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High on heroines

Today, it's imperative to look like the temptress-in-the-next dream rather than the girl-next door. Deepa Gahlot writes on movie heroines, yesterday and today.

entertainment Updated: Sep 01, 2007 18:23 IST
Deepa Gahlot
Deepa Gahlot

There is something predictable about the term ‘sex symbol' when it is applied to women. Anyone who has the right ‘assets' - meaning a body that looks like chilli fry in a bikini - is a sex symbol. Like it or not, sex appeal translates as cleavage. So Mallika Sherawat, Bipasha Basu and (horrors!) Rakhi Sawant become sex symbols, thank you very much to their wide-discussed surgically enhanced breasts.

It's not just ‘exposing' that's the issue out here. Every actress under Bollywood's sun and moon has worn a swimsuit or a twopiece at some point and posed for hi-gloss pictures splashed by the glossy magazines. But top-of-the-hemline heroines -- Vyjayanthimala, Hema Malini, Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit, Kajol and Aishwarya Rai – have not been thought of as sex symbols. Helen, Mumtaz, Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi have, predecessors of Les Sherawat, Basu and Sawant. Go figure.

Symbol forever
As it happens, Marilyn Monroe is the all-time undying sex symbol for men all over the world. Movielore has personified M M into ‘available' sexuality a little-girl-lost voice , and a ditziness that arouses the protective instinct in men. Immortal after so many years, she had that breathlessness and body abandon which men worship - a Barbie-Lolita rolled into one.

Monroe has not been that intense a favourite with women what women like about other women isn't limited to body statistics. That too, to a small extent - women do try to emulate feminine perfection.

But since they seldom succeed in achieving 20-inch waistlines, this perfection in other women often invites envy and hostility It's meant to or entire cosmetics, fashion, plastic surgery industries would have to shut shop, won't they?

<b1>Desirable no 1
Ask any Indian male who is the most desirable actress of all time. The answer will be Madhubala. She fitted, in her own breathless way into the Marilyn Monroe mould. Beauty lovely laughter, an instinct for playfulness and mischief.

In the innocent 1950s, come-ons were not so blatant. In real life, her story was that of a woman looking for love, a helpless bird fluttering in a cage built by her autocratic father, exploited by men she relied on for support.

Women loved Meena Kumari with her sad eyes and tear-drenched voice. Female audiences look for a kindred soul on screen, a woman who goes through trials and tribulations and emerges winner, someone who makes them weep buckets and leave the auditorium, believing that they are not alone in their anguish.

Meena Kumari's private life was projected as sad and misunderstood. On the few occasions she tried to play the glamour girl, Meena Kumari flopped.

While men panted over Cuckoo and Helen, women identified with the highs and lows of Bina Rai, Geeta Bali, Nalini Jaywant and Usha Kiron.

The term "ladies' picture" meant a weepie that caused collective catharsis among female audiences. Women have hardly ever liked actresses who are too beautiful, glamorous and coquettish –they make women spectators feel inadequate.

The average Indian wife has never expected her husband to look like Dharmendra, or left him because he had a paunch; but the Indian husband would occasionally look at his dumpy, harassed mother-of-three wife and wonder why she didn't have Helen's waistline. It meant she was sloppy and didn't love him enough to want to be part of his fantasy.

In a poll conducted in the mid1950s, film folk were asked to vote for the most attractive actress. Interestingly, Nalini Jaywant won over Madhubala because she was warm, cheerful and considerate towards everyone from spotboy upwards.

Nargis, Waheeda Rehman and Nutan enticed audiences of both sexes. They were part-traditional-part modern. Men respected them, women felt comfortable with them. They wore their hair short, jumped into trendy clothes, got into chhed chhad with the heroes, but it didn't seem has if they were having too much fun.

Sexiness came out of the closet with

Sharmila Tagore, Saira Banu, Mumtaz

who wore revealing clothes (bikinis too!), and pushed the heroine into a new age of boldness. Men loved their neat figures, impractical bouffants, coy


; while women aped Sadhana's fringe and well-cut


which made them feel with-it but not too forward.

With the Zeenat Aman-Parveen Babi-Tina Munim generation of it-girls, there was no need to recruit a vamp for the night club or beachside numbers. Women clucked their tongues at this ‘shameless' display of skin and adored the chubbiness of Raakhee – also her sari designs.

Did women approve of Bobby in tiny skirts and mid-riff revealing knotted blouse? Maybe Dimple Kapadia did teach college girls, for a while to aspire to hipness. But when it got too tough to handle, there was always Jaya Bhaduri, the sweet, homely short, Jaya, who could never boast of a perfect figure or sex appeal.

Hema Malini and Rekha charmed both men and women.. they have exuded a can't-take-your-eyes-away-from screen presence. They were beautiful but not in a predatory Western way, sexy but not impossibly flawless, and of course very Indian with their bigbonedbearing.

Simplicity works
Shabana Azmi always had a larger female fan following which related to the simplicity and intensity she projected, Smita Patil, in spite of her direct stare and strong jaw, made men want to protect her.

Men liked Sridevi with her rather obvious pert sexiness, while women preferred the homeliness of Jaya Prada. Men adore Madhuri Dixit, women find her standard of beauty too unachievable. Juhi Chawla - cute, giggly, not-too-sexy, not very perfectly packaged-has a larger female fan following.

<b3>Women's votes would go to Kajol and Rani Mukerji - not too pretty, not too glamorous, not too perfect-like "us". Women also like the warmth and innocence Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra project in spite of their to-die-for figures and eminently ‘copiable' wardrobes. Preity Zinta is the fast-talking, peppy one.

Men drool over the overt sensuality of Urmila Matondkar, Shilpa Shetty, Mallika Sherawat, Bipasha Basu and Celina Jaitley. Kangana Ranaut makes it a habit to be seen in skimpy shorts at movie events.

Women find Aishwarya Rai too perfect, too glacial, for men she is that unattainable fantasy figure. She isn't sexy in a physical, earthy way that Sushmita Sen is.

Aishwarya is the girl men would like to take home to mother as her chand ka tudka kind of bahu, but of course she wouldn't muck around in the kitchen or take the kids to school. So they regretfully settle for the girl next door and dream of Pamela Anderson.

First Published: Sep 01, 2007 16:01 IST