Recently, Rohit Shetty drew the ire of netizens when his casual, sexist comment about his forthcoming film’s heroine Katrina Kaif went viral. The director, while explaining how he had shot a scene, said no one would notice Katrina in the same frame as Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan and Ranveer Singh in Sooryavanshi. Shetty’s statement was in response to Katrina asking for a retake of a shot from the climax of the film, which features the aforementioned actors in a single frame with blasts happening behind them.
Soon after, #ShameOnYouRohit started trending on Twitter, and Shetty was so brutally trolled that Katrina had to issue a clarification, requesting her fans to not troll him. “Dear friends and well-wishers. I normally do not comment on media reports or articles. But in this case, I feel a comment made by Rohit Sir, has been taken out of context and is been entirely misunderstood,” she wrote on Instagram.
While Katrina’s clarification may have absolved Shetty, historically, female leads in action films are no more than wallflowers with limited screen time. Whether it is Prabhas’ high-octane Saaho, the Hrithik Roshan-Tiger Shroff starrer War — which had the film’s lead Vaani Kapoor in a maximum of three scenes — or the recently released Baaghi 3, where Shraddha Kapoor hangs around the fringes. Which brings us to the question: Why do these leading Bollywood heroines willingly relegate themselves to such roles?
According to scriptwriter Advaita Kala, one needs to look at it from the perspective of the storyline, and not the character. “If you look at Bollywood, it is still a male-driven industry. It has a lot to do with us as the audience, which translates into the kind of films we want to watch,” she rues, adding, “It is their choice, they are not being forced to do that. Most smart actresses are able to balance out these kinds of appearances as well as meatier roles.”
The scriptwriter further elucidates that most of the time, even the choice is made to suit oneself. “It could be a financial need or to be a part of a blockbuster film. For instance, in a film like WAR, every character is instrumental and that is the flavour of the film. For someone like Vaani Kapoor, who doesn’t have a big career in that sense, starring opposite Hrithik and Tiger is good,” points out Kala. Moreover, she advocates earning a couple of crores for small appearances than doing item numbers.
Which brings us to another question: Is the presence of an A-lister essential merely to get business? Trade analyst Taran Adarsh clarifies that it entirely depends on what the character and film demand. “If the film demands a character who is an A-lister and at the same time who can prove their talent in that particular role, then why not? It differs from film to film,” he explains.
He further brings to context the very fact that Katrina and Akshay have been a successful on-screen pair that has delivered some of the biggest hits of Bollywood. “Katrina’s role is equally important — though not as important as Akshay’s — but she is an integral part of the film. Akshay and Katrina are teaming up after a long gap, so obviously there are expectations, but one can’t really write off a heroine’s part. Even if the heroine is not an A-lister, she is important in Hindi films. They are incomplete without an actress,” he says.
Echoing the view, Force 2 and Delhi Belly director Abhinay Deo comes to Shetty’s rescue, stating that filmmakers want what is best for their film and each comes with their set of requirements. “Some might not have a good action role for the actress, some might. And I do not think directors think like ‘what is the point of a huge female role’. Being a filmmaker, I know that we want what is best for the film and the audience: First for the film and eventually through the film for the audience. For instance, Sonakshi Sinha’s role in Force 2 was that of an agent, so it was natural to be part of action scenes. Suppose his wife was a teacher in the story, then she would definitely not be part of the action. I feel every filmmaker and project defines its own status. If the budget and mounting of the film are in a certain way then, it is their call to have an A-lister play or not,” shares Deo.
However, author and feminist Meghan Pant begs to differ. She opines that women are the deciders of their perception, treatment, and the kind of image they want to put out, especially in Bollywood. “There are strong women like Swara Bhasker, Taapsee Pannu, and Richa Chadha who will carve their own path. Then there are actresses like Katrina Kaif who rely more on their looks than talent,” she concludes.