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November 5, 2001

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More than a woman

Subhash K Jha

Asoka Though Asoka gives its lead stars Shah Rukh and Karriena equal footage, it is the latter who steals the show.

Here's a marquee queen and probably the highest-paid actress in Indian cinema who's doing the seemingly impossible -- venturing into the 'man's world'.

In an era of onscreen machismo, the actress is playing the title role in Boney Kapoor's Khushi, opposite Fardeen Khan.

What's more, she has reportedly been hired for a whopping Rs 15 million as against Fardeen's Rs 12.52 million. The young star seems determined to change the gender equations in the industry.

Though her film with Subhash Ghai (Yaadein) flopped, he has offered her a film in which she plays a double role. Arjun Rampal plays a supporting role in this woman-centric film.

Shilpa Shetty, while promoting her latest film, Sunny Deol's Indian, says that she would love to do a women-oriented role. "But let's face it, right now women are not the central characters in films. If they are, the films don't run."

Indian Box office disasters -- Kajol's Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi and Karisma's Zubeidaa -- support her claim.

Even Raj Kumar Santoshi's Lajja did not set cash registers ringing despite showcasing four screen goddesses.

But things are changing.

If Madhur Bhandarkar's Chandni Bar is an indication, there's reason to celebrate. With only Tabu to boost its prospects, Chandni Bar is raking in big bucks at the Bombay box office.

Ram Gopal Varma says, "Imagine a film -- with only Tabu as attraction -- doing so well! Unimaginable, a few years ago."

A year ago, Tabu's battle of the sexes in Mahesh Manjrekar's Astitva came to nought when the film sank without a trace.

Hansal Mehta says, "If people in Bombay are clamouring to see Chandni Bar, it's because of Tabu. She imparts a strong sense of serenity and power to the storytelling. Today, we can safely say that she leads the heroines' pack."

Chandni Bar Raveena, whose film on marital rape Daman flopped but won her a National Award, states, "It can't be a mere co-incidence that I'm being offered so many heroine-oriented film. None of my films feature me as props."

South Indian filmmaker Rajiv Menon had made a Tamil film about sisters Kandukondain Kandukondain, starring Tabu and Aishwarya Rai. The film did extremely well in the Hindi-film belt, especially Bombay.

Now Tabu will gang up with former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen to do another girls' film in Meghna Gulzar's directorial debut Filhaal, where men are simply incidental to the plot.

Tanuja Chandra, ready with yet another woman-oriented film after Dushman and Sangharsh says, "As a woman I'm sure of one thing: I'll make film about women protagonists only. Call it my determination or stubbornness, but that's it."

Film industry experts, who felt Chandra's earlier films failed as men played secondary roles, are singing a different tune about Yeh Zindagi Ka Safar.

Of course, this may be because it stars Amisha Patel, who's been churning out hits like Gadar - Ek Prem Katha, Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai and Badri (in Telugu)

Lajja Whether it is Rekha, Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala or Mahima Chowdhary in Lajja or Urmila Matondkar in the psycho-thriller Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya, Bollywood divas are determined to break the song-and-dance mould.

Quite a change from the norm a few years back when Ramesh Sippy wanted to make a Tabu film, but had said, "Please don't talk about it now because then I'd have problems casting the two male leads."

Today, Raveena proudly plays title role in Sangeeth Sivan's Sandhya while Jackie Shroff plays a supporting role. "Today, I'm playing more central characters than earlier. There's a lot more job satisfaction," she smiles.

Could the industry be witnessing a new era of woman-oriented cinema like in the last millennium, when filmmaker Bimal Roy wrote Bandini and Sujata for Nutan with Dharmendra and Sunil Dutt stepping into supporting roles?

Whether it is Karriena or Amisha, Tabu or Raveena, or the more offbeat Nandita Das, every leading lady is on the prowl.

Indo-Asian News Service

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