Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Blistering exposure to western aesthetic ideals

ET - 7 Feb 2010, C P SURENDRAN 

Vidya has played complex roles before in Pa, Guru and Parineeta. But unlike those characters, there is a startling clarity, uncharacteristic in Indian society, about Krishna’s amoral perspective of the world. She will do anything to get her way.

Krishna is the rural matriarch we always suspected was hiding in the attic of the ancestral home, but were afraid to acknowledge. As a people we are staunch devotees of prettification, remember? And suddenly here she is, in the dark of the cinema hall, near-bare, angry and unstoppable. And her whole attitude, we notice, is akin to the upright middle finger. It is just your kind of luck that it is pointed at you.

In Ishqiya,
Krishna barely talks, let alone relates, to anyone in the village except the recently arrived guests. She is a loner. Her expressions flit between stony anger and a sensuous availability. And both seem exchangeable. She frequently gives short, tight slaps to her men, husband or lover.

It is not just that
Krishna is constantly plotting and manipulating and playing one lover against the other. She is also shown associating with guns, revolvers and knives. Throughout the movie, weapons of mass destruction gravitate towards her. She pulls people towards her by their shirt scruffs. There is a constant violence in her in the way she stares, even if it is at the middle distance.

And, of course,
Krishna is hot. Her backless choli, her undone hair and a strange, heavy physical presence lend her an earthy individuality rarely seen in Bollywood’s female characters.

In short,
Krishna goes against the grain of Bollywood womanhood. And, in a strange, Ishqiya-kind-of-twist, it so happens that Vidya Balan is not the typical Bollywood heroine either. Forget the fact that she is from Palghat in Kerala in terms of her racial stock. The real thing is how those south Indian Brahminical genes contribute to the breaking of the zero-figure mould of Bollywood heroines.

Vidya Balan in this movie is not just sexy. She is sexy in a way that reinforces the old idea of buxom, plumpish Indian attractiveness, which, with our blistering exposure to western aesthetic ideals, is now a matter of nostalgia. In the movie, Krishna, too, comes across as a heavy presence.

Physically, she is hefty. Heavy shoulders, heavy frontal development, heavy hips, long hair. This is the mother that father long back dreamed of but dared not propose to for fear of castration. And when he finally picked up the courage, it was too late: cellulite had crept on the list as the eighth cardinal sin.

Vidya Balan’s rebel streak, be it the choice of her roles or the choice of bra size, is a political statement in a very politically correct place like Bollywood. The last rebel they had was Amitabh Bachchan, and that was in the 70’s, another millennium really.

In Ishqiya, Vidya Balan is at pains to be herself exactly as product endorsements recommend. But being yourself is a tough, 24-hour job. Vidya Balan has come good on her own terms, and clearly against odds. Which is why
Krishna doesn’t elicit your sympathy. But she wins your admiration. Just like Vidya Balan. Somewhere along the line, the artiste has merged with the character. And Bollywood is richer for the event.  

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