Why Sonam Kapoor is a more gutsy actor than Tevar star Sonakshi Sinha
There's a shot in the trailer of Tevar, which releases this Friday, that has a glowering Arjun Kapoor in the foreground and Sonakshi Sinha in the background. Sinha appears to be imprisoned in a place that has a window with jail-like bars. She's holding on to the bars anxiously and her blurred face suggests an anguished expression. In that single frame, is a summary of Sinha's filmography so far: an actress reduced to being an irrelevant element in the background.
It isn't easy to find acting roles in Bollywood and for actresses, it's particularly hard. The commercial film industry cares only about profits and is largely unwilling to veer away from the formulae that have yielded returns over the decades. Actress usually get cast in roles that are irrelevant to the plot and are concerned only with their sex appeal, which in turn has traditionally been used as justification to pay actresses much less than actors. It's a vicious cycle.
When you keep in mind that virtually every commercial film must have a love story in it, you'd think this would mean the heroine who plays the love interest would be important and give actresses the leverage to negotiate better pay packets. Unfortunately, while the love story is important to make the audience care about the hero, the love interest is rarely a character upon which either the writer or the director lavish much attention. She just has to look good and pick up choreography quickly. And so, it doesn't matter who plays it.
Yet, despite all these roadblocks, Bollywood's leading ladies have been clawing their way out of the conservative silos. There are more women writers and evolved men behind the camera, which has helped improve the roles written for actresses. It's taking time, but we can see changes filtering through. For example, last year, even a testosterone-fuelled blockbuster like Singham Returns had a decently-written woman character and there was a respectable clutch of films that were driven by heroines rather than heroes (Queen, Mary Kom, Khoobsurat, Bobby Jasoos).
It is worth noting, however, that not one of Sinha's four releases in 2014 cast her as anything other than a cringe-inducing bimbo.
Sinha had offered one flare of hope in 2013, when she played the role of Pakhi in Lootera and showed everyone that she could indeed act. During one of her appearances to promote Lootera, Sinha said, "I am here to act, not be size zero" and all of us cheered. It was an excellent response to questions about her weight, but let's take a look at that claim of wanting to act in the light of the roles she picked after Lootera.
In R...Rajkumar, Sinha played a woman so stereotypical that even her prince charming referred to her as "lollipop" -- a thing, rather than a person with a name -- in the film. As Lollipop/ Chanda, Sinha heaved her chest, danced to songs, widened her eyes, got saved by the hero and beat an obedient retreat from the plot when it was time for the story to unfold. Rinse and repeat, and you have Saiba from Holiday, Khushi from Action Jackson and Bharathi from Lingaa as well as most of her pre-Lootera roles. If the trailer is any indication, she's no different in Tevar. Evidently, Sinha is committed to making audiences forget she can act. For reasons best known to her, she would prefer to be seen only as a collection of lust-inducing body parts.
But let's be fair. It's not as though there aren't slight variations in Sinha's theme. Bharathi in Lingaa had the critical function of running a la Baywatch to stop moving vehicles. In Action Jackson, Sinha's Khushi redefined the bimbo by being a working woman who genuinely believes she got a promotion because she glimpsed a man's penis and has pinned all her hopes upon being getting the good life via an arranged marriage with an NRI groom. She also reacts to her boyfriend drinking alcohol by exploding into tears and wails in a way that makes you realise that Sinha could easily become Nirupa Roy Redux when she crosses into the twilight zone of being middle aged in Bollywood.
It's interesting to compare Sinha to another star kid with a pretty face, Sonam Kapoor. Had Kapoor chosen roles that required her to only bat her eyelashes and not display any acting skills, her films might actually have been easier to sit through because they wouldn't be as disappointing or frustrating. However, unlike Sinha, Kapoor has consistently chosen to play smart, independent-minded characters who have a role to play in the plot. (It's another matter that Kapoor has also massacred these parts because she is a singularly bad actor.)
Kapoor could have settled for being celluloid eye candy, but she's resisted that mould even though she doesn't appear to have the talent to back her choices. Unlike Sinha, she's pushing herself and even if it was a home production, the fact is Kapoor was the lead in Khoobsurat. Sinha might seem to be the more marketable heroine, but the choices she's made have crippled her professionally. She's someone who can be replaced by another pretty face, rather than an actress who can be the star of a film.
Curiously, this appears to be what precisely Sinha wants for herself professionally. In a recent chat, she said, "If I was given a choice of doing a film like that [Lootera] and a commercial potboiler, I would do the commercial potboiler." She described her experience of doing Lootera as "momentarily good", which implies she thinks the fan following she gets for her fire-all-thrusters performances are of a lasting variety. This is somewhere between naive and idiotic, much like the women she chooses to play onscreen.
Since Sinha's debut in 2010, she's appeared in 10 films and acted in one (Lootera). On paper, she is one of the most successful actresses today because most of her films have been box office hits. In reality, however, she's typecasted herself as the ultimate Bollywood bimbo. It seems almost prophetic that the one role that required her to act was named Pakhi ("bird" in Bengali). As far as Sonakshi Sinha is concerned, with Lootera, the acting bird has flown.
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Updated Date: Jan 07, 2015 08:08:24 IST