Start with a sari and end up sorry. A view that seems to have confined women in the film industry to just being pretty faces, their histrionic abilities brushed off as a bonus. Why else would Janhvi Kapoor’s unglamorous look in Dhadak raise eyebrows? Is this also what made her arch rival today — Sara Ali Khan — first choose Abhishek Kapoor’s low-key Kedarnath but quickly run to Rohit Shetty’s high-octane Simmba? A source says, “Sara Ali Khan is a glamorous girl. During the shoot of Kedarnath, Abhishek had to tell her to concentrate on acting and not so much on make-up.”
The ostentatious presentation of Bollywood actresses is not new. But, insiders say this could also be one way of masking the lack of histrionic ability of the women in question. Rohit Shetty who signed on Sara for Simmba has declared that she should concentrate on masala films. Film critic and trade analyst Vinod Mirani says, “Rohit may have understood in a minute that Sara is good only for glamour. Not many actresses today, barring Alia Bhatt, possess histrionic skills. Even earlier, actresses like Parveen Babi and Zeenat Aman were cast only for their glamour quotient as people like to see good-looking women on screen.”
Bareilly Ki Barfi actress Kriti Sanon, who played a de-glam role in the film, says, “The general perception is that if you have a pretty face, you can’t act. You still have to play a de-glam role to prove your acting skills. Overall, if the film and your character connect with the audience, then people also notice your performance. Even critics start noticing our performance beyond the face when playing so-called ‘de-glam’ role.”
Someone like Katrina Kaif is happy choosing her films. “Look at films like the Tiger series or Phantom. There are two or three action scenes deliberately inserted to show that Katrina can do more than just be glamorous. That is also another way of extending the scope of ‘acting’,” Mirani says.
Actress Radhika Apte, known for her de-glam roles, says, “After Shor in the City, I was only being offered roles of sari-clad characters. Nikkhil Advani (director) was the first person who told me ‘I am going to cast you in a conventional glamorous part, because people think you can’t do that’. People do have a particular mindset depending on how they see you first.”
But, the fact remains that actresses, too, like to see themselves as ‘pretty’ on screen. “When most heroines see themselves on screen, they are checking for how good they look, and when most heroes see themselves, they see how well they have done that fight scene,” says a director.
Few films in the South give work to actresses beyond the song and dance routines and 3-4 romantic scenes. Taapsee Pannu says, “Down South I was looked upon as someone who has done glamorous roles in big commercial films. And, despite the fact that I did some really strong roles later on, my first image of being a glamorous actress was difficult to break,” she says.
Some actors, however, have successfully stood up against the prejudice. Vidya Balan, when asked why she didn’t lose weight and play a glamorous role, responded, “It will be very nice if you can change your mindset about women and not ask such questions. What is the connection between women centric roles and weight loss.”
Malavika Mohanan’s role in Beyond The Clouds is far from glamorous, but, she is fine with her debut. “The industry is at a point where performance-oriented roles are being made. Actors are being appreciated. The divide between mainstream and Indie-cinema is becoming smaller. I will never get a role like the one in Beyond The Clouds, but I can do glamorous roles at any point,” she says.
But, at the end of the day, what are Indian movies without the masala? There will always be a need for people like Sara Ali Khan to add the tadka to potboilers, while Janhvi Kapoor walks away with the acting accolades.