Welcome to The 70s Blog Mela in BollyLand! For seven technicolor days, your favorite Bollybloggers turn their back on The Golden Made- in-Bengal Age of Hindi Cinema and take time off from cribbing about modern cinema to focus on the era that taught us the true meaning of paisa vasool. Click on the link above or click here to catch up with all the fantastic posts you might have missed.
Here at IQ, Day Three is Ladies Night.
The Roles Women Play
You’ll often find critics of the 70s talking about the downturn in the quality of women’s roles during this period: the Bachchan juggernaut, “liberal” heroines like Parveen Babi and Zeenat Aman who were comfortable playing vampy and demure in the course of the same film, and the slow march to splitsville that saw Hindi cinema bifurcate into Bollywood fantasy and parallel reality (where women still had roles to play in movies like Bhumika, Nishant, Ankur, etc) had a lot to do with it.
However, there are still a few female characters from Bollywood proper who survived the long years of drought. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Roma – Kamini (Don) – Although she puts on a sundress and practically disappears in the second half, the vengeful martial-arts trained Roma is perhaps the best role Zeenat Aman ever played. Unlike the majority of her other roles, it had nothing to do with her jaw-dropping figure and everything to do with her ability to look like she meant business.
And Helen’s Kamini, the heartbroken fiance of Roma’s murdered brother, is simply iconic as the woman who will go to any lengths to get justice for her lover. Even if it includes getting into bed with his killer.
2. Sulekha (Chupke Chupke) – Hrishikesh Mukherjee gave mainstream Hindi cinema a number of interesting female leads in the 1970s including the wonderful Jaya Bhaduri trio of Mili (Mili), Guddi (Guddi) and Uma (Abhimaan). But Sharmila Tagore’s Sulekha is my favorite.
With an impish, gleeful humor spilling out of her eyes, her chola-tastic eyebrows, nylon sarees, and crackling chemistry with co-star Dharmendra, I wanted to be Sulekha with her effortless chic, her taste in men and what looked like a really fun family. I mean, Mili has a fatal disease, Guddi is a naive infant and Uma has a terrible husband. Sulekha wins!
3. Basanti (Sholay) – Okay, so she made you want to stuff your fingers in your ear (I don’t care how many times I’ve heard it, but “Tumhara naam kya hai, Basanti?” still makes me roar with laughter when I hear it. Yes, I am a simpleton).
But not only is she an independent woman and proud of it despite living in a dusty village in the middle of nowhere, she’s clearly literate, kind and helpful, can spot a lech when she meets him, has a glare that could emasculate at ten paces, is sensible enough to weigh her boyfriend’s ego against the chances of them getting out alive from a den full of armed blackguards and make the right call, and goes after her man when he tries to slink away to wallow in his grief. Whew. You go, girl!
4. Seeta – Geeta (Seeta aur Geeta) – Geeta is, of course, an easy choice for this list. She’s a fearless smartass who drives the police mad, is handy with a whip, can sock it to the cretins who want to beat up on her and soon sets her household to rights.
Poor little Seeta who’s been raised to be a scaredy cat by their horrible uncle and aunt, in my opinion, does something harder. She makes her way into the outside world despite it scaring the bejesus out of her and gamely gives Geeta’s acrobatic and very public life a shot even though she knows the outcome will not be pretty. She also manages to tame the drunken wildebeest played by Dharmendra whereas all Geeta has to do is skate down a highway with the portly but courteous Sanjeev Kumar. I’m sold!
5. Nagin (Nagin) – The B-movie that sent Reena Roy’s career skyrocketing for a time. I explain the finer points in great detail here.
6. Chanda (Khoon Pasina) – The first time we meet Chanda, Rekha is swinging those impressive hips down the street and some lout is unable to hold his feelings in check and sends a wolf-whistle her way. The scene that follows is classic. If it were remade in this day and age, I’m sure the language would have been a lot more colorful.
Impressed by her chutzpah, Tiger (Amitabh Bachchan) is convinced he’s found a girl worthy of his lordly time and kindly informs her of this fact. So Chanda sends him off to fight with a stuffed tiger. Thus is movie history made.
7. Saudamani (Lal Patthar) – Hema Malini says this is her favorite performance. I agree here.
8. Neetu – Shabu (Parvarish) – Our second sister act features a couple of thieves who hide a deeper purpose behind their outwardly free-wheeling lifestyle. They might spend their days cutting purses, but their attention is really focused on finding the man who left them orphaned at a young age.
Neetu (Neetu Singh) and Shabu (Shabana Azmi) might make for unlikely siblings, but there’s nothing wrong with their spirited performances. They chase their men and aren’t afraid to buttonhole their parents-in-law-to-be in their own home when there’s no one else to plead their case for them. And finding love doesn’t put a dampener on their plans for vengeance either – the boys might get to lurk around the lair but the girls give it a good go first.
9. Geeta (Trishul) – Rakhee’s performance as Geeta is one of my favorites. She’s remarkably low-key and just pitch perfect as the efficient secretary-cum-voice of conscience.
The scene in which Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan at his sexiest broodingest) symbolically stretches out a hand and asks for a little love and friendship from a quietly introspective Geeta is perhaps Hindi cinema’s most underappreciated romantic scene.
10. Salma (Amar Akbar Anthony) – You just gotta love a burkha clad doctor who literally listens to an expectant mother’s heartbeat by pressing her wrist to her ear.
AAA was a boys fest through and through even if a pouty Shabana and a sexy Parveen Babi did their best to liven things up. But Neetu Singh’s Dr. Salma, as the object of Rishi Kapoor’s overwhelming obsession, was the best kind of poster girl – sweet enough to fall for the boy next door even though she’s way out of his league, and smart enough to pull one over the villains by penning a letter in Urdu disguised as a doctor’s note at just the right moment.