Sunday, May 2, 1999
IN hindsight, it seems that the Hindi film industry turned an important corner in the early seventies. Till then, famous names like Waheeda Rehman, Sharmila Tagore, Rakhee, Hema Malini, Shabana Azmi and Rekha occupied the silver screen like so many multi-coloured, silvery clouds covering the blue sky.
The first mode-actress transformation was brought about by the breezy, sexy, western-glamour driven Zeenat Aman. A student of Mumbais upmarket Sophia College for Women, daughter of a Hindu mother and Muslim father, Zeenat had lived in the USA for a year as a student in the International Experiment in Living during her teens. She was the product of a liberal education and wore minis and sarees with equal elan. Her Hindi was good but spiked with an accent like that of any convent-educated Mumbai girl. After graduation, she modelled with other wannabes like Shobha Rajadhyaksha-Kilachand-De. In 1970, she contested in the Miss India show and was selected to go to Manila for the Miss Asia show. She was the first Indian girl to win this title and to give a new look to modelling as well as to Hindi film heroines.
When the handsome Dev Anand picked her for a strategic role in Hare Rama Hare Krishna, he literally turned a new leaf in the book of Hindi cinema and introduced sophistication, graceful youth and a heady combination of Indian sensuality with western panache to the personality of the heroine. Never again was the heorine of a Hindi film going to be the same again. With this beginning, Zeenat went from strength to strength, doing major films with all famous directors.
"I literally pleaded with Raj Kapoor to give me a chance in Satyam Shivam Sundaram by taking my photographs in the costumes required by him. I showed him that I was the right actress with the right face and figure for the role of Rupa," Zeenat said in a recent interview. By the time she got married, Zeenat had acted opposite the great stars of her era, including Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna and others.
The next model to go the same way was grey-eyed Kimi Katkar, who was the queen of the ramp well into the eighties. She too walked over to the cinema world and terminated her career after the mega success of Hum in which she was paired with the Big B, a film which immortalised her chumma chumma song and dance number with the superstar. Kimi married lensman Shantanu Sheorey after the film and opted for domesticity and motherhood.
Sangeeta Bijlani, now wife of Indian cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin, went through thousands of modelling assignments and became well known in the modelling world as Bijli. Many catwalk shows later, she put in a late stake for stardom in Hindi cinema. From 1978 when she quit junior college to become a ramp model, Sangeeta participated in all major fashion shows, travelled far and wide to display Indian textiles as a model and way after becoming Miss India in 1983, she made her debut in films. Her film career never really took off with flying colours.
Similarly, Kalpana Iyer, a proficient model and beauty queen, worked in thousands of ramp shows all over the world and then turned to the cinema industry, becoming a dancer and vamp because of her dancing skills. In an age when heroines were not supposed to gyrate and swivel seductively, film scripts strictly left sensuality to vamps or dancers who performed the song sequences. Kalpana later became a good television actress. Her recent appearance in Raja Hindustani and in a video named Yaar Ne Sajada have continued to project her as the dancer or folk singer who plays sidey roles in various visual media. Kalpana has also become a good pop singer and performs in shows on a large scale.
Juhi Chawla and Tina Munim had the briefest modelling stints as Miss Indias. From the time they won the crowns, their eyes firmly trained on the film industry and they left no stone unturned to get opportunities to step into the new heroine image which Zeenat had created before them. Tina, like Zeenat, began with Dev Anands Des Pardes and continued to make films while she paired up with Rajesh Khanna. She quit the film industry and married industrialist Anil Ambani. Today, she is the mother of two children and has opened a new career dealing in art under the brand Harmony, which is the name of Reliances furnishing fabrics. Juhis career zoomed like fireworks with Qayamat se Qayamat Tak (QSQT), in which she was paired with newcomer Aamir Khan. A 1984 winner of the Miss India title, Juhi became an overnight success and a star with the triumph of this film and went on to create her own place in the galaxy of stars. It is creditable that in spite of new faces coming into the industry every year, Juhi has maintained her star status even today.
What Juhi founded was a superstar highway for other models to follow. Dolly Minhas (Miss India 1988) tried hard to take the same route and later became a major star of Punjabi films. Namrata Shirodkar, the 1993 winner of the Miss India title, was a well known model long before she won the title. Her entry into films was rather late and she is yet to make a mark even after two of her films have been released in 1998-99. It is said that though Namrata got good breaks, her films were not handled well by the public relations and publicity people and thus disappeared without a whimper. This happened although she is the third woman from her family to enter films. Before her, her grandmother Meenakshi, was a path-breaking star who wore a swimsuit for the famous film Brahmachari in the 30s. Her sister Shilpa Shirodkar was a second heroine in many films for a long while.
The nineties have truly seen the era of models turning into film stars. Indeed, some young girls who are now staking their claim to the best productions of the end of the century year are indeed models who have earned fame via press or TV ads. In the present scenario, the number one model who has made it to being a real glamour star in films is Aishwarya Rai, Miss India and Miss World, 1994. Aishwarya may turn out to be the only beauty queen-model who will prove that catwalk models can emote well too. Perhaps she has come into films in an era when glamour is more important than tough acting and her success may seem scintillating for this reason. Last year, she made some high profile films like Jeans and Aa Ab Laut Chalen with Akshaye Khanna among others. Sushmita Sen, Miss India and Miss Universe 1994, lost out comparatively because of her hyped up personal life. Before she could reach any height in her career, she made the foolish mistake of announcing her bedroom relationship with her Dastak director Vikram Bhatt. While she may have been frank and honest in her interviews, her career graph proved that such kiss-and-tell stories do not make for success in the Indian context.
A young model who has truly made her niche in the film industry recently is Preity Zinta, the bouncy Liril girl. Fresh, dimpled and vivacious, she made an impact in Mani Ratnams Dil Se and was paired as a second lead with superstar Shah Rukh Khan. More recently, she made Soldier with Bobby Deol, a film which showcased her dancing talent well. Mahima Chowdhury, the Pepsi model whose debut in ad films was with Aamir Khan, was picked up by Subhash Ghai for Pardes, a larger than life film, with Shah Rukh Khan again in the lead. This year, with Daag - The Fire, she has proved that shes in the film industry to stay.
Though the female
superstars of the Hindi screen remain Kajol, Manisha
Koirala, Karisma Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla,
the second order created by Mahima Chowdhury, Preity
Zinta and Aishwarya Rai is a strong echelon waiting to
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