Monday, March 14, 2005

Urmila in Rangeela.


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Gayatri in Swades.


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A bird finds its way home.

In the year of 1995, Bollywood witnessed a major revolution. At the heart of it was 'Urmila Matondkar' with her ground breaking film 'Rangeela'. The movie was important in many ways. It made people recognize the genius of A.R. Rehman for the first time, it gave music of the kind that was never known before, tunes that were never heard of .... unique!

But what was striking about the film was the way 'Urmila Matondkar' was shot, her fashion, her clothes, her bumbaiya dialogues and her acting. This was a newbie who didnt care about the rules and was willing to break it. And Ram Gopal Verma sure did break a lot of rules by making Urmila run on a Mumbai beach wearing nothing more than a white male shirt. Exposing an amazing body for the first time on the big screen, he sort of let the female sexuality out of the vault and let it run free. Bravo! Here was a lady, marvellous in her looks running wildly on the beach with a wet shirt and yet not being shameful of herself but being one with nature, one with the sea and making a statement about herself that the Indian female had never made before.. "Its my life and I will live it in any way I please and to hell with ur society rules, I love my body, I am SEXY and I am flaunting it! ".

'Tanha Tanha .. ' became an instant hit! You had people of all ages, from old grand parents to dads to young children and oh yes the teen agers, everyone was fancying Urmila in broad day light. The musically astute song established her as the undisputed 'SEX BOMB' of Bollywood. To the sex-starved male population, it was a welcome treat for sore eyes, the females appeared suitably confused about how to treat this new liberal attitude.

Unfortunately though, over the next 10 years the Indian film industry became increasingly stupid about sex. The quality of films and the way sex was used became more and more cheap and commercial. Yes, we were sort of westernized. The word 'sexy' was used for the first time in 'Khuddar' with Karishma Kapoor. Then again Bollywood screened a hot smooch in 'Raja Hindustani' and ever since then film makers tried to ensure that they got their money back by throwing sex at the audience. This exploitation reached a new height with an idiot Mallika Sherawat doing seventeen smooches in the film 'Murder'. But by this time the audience was tired of watching stupid sex on screen. The credo was , 'We got porno on the internet for sex, show us some authentic drama in theatres! '

The year 2004 was a crucial point in the film making industry because the flop of Murder prooved to film makers that the audience was not falling for the same cheap trick again. At this point a film maker decided to introduce something different.

Thus came 'Swades', a film by Ashutosh Gowariker about the people of India and the state of the country, about a young successful Indian at NASA realizing his duty towards his mother land and deciding to do the right thing while in the process giving up the luxuries of uncle Sam! The film was a great effort, for the story was substantially different: something that Indian film makers arent popular for doing. It portrayed a higher ideal, it portrayed successful NRI's giving up the comforts of an easy life for doing the right thing, it portrayed things that could be.

Once again A.R. Rehman gave a great musical foundation to the film. The lyrics were original and the language unusually pure. History repeated itself: 'Again u had an actress going against the trend and making a point, this time it was 'Gayatri Joshi' who did the magic.

Acting as 'Geeta', Gayatri Joshi brought to the character an unusual charm that only the true Indian girl can provide. She decided to accept the role of an archetypal Indian girl having proper moral values and displaying a conservation in clothes that contemporary actresses would have thought as a 'box office suicide' .

In a time when fellow actresses were trying to dance naked on the screen to mark a hit, this girl decided to go ahead with the 'Indian Saree' (with a full-sleve blouse mind you!) and that too in her debut film. Her character, her apparel, her values and her behaviour in the film had a rare honesty and integrity that immediately appealed to the audiences.

Along with me, it reminded many people that the 'Saree' is a one of the most attractive attires that a female can don. Watching her stand tall in some of the loveliest and simple fabrics I have ever seen on screen and deliver smart dialogues, I was head over heels fida on this girl. Even thought this was her debut film, Gayatri's face wasnt new to the one billion population who watched her in world cup ads.

A slim figure, a zillion dollar smile, the 'all saying' eyes, these were attributes that made her the ultimate 'Indian male fantasy' overnight, pretty much the same way Urmila had done almost a decade back. Ironically it was for opposite reasons that the two actresses succeeded in catching the attention of the audience. The female sexuality was back where it rightfully belonged: in the closet with a 'husband only' key to open it. Instrumental in achieving this was the choice of clothes in the film which brings me to discussing the 'Saree' .

I am a firm believer that the Saree is the perfect costume for the Indian female. Offering a million options in clour and intricacy of design, it covers the body in the most appropriate way, featuring the figure via a small open area in the waist, it leaves the rest to the imagination of the viewer, yet at the same time ensuring that the first emotions of a male gaze are that of admiration and respect instead of reproductional procedures. Emphasis being on sensuality than sexual stimulus.

The sensible earings and a black bindi on a beautiful girl with waist length hair were all that were needed to complete the most authentic Indian look I remember seeing in modern film.

This led me to inquiring my female friends as to why the saree wasnt the 'in' thing anymore? Surprisingly enough the answer was a very practical one: getting up in the morning at 6am ,tending to long hair and spending some time wearing the saree while at the same time hoping that the outfit will provide enough freedom of movement to catch a running train is not exactly the mumbai girl's idea of being loyal to her roots. I cannot describe my immense grief at the fact that the modern girl doesnt have enough time to host waist length hair and wear a saree. Were I the prime minister, I would go to great lengths to enforce laws that give the females more time, given the promise of a saree. Alas! things are not so and I need to get back on the track.

Of great importance here, is me admitting to the fact that for the three hours duration of the film I had my first doubts on whether Aishwarya Rai was the most beautiful woman concieved. Hard core fans will agree that its indeed a huge complement to a female on her first film.

Yet the whole point of this analysis isnt the two gorgeous ladies that made the change but a deeper reason. The first change triggerred by Urmila was the result of a supressed hunger of the sexual while the one trigerred by Gayatri was a hunger for the ideal.

People will accuse me of being optimistic, but I conclude that like a lost bird, the Indian film industry had with 'Swades' momentarily returned to its nest !


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