On-screen couples of Bollywood
Playing girlfriend-boyfriend comes naturally to Bollywood's leading stars. Whenever a new film is launched, the first thing the average matinee idol wants to know is: "Who's the leading lady?" The refreshing twist given to the Hrithik Roshan-Preity Zinta relationship in Rakesh Roshan's Koi Mil Gaya takes the coupling conventions of Hindi cinema far beyond the escapades of typical Hindi cinema.
Hrithik plays a child-man while Preity Zinta pampers, protects and mollycoddles him, almost as though their gender roles have been reversed - she being more in-charge than the vulnerable hero.This isn't the first occasion when the man-woman relationship has been taken beyond conventions in mainstream Hindi cinema.
In the 1960s, two major films featuring the immortal Meena Kumari dared to
go beyond conventional definitions of screen romancing. In Guru Dutt's Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Meena Kumari was the repressed wife of a rich landlord who develops a strange and persuasive rapport with her faithful employee, played by Guru Dutt.
There was no hint of sexuality, and yet it was one of the most passionate portrayals of the man-woman relationship ever. In another film, L.V. Prasad's Sharda, Meena Kumari played a woman who's forced to marry the father of the man she loves (Raj Kapoor) and must happily share a mother-son relationship with him.
In the 1970s, Shakti Samanta truly surprised with Amar Prem, a lyrical, nostalgic look at a timeless bond that grows between a lonely, neglected alcoholic husband, played by Rajesh Khanna, and a golden-hearted prostitute, played by Sharmila Tagore, who mothers him.
What made Amar Prem unique in the gallery of gender equations in Hindi cinema is that Khanna and Tagore were accepted as an intensely romantic couple in the same director's previous film Aradhana. They didn't so much as touch each other in the later film.
To watch two beloved stars break conventional barriers of screen coupling is
a unique experience. In the 1980s, Kamal Haasan and Sridevi provided the thrill of the unknown in Balu Mahendra's Sadma.
After playing lovers in scores of Tamil films, the two superstars still managed to enchant audiences in the quirky tale of a man who picks up an amnesic girl who has regressed to childhood and becomes her surrogate mother.
The roles are almost reversed in Koi Mil Gaya with Preity Zinta playing the guardian angel to Hrithik Roshan. They earlier starred as conventional lovers in Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Mission Kashmir and will do so again in Farhan Akhtar's forthcoming war epic, Lakshya.
How would the audience respond to watching two of the most charismatic young stars of today, locked in an asexual relationship? "Don't underestimate the audiences' powers of suspended disbelief," warns director Arjun Sablok in whose love story Na Tum Jano Na Hum, Hrithik Roshan and Esha Deol don't recognise each other as lovers till the very end.
"Didn't the audience love watching Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai as twins
in Josh? I think Preity and Hrithik's unique screen chemistry is one of the highlights KoiMil Gaya. "It's like watching two best friends rather than the hackneyed girl and boy running around trees," says Sablok, who has made a documentary on the making of Koi Mil Gaya.
The running-around-trees convention has clearly run out of steam. In several prominent forthcoming films, the lead pair is unconventional. In Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black, Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee will share a very unique bonding.
Sex is no longer the magic mantra for selling a lead pair. "Not at all," says southern superstar Madhavan. "In my latest Tamil release Priyamana Thozhi, my co-star Sreedevi and I play childhood friends whom everyone sees as a couple, except us. We're best friends and we remain friends throughout the film."