Thursday, June 2, 2011


For previous installments, please visit the index

You’ve met today’s biggest Heroes but what about the heroines? This week I’m going to run through the ladies I consider the big names today - with an emphasis on currency. As I explained in my piece on
heroines, leading ladies flit through the film industry much more quickly than the men. This is due to a variety of reasons including, but not limited to:

1. Marriage has traditionally ended the careers of actresses and most women still marry fairly young.
2. Both producers and Heroes prefer working with younger actresses.
3. Heroine roles are often that of a wide-eyed innocent and a lady can only play (convincingly) virginal for so long.

It’s a harsh world out there for actresses.


Kareena Kapoor (also widely known by her pet name, Bebo) is one of the few (of a growing number of) industry daughters to have really carved out a career for herself. Her fair skin, light eyes, and high cheekbones signal her filmi heritage even more than her lucky last name. But not only is Kareena a talented actress and Bollywood royalty (part of the 4th generation of Kapoors to rule the box office) she is also the one actress who has figured out how to use the new gossip-driven media climate to her benefit. There is perhaps no other actress in the world who has managed to dovetail her private life, public persona, and acting career into one single mega-successful product. Film roles are written to reference her real life in a way that echoes how the top heroes take their personas from film to film. Bebo isn’t just another heroine, she is an icon.

The full saga of the Kapoor
khandan (‘family’) is complex and best saved for another time. We will focus on the portion that affects Kareena, which shall give more than enough material to pick through. Kareena is the daughter of semi-successful 70s heroine Babita and unsuccessful 70s hero (and noted alcoholic) Randhir Kapoor. Randhir is one of the more embarrassing branches of the Kapoor family tree* and Babita, much to her credit, went against the powerful family patriarchs when Randhir’s behavior spiraled out of control. She took daughters Kareena and Karishma and got out. Kapoor family tradition had dictated that wives had to retire from the industry (and daughters wouldn’t even dare dream of acting) but Babita decided that she wasn’t going to play by those rules; her daughters were going to be stars.

Older sister Karishma (known as Lolo) entered the industry first but the 1990s were difficult times for actresses and she crashed and burned, escaping the industry to marry a wealthy businessman.** Kareena’s fate was different. She was launched in 2000 opposite another prominent industry child, Abhishek Bachchan*** in the film
Refugee, where she plays a Muslim girl trying to cross the border to Pakistan. The film was well-received and it earned Kareena the Filmfare Award for Best Debut. She built on the success with one of the most fondly remembered films of the decade - Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001). K3G (as it is most often called) was a superhit and defined Kareena’s heroine image for the next few years.

Kareena’s character in
K3G, Pooja aka Poo,**** was a spoiled rich girl who wore designer clothes and sneered at those beneath her on the social ladder. For fashion magazines and gossip columnists the persona wasn’t too far from the truth and her media image in the post-K3G era is one of healthy self-confidence, even as she plateaued at the box office.

"My film-makers have accepted me. They know I'm in a league of my own. Madhuri Dixit gave her first hit after nine years. Sridevi never had a historical hit. And yet they were the top actresses because they were immensely talented. The same goes for me too."

-Kareena Kapoor
Filmfare, March 2002

It wasn’t until the end 2006 - fully five years after
K3G - that Kareena’s career picked up enough momentum to bump her out of the minor leagues and onto the permanent A-List (and this series.) The kickstart? Two superhit item songs. An item song is a song picturization in Bollywood film that features an attractive dancer performing a sexy song for the audience in the theater. It’s (usually) unrelated to the story and is inserted to spice up a film. Heroines traditionally never did items, as they were considered quite risque.***** For those of us in the Western world to understand the impact of an item song, it’s probably easiest to think of them as MTV videos - like how something like Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” became part of the cultural conversation. One item followed another and then came a little film that was a game-changer for Bollywood - Jab We Met.

There were no expectations for
Jab We Met. It’s a small budget romantic-comedy with a midlevel cast and an unknown director, nothing about that spells box office success. However, the film had such a sharp script and such refreshing and vibrant performances that it swiftly built up the kind of good buzz that every studio dreams of and goosed the careers of the lead actors and the director. Part of the buzz that fed into Jab We Met is something uniquely Kareena. She had been dating the lead actor, Shahid Kapoor, no relation, for a few years and the couple broke up towards the end of shooting the film. This real life drama infused the reel drama with a bittersweet tension that took the film from good to great.

In the wake of
Jab We Met, Bombay is Kareena’s town. For better or worse she singlehandedly started the “size zero” trend and then, perhaps bored of dieting, she embraced her curves. She’s dating actor Saif Ali Khan, called the “Chhote Nawab” aka Little Prince, because he’s a real prince, as in actual royalty and has the entire filmi gossip industry waiting in baited breath for an announcement of a wedding date. She joined the cast of the super-successful comedic Golmaal series, as the only female lead. She was in the BIGGEST hit of the last few years, 3 Idiots (2009), and is set to star in quite a few big budget productions in 2011, including one with a hero younger than she is.

While there must have been some in the media rolling their eyes at her confidence in those lean years, today they’re still all lining up to interview her.

Where to begin with Bebo...

Jab We Met (2006) This film is a burst of pure joy. Kareena puts in an utterly charming performance as a talkative girl who lives her life as if she’s in a film. She happens across a depressed man, played by ex-boyfriend Shahid Kapoor, and ends up changing both their lives with her schemes. Kareena’s Geet is no Manic Pixie Dream Girl and Jab We Met is not your typical romantic-comedy. It’s pakced full of colorful songs and sharp gags and witty dialogues!

Omkara (2006) An excellent adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, this is not a film for somebody looking for something light and relaxing. It’s dark, twisted, and oh, so tragic! Kareena, with her fair skin, plays the Desdamona character.

3 Idiots (2009) One of the biggest films of the decade, 3 Idiots takes a look at the Indian education system. In turns comedic, heart-warming, melodramatic, and serious, 3 Idiots will give new viewers a chance to experience paisa vasool!

* Not every Kapoor is part of
the Kapoors but up and coming actor Ranbir Kapoor is Bebo’s first cousin, which is why you will never see them paired together despite their A-list status. I’m still hoping we’ll see them cast as brother-sister in a film.

** Lolo’s story is also one for another time but it’s worth mentioning her now because the sisters are very close - when I get to 1990s heroines, to be specific.

*** Yes, him again! I’ll explain how famous his father is when I get to the 1970s.

**** No, really. And, yes, it’s still hilarious all these years later. No, I’m not 14-years old, why do you ask?

***** Even last year, in a South Indian film industry, a heroine was dropped from a film she had signed because she appeared in an item song in
another film. They take it seriously.


Archee ologist said...

Out of curiosity, filmigirl: which is this iconic item song? Escapes me.

Sal said...

Karisma didn't really crash and burn, you know. She was THE top commercial heroine in the late 90s, and by the early 2000s she had carved out a reputation as a talented actress who was interested in projects oriented around her character. She won the National award in 1997 (for Dil Toh Paagal Hai) and the Filmfare in 2000 (for Fiza, and by the time she tied the knot, it was more that she was part of an earlier generation of actresses, a number of her films had flopped and the embarrassing breakup with Abhishek had happened.

Filmi Girl said...

@archee "It's Rocking" and "Yeh Mera Dil" are the two. I realized after I posted this that I hadn't named them!! I'll have to include links. :)

@Sal I guess I would consider a string of flops and the hugely embarrassing break-up to be a crash and burn. You have to have success first to crash and burn. Non-starters like Esha Deol don't even have a flicker! Hee hee!

Ness said...

I have a problem with your breezy dismissal of Lolo's career too! Not sure if "crash and burn" is the best way to describe it - like Sal already said she was a super successful actress and extremely popular, just part of a different generation.

Bluemay said...

You're really off base with your dismissal of Karisma's acting career as "crash and burn". As Sal and Ness point out, Karisma was a top heroine in the 1990s/early 2000s and part of a different generation. She's beautiful, talented and a good dancer. Even after the debacle of her engagement to AB jr., she could have kept acting but her overbearing mother hastily arranged her marriage and Karisma left acting, right before turning 30. A string of flops does not matter if you're popular (look at Aish)and Karisma was extremely popular.

eliza bennet said...

I completely agree with your recommendations. I also think Kareena's career got better with the corrective surgery (the high cheekbones are not her heritage).

She is also one to take small projects (such as Chameli) or be part of films that are sure to tank (Main Aur Mrs.Khanna).

I never really liked Bebo even after JWM, Chameli or Omkara (all very good performances) but in a totally WTF stupid film called Bewafaa - the film is not recommended but I suddenly warmed up to her and acknowledged her good acting.

I love her confidence and her fashion sense.

And one very significant thing about Bebo, she really has no dancing talent what so ever :) But we love her just the same.

Filmi Girl said...

Whoa! Everybody calm down! Nowhere did I say that Lolo wasn't successful - just that her career flamed out pretty spectacularly, which is what I would call a string of flops, broken engagement to Amitabh's son, and hasty money-and-Babita driven marriage that is now constant tabloid fodder for how unhappy it is.

I'll talk about Lolo when I get to 90s heroines and you can air all your grievances against me then.

luscious-words said...

I've already admitted I'm not a huge Bebo fan, but I've warmed up to her. Omkara is my favorite role of hers, but I've enjoyed her in Refugee, Jab We Met, and the Golmaal movies.

btw, great series on BW. :)

~ Layla

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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