It’s often said that Hindi films are male-dominated while the actresses are more of an accessory. This mindset betrays the women-centric films that are currently lining up. Although the disparity in paychecks is still a sore point, there are some noteworthy instances involving actresses who are not only willing to defy commercial interests but also make them clear on where they stand when it comes to an issue or a topic...
Esha Gupta and Vishakha Singh
For what?: Just when the notion that young actresses can’t always afford to be righteous was gaining root, these two turned down lucrative offers to appear in ads promoting a skin lightening product. A rather brave decision for the dusky newbies who could have gone with their established peers and just signed the dotted lines.
For what?: The debate on what racism means to an Indian shall always be a touchy and ambiguous topic. However, as far as cinema is concerned, a person’s skin tone hasn’t always determined stardom. But with excessive commercialisation in place, Bollywood actors have lately started associating themselves with skin whitening products. Much against this trend, Kangs refused to endorse a fairness cream -- a move that might overlook big easy moolah but is certainly a step towards asking the right questions.
For what?: Thin is always in. At least that’s what they made you believe before Sona entered the scene. The 26-year-old, in her relatively short career, has managed to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in the industry. And all that without having to alter the way she works. Often chided for being “out of shape” and “too curvy”, the actress has stuck to her guns so far. In her retort, she even went on record stating she’s healthy and won’t succumb to crash diets. Also, no swimsuits and steamy scenes for her
For what?: A thinking man’s sex symbol, this actor-director clearly goes by her instincts. She made a film like Firaaq (2008) when Bollywood at large was happy pretending that nothing wrong happened in Gujarat, post-Godhra. Known for vocally stating her stand on topics that often go unnoticed by the media, Nandita recently launched an online movement against fairness products. Being dusky herself, her arguments on how things could be staked against you just because of your skin colour are strong.
For what?: In the past few years, performing in an item song gradually moved from item girls’ domain to lead actresses’. As a result, everyone from Katrina Kaif to Kareena Kapoor to Vidya Balan to Priyanka Chopra to Bipasha Basu has moved their hips to similar tracks with frivolous lyrics. Interestingly, Dippy refused an offer to do the same by Subhash Ghai for his next Kaanchi. However, two years ago, the Bangalorean beauty was part of an item song in Dum Maro Dum which was considered “way too bold”.
Blast from the past
>>A couple of months ago, when Mallika Sherawat was claiming to be the first actress from India to smooch on screen, she was actually taking the credit away from Devika Rani.
In fact, the yesteryear star is accredited for having acted in one of the longest kissing scenes in the history of cinema with her husband Himanshu Rai in Karma. And this was in the year 1933. No wonder her move was considered “extremely controversial” then.
>> Post-independence, Lata Mangeshkar became the first female playback singer to ask for a cut from profits made on a song. She stirred up a hornet’s nest by demanding half-share from the five percent song royalty that the film's producer granted to select composers.
With the era being 1960s, her view was seen as unorthodox and “very overeaching”. But given the haphazard state of affairs today vis-à-vis music labels, the legendary singer’s actions seem quite forward-looking and courageous.
A league of their own
Some Bollywood actresses who have been part of campaigns promoting fair skin: Katrina Kaif, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, Sonam Kapoor, Soha Ali Khan, Genelia D’Souza, Asin, Esha Deol, Raveena Tandon, Sonali Bendre, Yaami Gautam and Dia Mirza.