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Monday, November 29, 2010

Women in Bollywood: What's Wrong with Current Actresses & How to Fix It

Women in Bollywood will be an ongoing, intermittent series on this podcast. In our premiere episode of the series, we discuss the current crop of female actors in Hindi cinema and whether the all-too-standard line that they're all looks and little talent is really true. We also have a few proposals on how to improve both performers and the material they have to work with. If any of our liked-minded listeners are movie producers, please get in touch.

Here are the Smashits and Filmfare lists we mention, and please enjoy some editorial input-heavy images and clips to accompany the podcast:
Best. Subtitle. Ever.

MZ is also not amused by your inclusion on the Filmfare power list.

And of ACT!ING!

No snark here. We liked this performance!

Kareena Kapoor in the red sweater that made a statement. From the movie Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai (2001), Tusshar Kapoor's debut.

Rekha in the "crocodile movie," Khoon Bhari Maang (1988) directed by Rakesh Roshan.

For further discussion:
why can't Beth ever remember the name of this film, even after she's seen it?

You can listen to Masala Zindabad - Women in Bollywood: Current Actresses by clicking the player above, on iTunes, subscribing to our feed, or downloading here. Thank you for listening.


  1. I love Mahima Chaudhary! Beth, see her in "Pardes" where she has an awesome scene retaliating on her fiancé who disses India. Here are a couple intriguing screen caps I took from "Pardes" I can't believe I never got around to "Pardes" until recently. And how DARE you guys diss Lajja! ;) I also love Manisha Koirala. I had fun listening to the show, will be back for more. :)

    All the best!

  2. Amrita, "all the way down to...Sonam Kapoor"? Well played :( :P

    I feel the same about Katrina being horrendous, but not so sure about Priyanka. At least Priyanka has some likable roles and films, doesn't she? But yeah, that National Award was so wrong. Everything about that film was wrong. Deepika is going in that direction too but I think she is redeemed by her drop dead gorgeousness. Because really, what % of the mainstream audience cares for the other part?

    Vidya Balan was great in Paa, and good to an extent in Ishqiya. Probably because she played to her strengths in them, at least in the former.

    Bipasha's best role was in Bachna Ae Haseeno, also gets the best lines in the film. (Beth, I really liked that film. Definitely not 'terrible'?! Is it a 500 Days of Summer syndrome that all the women hated it and men love it? :) Not sure if you write about it.

    As for seeing some talent, bring back Preity Zinta and Tabu, I say! Along with Konkona, it would be great. I can't say Kajol because of the very same reasons that both of you mentioned.

  3. It was so much fun hearing you two tear into the "power list"! :D I agree about being disappointed by lack of good actresses on it, but I am not particularly surprised. Even in the golden era, I think actresses were always picked for their looks. The big difference between then and now is that a lot of the past actresses started off as child actors (think Meena Kumari, Madhubala, etc.), so by the time they got to grown up roles, they'd already been through real acting classes and gained confidence as performers. There were model-turned actresses back in the 60s and 70s too - like Zeenat Aman and Tina Munim - and I think their acting was comparable to the Priyanka Chopras and Aishwarya Rais of today.

  4. Enjoyed this though I think you guys are being a bit unfair on some of the current-day actresses. :-)

    It is possible that in the year 2040, these very actresses will be looked upon with a lot of respect and affection by film-goers of that future generation. Much like Hema, Zeenat and Neetu are looked at today. Once upon a time, they were also compared - unfavourably - with their predecessors like Nargis, Nutan, Waheeda, Madhubala and Meena Kumari.

    As society evolves, movies and acting evolve too. A Meena Kumari in the 2000s is unthinkable. A producer tries to cater to public demand - and the demand today is for the Priyankas, Katrinas and Deepikas of this world. They may not have much of a role in their movies but if the movie is a success, everybody involved with it is happy.

    I also happen to think that actresses often use the script as an excuse for any criticism about their acting talent. If they are really interested in "showcasing their talent", why not be choosy about their roles? The fact is that most of them are interested in long, successful careers and the money and fame this brings. Over the last 30 years, with the exception of Shabana Azmi, Tabu and Konkona (and possibly Preity to some extent), I can't think of many actresses who have been anything other than glamour dolls, purely filling a female role in a male-dominated movie or industry (e.g Kareena in 3 Idiots).

    I know there are exceptions (there is a Raveena movie that comes to mind!) but they are few and far between.

    I think the Indian public is ready for more women-oriented movies but movie-makers are hesitant to make them. If the actresses, esp the more successful ones, put their foot down and insist that they will act only in more meaningful roles, then we could see more such movies being made. But as long as the Deepikas and Katrinas of this world continue to be glamour-dolls - and continue to be lapped up by the public - there is no reason for movie-makers to do anything different.

    Anyday, give me a Konkona movie. I don't care what the lists say –in my book, she is far ahead of the rest of today's pack. By miles!

    Ok, that was a LONG comment. I better stop now! :-)

  5. Sita-ji - Nooooooooooooooooo! Well, maybe it's because I hear her instead of read her subtitles and she always sounds like her mouth is stuffed full of cotton. She did walk away with that movie she did with Ajay and Kajol but it was a terrible movie so... well done?
    Forgive us for our Lajja hate! :D It was mostly me because I really, truly can't stand Manisha. And outsize earnestness. But mostly Manisha.

    Adithya - ahahaha! I didn't really mean it that way but that works for me!
    This struck me after the show but Priyanka was pretty good in Kaminey, I thought. Once she let her studied mannerisms fade, she ran with that part. Too bad it was such a tiny role. Beth and I had a conversation about that new movie she's doing with Vishal Bharadwaj that got edited out for length reasons.
    Do all men really love Bachna Ae Haseenon? They truly are from another planet! :P

    Raja - oh lord, I don't know what kind of a world it will be in which Genelia D'Souza and Katrina Kaif will be spoken of the same way the 70s SuperGirls are spoken of today! Surely they're Vidya Sinhas, Tina Munims, Anita Rajs and Farahs. Maybe Ash Rai will make it. Through sheer strength of will.
    I get your point about putting the blame on the script when things go bad, but I feel a lot of them have pretty much given up at this point. How often do you hear an actress even discuss scripts? They don't even bother to come up with the old "hatke" line these days. I think Rani was the last person I heard talk about script with Paheli. Everything else is all how hot she looks, what the exercise routine was, the clothes she's wearing, etc. Even Rani did that with Dil Bole Hadippa.
    Beth and I were discussing how it's possible to combine real content with an entertaining script - it's not an either/or situation the way Bollywood filmmakers always put it.
    But yes! More Konkona! Always.

  6. I'm totally with Sita-ji on the Mahima love (I REALLY liked her in Pardes that has a ton of fond memories associated with it...watched it in Lucknow at this really awesome cinema hall in Hazratganj along with a bunch of college friends (I had this weird love-hate vibe going, with one of the guys, and real funny how the rest of the group connived to make sure the two of us sat next to each other during the movie...our arms and elbows kept grazing and it felt kinda wonderful in a cutesy teenager-ish way though we were too proud (read sensible) to admit that was the case, obviously; but the best part was after the movie when the 9 of us trooped out of the theater and it was pouring...The 7 bundled into a phat-phati (Lucknowi stretch-auto) screaming "chalo chalo" leaving us goody two-shoes to fend for ourselves; we took the next phat-phati (shared with four other random folks who were headed in our direction, but kinda had to sit squeezed next to one another which, given our drenched state and questionable chemistry, was a bad thing -- in a GOOD way, but what to do -- so both of us, as if on cue, promptly pretended to hate it) that dropped us off a good quarter of a mile from our shared student quarters, when this silly classmate of mine (oh how I still hate him for doing this though I completely understand) proceeded, in the dead of the night, to sprint ahead, leaving me to navigate the dark desolate (not to mention wet) alleys all on my own, simply coz he wanted to avoid being teased by the gang (when we got back) about, you know, coochie cooing with me or something (so far from the truth! but at that age, peer perceptions are all too important, you know); and (much as I hated doing so, egoistically speaking) I kept yelling "B***, wait up," coz I didn't want to be left stranded like that lest there be lurkers, you know...but luckily, the trek back was fairly uneventful (and to his credit, he did care enough to turn back every few seconds, if only to yell (in Tamil) at the top of his lungs -- in the name of making sure I wasn't being pounced upon by a seedy stranger or something -- "why the hell are you walking so slowly; it's pouring, for God's sakes, and I HATE getting wet!!" - yeah as if walking 20 steps ahead of me was going to have him stay miraculously dry) -- but boy, get teased we did!! Bah, friends..I tell ya.)

    And Sita-ji, thanks for the Lajja link. Can you believe, I've never been to your blog before! I promise to lurk every now and then. BTW, I loved your little exchange with Pitu (on Badi Mushkil, Lajja) about Madhuri becoming the dance... ain't that a true (and reason why Shahrukh falls for her character in Dil To Pagal Hai, too -- hey, I try my darnedest to plug a favorite movie, whenever I can).

    Beth-n-A: I didn't "Listen!" when Amrita asked me to, and just got caught up on the red-sweater song up here, and cool (the star-studded set with the trumpeting cherubs, especially; and uh, as for stick-out-like-sore-thumb Tushy, well, we've GOT to give it to him for progressively proving that he CAN and WILL suck more and more..)! I did watch this movie when the DVD came out, but it was entirely forgettable (besides, I wasn't all that into red sweaters back in 2001, ya know -- wink, wink!). OK, will shut up now...

  7. Sadly I think the khabar (right word?) in B'wood is that Preity is too "old-looking" now for heroine roles. Too young for Ma, too old for heroine. And there's nothing else written for women (and even those two roles are almost always ciphers).

    *massive eye-roll on my part*

    Guess maybe she hasn't visited Aamir's Botox doc.

  8. You know there are some benefits to living in the past (cinematically speaking) - I haven't seen a single Katrina Kaif movie. Sounds like I haven't missed anything. :-)

    Agree with A and B's take on the rest of the herd, save Kajol - somehow I've never been particularly impressed by her performances. She seems to go through films teetering between two expressions - the stricken face and the toothy, hesitant smile. Tanuja was more natural and spontaneous methinks.

  9. This was a really fun, interesting discussion and I applaud you ladies for doing it. It's SUCH a topic needing discussion - what is it that is so ... plastic about the girls today? What is it that the glamdolls of the past had that we don't see in them. Are we just looking through rose-colored retro lenses? I for one never thought that Poonam Dhillon or Padmini Kohlapuri were particularly talented actresses, so I would definitely compare them to the Kats and Deepikas today. And clearly Zeenat and Parveen Babi weren't fabulously deep in their roles either. Even Hema Malini - who is astoundingly beautiful and that tends to wipe out everything else - wasn't really a great actress. Yet I loved her and I can't quite figure out what it is that these ladies had that the current crop doesn't.

    I have to say I think Manisha Koirala was fabulously talented in SPECIFIC films ... I think Nana Patekar had a profound effect on her and really brought out an actress in her - I loved her in Khamoshi: The Musical, she was brilliant. Also really liked her in Akele Hum Akele Tum. But in the beginning, with Saudagar and First Love Letter, she was indeed awful! And also later in her career, when it became clear that she was indulging in tons of drinking, drugs and partying. But she had some great moments. The last thing I saw her in was the Rajnikanth movie Baba, and that was kind of a stinker ...

    I also have to say that I'm not as huge of a fan of Kajol as others are ... I think she's cute and bubbly and all that and I loved her in a few scenes of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (particularly when she tried to wear a dress and make-up to school to look glam like Tina)(Beth, I also have issues with KKHH - a movie that told me I needed to straighten my hair and dress girly and act shy and submissive to get a guy) ... but then in a lot of her later movies she became screechy and annoying (MNIK for example, but especially K3G). My favorite movie of Kajol's is Yeh Dillagi, a 90s remake of Sabrina co-starring Akshay Kumar and Saif Ali Khan.

    Anyway, I look forward to more discussions in this series. In general I tend to be disappointed by the roles that women get in general, especially when I watch Tamil movies (a great exception is Simran, who after paying her dues as a glam doll started to get fabulous strong roles). Is it because the scripts don't provide strong roles for women. Are strong female roles not written because there aren't the women to do them justice?

    I AM glad for the few exceptions - Konkona and Vidya seem to have great potential ... I hope Rani does well with her "come back" and that she can move beyond the "single pretty tear" mode of acting. And Ash, well she might be the Hema Malini brand that we're so blinded by her beauty that it doesn't really matter what she does.

    Raveena Tandon and Urmila Matondkar were two underrated actresses of the 90s in my opinion. And there's Tabu, though the only thing she's really blown me away in was Kandukonden Kandukonden (Tamil). And though she may not have been the most talented of the lot, I always loved Juhi Chawla.

    I think I just feel like the girls in the decades past had PERSONALITIES, something I feel these girls are lacking. It doesn't come through on screen.

    Anyway, I really look forward to more exploration of this ...

  10. CheeC - That Tusshar thumb move cracks me up every time I see it!

    memsaab - Right? Not that I want SRK to vanish from the screen, but it's so irritating that so many of the issues just aren't there for men.

    Shalini and Amaluu - I believe I kept fairly mum in the recording about Kajol and it's because I don't particularly care for her either :) I don't hate her, but I certainly do not see the big deal about her. I think she can be really good and would benefit greatly from a director telling her to stop screeching and bugging out her face, for the love of god.

    I do think the issue of the retro lens is important - especially for someone like me who is so under the sway of the total package of amazingness that is the 70s, it can be hard to be more objective about individual threads or elements. I think what benefits the "ooookay, so maybe they weren't THAT awesome" performers of the past is what goes on around them, both in terms of other performances, better scripts, and all the visual fun that those films can have.

    I like Manisha a lot in Dil Se but that's about it (but I've seen very few of her films, too).

    Love the questions you're raising! I have seen very few Tamil films but completely agree Kandukonden Kandukonden, which I have watched countless times. I'd love to know what Tamil films you might suggest for awesome female roles and performances. The few Telugu films I've seen (which I realize are not the same thing!) mostly have completely disposable heroines who whimper and moan more than speak or do.

    But yes! You can count on us for lots more discussion about these issues and ideas! :)