Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bollywood For Beginners Post #33

For previous installments, please visit the index.

That's right, baby! It's back! And continuing with the 2000s theme, I've got three heroines whose brightest days were in the 2000s. This doesn't mean I think they are washed up or that we won't ever see them again but just that they will probably always be tied to that glorious decade known as the 2000s.

Today let's talk... Preity Zinta!


Only one adjective ever gets used to describe business woman and award-winning actress Preity Zinta. That word is not ‘intelligent’ (though she is) nor ‘brave’ (though she is that, too) nor even ‘gorgeous’ (though she did get her start modeling). No, the one word you will always see paired with Preity Zinta is this - ‘bubbly.’ She’s turned in critically-acclaimed performances, stared down the mafia, owned a professional cricket team, and is now producing her very own comeback film but, in Bollywood’s heart, Preity Zinta will always be the fresh-faced and vivacious girl romping under a waterfall in her green swimsuit in the Liril Soap commercials that kick-started her career all the way back in 1997 - in a word, ‘bubbly.’

Preity Zinta did not set out to become India’s sweetheart. She grew up a regular girl, attending school, playing outside with her two older brothers, and dreaming of maybe one day becoming a poet. If fate hadn’t intervened, perhaps Preity would today be putting her degree in criminal psychology to work at Interpol but (as the story goes)(1) fate threw Preity into the path of an advertisement filmmaker at a mutual friend’s birthday party. Preity’s natural charisma lingered with him and he called her a few days later to ask her to audition for a commercial he was shooting for Perk Chocolates. Could there be a better fit for Perk Chocolates than the perky Preity? She got the job.

From Perk Chocolates, Preity continued to build her resume with commercials and other advertising work, before landing the Liril Soap commercial that would become a national sensation. The commercial captured something about Preity that made her stand out from other girls - a natural spark. While other models would look like beauty queens at a hotel pool, Preity appears to have stepped right out of the Garden of Eden. Bollywood took notice of the Liril Soap girl and set about polishing a nice, tasty apple to offer her.

Although it wasn’t supposed to happen this way, delays and cancellations for three other films meant that Preity Zinta’s debut was as the secondary heroine in Mani Ratnam’s epic Dil Se (1998), in which she plays the normal, middle-class girl that hero Shahrukh Khan is engaged to marry - even though his heart belongs elsewhere. Her frank dialogues - at one point she asks if the hero is a virgin - and natural performance made an impression on audiences. And a box office smash later that year with Solider, gave Preity a solid launch.(2)

Her next big hit was Kundan Shah’s Kya Kehna (2000),(3) a mediocre film only noteworthy for its somewhat progressive take on premarital sex and single motherhood. Unusually for the time, Kya Kehna was essentially a solo-heroine film and, even more unusually, the newly launched Preity played an unwed mother. Though the material was bold and somewhat racy, Preity’s natural charm prevented the film from feeling vulgar. The film wasn’t a hit but it raised Preity’s profile considerably. From there she began to pick up leading roles in high-profiles films opposite big name heroes. There was Mission Kashmir with the newly debuted It-Boy Hrithik Roshan, Dil Chahta Hai opposite Aamir Khan, and Chori Chori Chupke Chupke with Salman Khan.

As 2002 came to a close, Preity had seen box office success, awards, critical acclaim, and, oh, yes, she had publicly testified against the mafia. Organized crime and Bollywood have a long association for various reasons, most of which have to do with methods of raising money to finance films. The case Preity Zinta ended up mixed up with involved a man named Bharat Shah,(4) a diamond merchant cum film fiancier, who was financing the aforementioned Chori Chori Chupke Chupke. Now, Bharat Shah was caught on a wiretap talking with notorious gangsters Dawood Ibrahim (5) and Shakeel about some shady business and was arrested. Of the fourteen prominent Bollywood personalities who had reported receiving threatening phone calls, being blackmailed into doing films, or dodging gun shots from the gangsters, only one agreed to testify against the powerful financier - Preity Zinta.

Far from being just another pretty face and competent actress, Preity Zinta had two special qualities that had producers lining up at her door - her ‘bubbly’ personality that could lend color to the dreariest film and her lack of vulgarity. And in an industry where dead-eyed star children and aspiring models-cum-actresses with enhanced assests falling out of their bikini tops are a dime a dozen, a bright personality and lack of vulgarity are indeed special qualities for a heroine. And though she had potentially made a powerful enemy, it didn’t stop Preity Zinta’s rise to the top and in 2003 she had her best year yet with three major box office hits - Kal Ho Naa Ho, Koi... Mil Gaya, and The Hero - that were actually THE top three grossing films of 2003.

During the next couple of years, Preity found success with a series of love stories, most notably Veer-Zaara, an epic and bittersweet love story between a Pakistani woman (played by Preity) and an Indian man (Shahrukh Khan.) Unfortunately for Preity, she also got caught up in a real life love story - that of Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai. As relations between the famous Bollywood couple deteriorated, innocent (and not-so-innocent) bystanders were dragged into the muck. The tabloid paper Mid-Day “discovered” an audio tape that allegedly contained a phone conversation between Aishwarya and Salman in which Salman claimed to have had sex with Preity. Preity claimed no such thing happened and sued the paper. A lab supposedly looked into the tape and said it was a fake but the story was already out.

Since the beginning of her career, Preity had yet to have a real dry spell in her career but as 2006 turned to 2007 that about to change. Preity had signed on to play the love interest in two very unusual love stories from two very unusual directors - Shirish Kunder’s Jaan-e-Mann (6) and Shaad Ali’s Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. Though both have films become cult classics in the years since their release, at the time they were not just met with the indifference of a normal flop but they were actively hated by both audiences and critics and were seen as real bombs. And whether it was frustration with the critics panning her performances or audiences not turning up or just her frustration with the kinds of roles she was being offered, Jaan-e-Mann and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom seem to have been the last straw for Preity. (7)

In 2008, Preity dabbled in art house cinema with The Last Lear and Deepa Mehta’s Heaven On Earth, in which she played a battered housewife, but art house film didn’t seem to hold her interest. And aside from a couple of well-received item songs done as favors for friends, Preity essentially vanished from cinema screens.

Though she has not starred in a commercial Bollywood release since 2007, it is a testament to her incredible popularity that Preity Zinta remains a hot topic in the Bollywood press. Preity has always lived her life in public and fans have eagerly followed her exploits as she bought the Kings XI Punjab cricket team, attended Harvard Business School, became a goodwill ambassador for UNAIDS, and navigated a volatile love life.

The hiatus from acting seems to have done Preity some good and she is ready to dive back into Bollywood - but under her terms. Preity is producing her own comeback film, titled Ishkq in Paris. Yes, it’s a love story but Preity won’t be playing anybody’s arm candy. Only time will tell if Ishkq in Paris will be a comeback or a swan song but one thing is certain - the bubbly actress will always remain India’s sweetheart.

Fans of 2000s Bollywood will have a lot of great films to choose from in Preity’s filmography, so it was difficult to narrow these down to just three.

Dil Se (1998)

Although Preity’s role is small, it is very memorable and really captures her appeal as the unpretentious girl-next-door. On top of that, the film itself is amazing.

Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003)

Perhaps the best of the soapy, star-studded, foreign-set melodramas of the early to mid-2000s, the film gives Preity not one but two heroes, a meaty slice of family drama, and a fantastic dance number (“It’s the Time To Disco.”)

Veer-Zaara (2004)

This film is an old-fashioned weepie, in the best sense of the term. An epic, lushly rendered, and bittersweet love story, Veer-Zaara puts your heart in a vise and just twists it until you cry.

(1) Preity has also given accounts of getting into modeling when she was 14 years old and the original model fell sick and another story has her getting into the business when she was dropping a friend’s boyfriend off at an audition and deciding to audition herself. Only God and Preity know the true story but I liked the birthday party story the best. And no matter how it happened, it is a fact that Perk Chocolates was her first commercial.

(2) She won the Filmfare Award for Best Debut jointly for both films.

(3) This was supposed to be Preity’s debut but unspecified delays kept the film from releasing until 2000.

(4) Who, I was surprised to learn, had just financed a MAJOR box office bomb in 2011 - Rascals.

(5) Who is so tangled in Bollywood that he deserves his own entry in this series.

(6) Which also starred Salman, so their relationship couldn’t have been too damaged by the tapes leaking out.

(7) Interestingly, there is one more love story out there which Preity shot in 2007 but was never released - Har Pal, which co-stars Shiney Ahuja who is currently out on bail pending an appeal for a rape conviction. Due to the extremely negative reactions towards Shiney from both audiences and the media, it seems unlikely this will ever release. And it’s not unreasonable to speculate that a negative experience filming yet another fluffy love story with a complete jerk as a co-star might also have had something to do with Preity’s decision to focus on more “performance-oriented” films.


maxqnz said...

I always learn so much from your posts! Until I saw them listed together, I had no idea how many of her films are on my dislike list - Veer-Zzzzzzzaara is the most soporific yawn I've ever endured the challenge of staying awake through, Jaan-e-Maan was completely ruined for me by the hideous dwarf thing and JBJ was (literally) unwatchable thanks to Big B's weird and pointless Stevie Ray Vaghan ripoff. What's interesting is that in none of these was she at fault for me. Which gives me hope that the new, heavily-reconstructed Preity might be worth watching in Ishkq in Paris (Stupid spelling though!)

Melanie said...

Yeah me too each time I learn a lot!!
I remember when I saw Dil Se I didn't know it was Preity's debut! And though I'm less enthusiastic than you about the film, I loved her in that movie! It's funny that two of the major actresses of the 2000's debuted with Mani Ratnam (Aishwarya in Iruvar)..What a director...

And fingers crossed for Ishkq in Paris!! Hopefully I'll be able to watch it in Paris!! haha! (I know it's a bad joke...)

Pessimisissimo said...

FG, thanks for giving Preity the acknowledgement she so richly deserves. She's taken on a series of bold and unconventional roles: unwed mother (Kya Kehna), bar dancer/surrogate mother (Chori Chori Chupke Chupke), illegitimate daughter (Dil Hai Tumhaara), divorcee (Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna), and her performances are the best thing about all of these movies. I think it's great that she's returning to Bollywood on her terms.

Melanie said...

It's funny because I remember an interview of her with Simi, where she said she couldn't be an actress all her life because it's too much pressure all the time and that she wanted to have a normal life
So let's see!

Jess said...

I saw Dil Se at the wrong time. I had just seen Fanaa and A Peck on the to me the story of Dil Se was played out. I was also totally creeped out by SRK in that movie...he was too much of a stalker for me to find him at all romantic. The entire movie I was begging him to leave the poor girl alone. I did like Preity in it though.

Moimeme said...

Nice post, FG, but just a small correction on the Salman tapes matter. Salman didn't "keep silent", but immediately issued a statement (most uncharacteristic for him) that the voices on the tapes were not his nor Aishwarya's. The matter became a criminal investigation and indeed the government forensic lab analyzed the tapes and concluded that they were fake -- not the voice of Salman at all. There is no "supposedly" about it.

I'm also puzzled at your statement that the tapes couldn't have affected the relationship between Salman and Preity, since they starred in another film together. Preity at the time of the tapes incident not only denied any concern in the matter herself, but also defended Salman vigorously. I can't believe that anyone who reads as many BW articles as you must (to generate your blog post every day) could have missed the umpteen times that Salman and Preity (in independent interviews and tweets) have declared that they were best buddies.

Anyway, about Preity -- while I agree that she is a good actress, I also think she has a more limited range than Rani, who is her contemporary. One role of hers you might want to look into is in the film Heroes -- the film is no big deal, but Preity has an interesting dramatic character, which she played well. I mention it because it is far from being "bubbly."

As for her hiatus from films, there are some pretty strong rumors about the reason for that, which you may or may not want to repeat.

Filmi Girl said...

@moimeme I can always trust you for my Salman corrections! I will fix that.

Maybe I mis-worded the part about the relationship? It was difficult to condense all the rumors and everything into a paragraph. There was all this stuff about a film being canceled that would star the two etc. etc. and how Preity was upset at her name being dragged into things but then they have done so many other things after that - including Preity's last item for Main aur Mrs. Khanna that obviously it didn't affect their working relationship. That's all I meant to say.

I've seen Heroes and I quite liked Preity in it. I agree she has less of a range than Rani but she's still a fine actress. :)

(And, yes, I think it's better not to repeat bad rumors for this series... lol!)

Sal said...

I miss Preity! She's grown so much as an actress, and she has that rare frank, no-nonsense presence onscreen. Ishkq in Paris will probably be horrendous (Main aur Mrs. Khanna is one of the WORST films I've ever watched), but I really want her to make a comeback. Maybe a strong, showstealing role in something a little off-beat, like Rani's in NOKJ? Oh, also, Preity was the original female lead in Robot, when it was meant to star Kamal Haasan. Furthermore, Shekhar kapur meant to make his ambitious Time Machine with her, but that never took off. Instead, Dil Se and Soldier happened.

CoffeeQueen said...

Dil Se is one movie I watch over and over. One of the first I saw and I keep going back to it. Preity is my husbands fav BW actress. He haaaaaaaaaaaated Dil Se ("WTH!! They blew up!!!")but loved Veer-Zaara. He is ideally a happy endings kinda guy. I adore PZ , probably for the same reasons everyone does, she's one actress who is thoroughly enjoyable to watch, infectious smile and yes a "bubbly" personality. I hope she aces her comeback.

I think Salman's quick response said a lot about Preity's integrity and popularity within BW, but maybe I'm out to lunch.

I agree Rani has more range. She is also IMO one of the most ravishingly beautiful women on the face of the planet.

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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