi film careers took off the same year, 2005, (Katrina made her debut in the flop Boom in 2003 and was not seen till Sarkar in 2005) the films they have acted in are diametrically opposite in nature. Will the paradox live on or is this just a phase? Will one of them set the norm while the other fall off the radar? Or, will there be a role reversal? As in life, so in films, variety is the spice. Let's continue to opt for variety.

First Published: Jun 02, 2012 23:29 IST