Today, you turn a year older. I won’t mention the age. Not because you mind but because the entertainment industry does. If an actress crosses 40, she starts playing her hero’s mom. Ask Juhi Chawla. She was recently offered Salman Khan's mother's role by Salman. Salman is a pal of yours. But let’s face it: he won’t play your leading man any more. His heroines are getting younger by the year. You know. You are realistic enough to face the truth.
You look like a zillion bucks at 41 (oops, I said it!). But I don’t hear you signing any new films. Come to think of it, you haven’t really signed a film for the last five years. I know you’ll say, all in good time and you’re in no hurry, and blah blah. You’ll out-talk all my arguments, as you always do. Jab Preity bolti hai toh log sunte hain. But say what you will. We both know the truth. The good offers have dried up.
I still remember how you made Shah Rukh Khan choke over his drink in Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se when you asked him if he was a virgin. ‘Nice girls’ don’t do that. You broke the rules from the beginning. You played an unmarried mother in one of your earliest releases Kya Kehna, and this was 16 years ago when heroines got pregnant before marriage only when there was a log of fire in a cold room to heat up their passion (Roop tera mastana, pyar mera deewana bhool kahin humse na ho jaaye…)
Non-conformist to the core, you jumped careers suddenly to became a cricket-team owner. Big mistake. Biggest mistake of your working life. While you immersed yourself in the intricacies of the IPL, your career as a movie actress nosedived. Younger, far less talented actresses overtook you. Where were your friends, like Karan Johar, for whom you played the brave unsympathetic role of the frigid wife and working woman to Karan’s then-BFF Shah Rukh Khan in Kabhie Alvida Na Kehna, when your movie career was sliding downwards?
I remember our lunch at the Olive; you, KJo and I. This was before your IPL bukhar. He kept giving you career gyan, and I was smiling to myself. Back then I didn’t feel you needed career guidance. You were so much in-charge of your life, so honest about yourself and others. Never afraid to call a spade a spade. When a lonely filmmaker from an illustrious family decided to ‘adopt’ you, you ticked off him good and proper saying you had only one father and don’t need a replacement.
Perhaps you needed to be more tactful, less blunt in dealing with the bloated egos in Bollywood. Katrina Kaif once told me she has played far less intelligent characters than who she actually is. It was a survival tactic for her.
You never sought protection. Not even when you stood up in court and testified against the underworld. They called you the only man in the film industry.
The bubbly effervescent bindaas slot that you occupied and lorded over till five years has now moved on to Priyanka Chopra and your successors. Not that you were not capable of getting into more serious roles. I saw you give extremely sensitive performances in Tanuja Chandra’s Sangharsh (where you played against Akshay Kumar in a cat and mouse game that was amazingly mature for its times), Deepa Mehta’s failed Heaven On Earth (where you depicted a battered wife) and even Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai.
I miss you on screen. I wish you’d produce your own films, and not something as disastrous as Ishq In Paris, the film where you lost loads of money as a producer. Make something much more mainstream, and yet daring. Audacious but attractive.
Just like you, Preity.
Come on! Actresses with dimples, from Sharmila Tagore to Deepika, are born to rule. So are you. It’s just that you lost your way for a while. Time to wake up and smell the warpaint.
Wishing you at least one great film for your birthday.