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|January 15, 2001||
The heroine's career will definitely get a boost, but it's always the hero that gets the credit.
But Raja Ki Aayegi Baaraat was an exception.
Today, a few years after its release and modest success, most film fans don't even recall the hero's name! (Do you?)
On the other hand. Take its heroine, Rani Mukherji. Anyone out there who hasn't heard of her?
There are some very good reasons for that, though.
Rani wasn't just another newcomer who arrived in big, brash Bollywood with a suitcase full of dreams.
She comes from a very respectable film family. Her grandmother was Shobhana Samarth, a legend and pioneer of Hindi cinema, her aunt is Tanuja -- a major star of yesteryear -- and, most of all, her cousin Kajol was the biggest female star at the time of Rani's entry into the industry.
Her timing was perfect.
Sheher ki ladkiyaan seemed to have replaced the traditional Sati-savitri Bhartiya nari completely!
Even when a Hindi film heroine did have traditional values at heart, her appearance seemed to have become shamelessly firangi.
Remember how Kajol's character in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge was introduced with that totally gratuitous Mere khwabon mei jo aaye, where she wriggles in a body-hugging outfit in pouring rain (in London, of all places, where a raindance can get you pneumonia)?
Into this scene stepped this demure, innocently traditional Indian girl, who could act beautifully, emote with heart-rending sincerity, and yet had a certain bedroom appeal. She shared many of these qualities with Bhagyashree, the star of Maine Pyaar Kiya, right down to the twinkle in her eyes.
Rani? She seemed to have something more to offer.
A certain huskiness in the voice and twinkle in the eye that promised wonders. She may have been an unappreciated bride in her first film, but there was no doubt that the real loser was the foolish dulha, who didn't appreciate what a great suhaag raat and honeymoon he could have enjoyed.
And Rani was able to communicate her earthy sensuality in a way that was never vulgar or cheap.
Here was a star in the making. And Rani proved it with her next big hit, Ghulam. Where she played a completely different character, and in fact donned the same miniskirts and Western chaaloo outfits of her colleagues. Yet, somehow, even in a miniskirt, Rani was able to ooze sex appeal without becoming a 'mast mast cheez'.
It was the same appeal that her cousin Kajol had, who went, in the same Dilwale Dulhania..., from body-hugging rainsoaked outfits to traditional Indian saris with equal grace.
It was as if a traditional Indian woman had chosen to don a Western outfit to please her Angrez husband.
Or, as in the case of the Ghulam character, a girl who was considered a mast mast cheez by all the guys, but was actually a very decent desi nari at heart.
Just like Aamir's tapori bhai character, Rani's Ghulam persona oozed a certain innocent appeal that was very loveable.
After her trip to Khandala, Rani's future was secure. Again, she emerged from a hit film as one of the pillars of its success rather than just a pretty showpiece.
Interestingly, the Aati kya Khandala song was said to be inspired by the video of Michael Jackson's Thriller.
In that bestselling video -- the most successful in music history -- Jackson walks alongside his girlfriend singing and wooing her while she enjoys his attention, but plays difficult to get. The video helped the album become the bestselling music album of all time, selling over 26 million copies.
Yet, when you think back, do you remember who played the girl in the video? Nobody does, because that's what she remained -- a nobody.
She just cannot be ignored. That tells you how powerful her quiet, unobtrusive onscreen presence can be. She is the kind of show stealer who steals the show without you even realising she's done it.
If there was any doubt about Rani's box office power, she squashed it completely in her third major appearance in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
Sure, there were other films in-between, but none that counted the way this one did. This was a career-making performance, even though her character was already dead before the film started!
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was a star-studded megahit. It enhanced SRK and Kajol's already No 1 positions, established debutant director Karan Johar overnight, and stormed audience hearts like a virus without a cure.
From the memorable music score to the little Sardar boy who cries, "Tussi na jaa," every frame of the film became the stuff of instant legend.
Yet Rani managed to hold her own, even shine in this galaxy of a film. Let's not forget that if her character had been even the slightest bit weak, the heartbreaking drama of the hero and heroine's reluctant romance and the little girl's efforts to get a second mother wouldn't have been half as effective.
KKHH had two heroines, and Rani was one of them even though she was onscreen for barely as much time as a special appearance.
Yet, Rani seems to be in nowhere land right now. Between hits.
Her recent films have been uninspiring and predictable. That's not her fault.
But she's capable of much, much more.
This is a heroine who can play a real woman. Just as Madhuri at her peak could play people, not star vehicles.
In fact, the comparison with Madhuri is an apt one. Remember the Madhuri of Beta or Raja? That's the kind of film Rani would be brilliant in. Her ability to portray a believeable character while also retaining a sense of love-appeal (not the obvious sex-appeal of other hip-shaking heroines), only needs a powerful role and story to bring out her best.
Rani's beauty needs a strong, fiery script to unleash her banked fires.
Too many of her films give her a good scene or two, then take her back to looking pretty and glamorous. There's more to Rani than this.
And when this happens, she'll set the screen ablaze.
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