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Sunday Musings: Bollywood Baatein

What’s it about women born on 19 November that makes them clutter-breakers of extraordinary dimensions? Zeenat Aman, Rehana Sultan and Sushmita Sen all 19th November-born  scorpios. Fiercely independent , all there redefined the Hindi film heroine and ushered in a new-age post-feminist female protagonist who could look after herself quite well,thanks.

Zeenat’s   Hare Rama Hare Krishna: Starting out your career as the heroine’s sister? No way! Many leading ladies said no to the role of Dev Anand’s hippy sister. Zeenat grabbed the part and added Dum dum and more dum into her career.Her   Satyam Shivum Sunderam: With her face scarred and her body more exposed than any mainstream heroine dared, Zeenat romped across this epic film with a couldn’t-care-less grace that most heroines only dream about.In    Manoranjan she  played  a full-on whore, not the filmy kind whose activities are  more perpendicular(dancing) than horizontal. Zeenat played a  full-blown streetwalker in Shammi Kapoor’s  directorial debut. She oozed oomph in the shortest of dresses and longest of coitus situations.In  Pyaas playing a sweeper, yes you heard right, in a film  directed by her discoverer O.P Ralhan Zeenat was as convincing as Smita Patil would have been were she to play Zeenat in a bio-pic. She failed. So what? Zeenat never shied away from trying. In  Roti Kapada Aur Makaan Zeenat  played  another unconventional role where the heroine dumps her middleclass jobless boyfriend to marry wealth. Sharmila Tagore had refused the role.

Rehana Sultan  made  a career  of playing unconventional  roles, As  for Sushmita mada  life and  career  out of breaking  norms. And how can we  forget  Tabu, another November born who  is among the most adventurous  and  incandescent divas  of  our cinema.

This month   when  so many  screen  divas turn  a year  older  I think   of all the birthdays that  come and  go in  Bollywood every year.

  As every producer and  his favourite financier know, the number of bouquets  that  you see in a star’s  house on  the day after  a birthday determines  his or her popularity.

   Many years  ago  I had been to  my friend Urmila Matondkar’s  house on the day after her birthday. The  entire space outside her  apartment was  strewn with bouquets.

 “What  do  you do  with them?” an exasperated Raakhee Gulzar had wondered aloud after  her birthday.  She firmly believes flowers  look nice on trees. “I give the  bouquets away  to  friends and neighbours as far as possible. But a lot of stars  just dump them anywhere,” Raakhee was genuinely perturbed.

 I remember she had cooked this sumptuous meal    on  her birthday. The menu  at  her place remained  unchanged whenever I’ve been treated to her  impeccable cooking.

Coincidentally I’ve been in Mumbai  for  two  of  Urmila’s birthdays.  Last year the number of bouquets remained  undiminished.  Urmila  and  I , just the two of us, had a blast. After I  imperiously  informed her  that  I  won’t  have any  of  the cake that I had gotten for  her  I dug  into  the sumptuous cake  she brought out.

Oh by the way, Urmila  is  one  of  the  best hostesses in Mumbai. And one  of  the  few  film persons  actually enjoy  the  meal with you. Most   of  the   others  just smile and pretend to eat. It’s  known  as the weight- and- watch formula.

Incidentally  Urmila  and Abhishek Bachchan were born a  day apart.  And he  often jokes they could’ve a  joint birthday party  . I was once in Mumbai for Abhishek’s birthday.  He  was shooting with his dad  and  Aishwarya  Rai for  the soon  to be   hysterically-historical item song Kajra re. Abhishek  was  in  his element, fooling around  , attending the endless stream  of  calls  from  strangers and  acquaintances who  wanted to  wish him.

 How  many calls  does an  average star get on his or her birthday? It all depends  on  how ‘un-average’ you are.   For  Shah Rukh Khan  or Amitabh   Bachchan it would be impossible  to attend  to  all the calls  and messages on their birthdays. However after the event  Mr B  sends  out personally -signed letters  to all his well-wishers.

  When it comes  to remembering friends’ birthdays  the Bachchans are  the uncrowned royal-family     of  Bollywood.  On my birthday  I  look forward to their  individual calls  , and they never disappoint.  In fact  there’s not a  single person  in their list of friends whose birthday they  ever forget.

 I wish  my other star-friends would be just as particular about birthdays. A lot  of them  forget  your existence   on   the most important day  of   the year. “Oh forget  it yaar!”  my  colleagues in Mumbai  console me. “They’re stars. They aren’t expected remember ordinary  mortals’ birthdays.”

   But  I refuse  to   be cowed down. Once when  the stunning Ash  sent me  an SMS on my birthday(our birthdays are separated by a day)  I  immediately demanded  she call me   to do  the  needful.  Lovely  obliging girl that she is, she  did.We now have a pact. I call her on  her birthday .She calls on my birthday the next day.

   I now understand  not   too many  people  have  the privilege  of   Ms Rai  calling them  to wish them  a happy birthday.  That  feels good.

  A lot  of  stars  love  to get lost on their birthdays. Even Urmila  until a  few years ago used to vanish  to destintations-unknown.  And  even the closest  of   friends  won’t find the reticent  Gulzar Saab  at  home  on his birthday. He’s just too shy  to  take  the barrage  of  good wishes  on  his birthday.

The hermetic  Lata Mangeshkar generally checks into a hotel  on  her birthday to avoid the unending stream  of guests and greetings at  home. Kareena can be  either all over the place or nowhere to be  found, on her birthday.  Raveena  starts  her birthday with a visit  to  the temple, while Preity and Karan spend  the entire day  glued to the phone talking to the well-wishers.  Shabana Azmi is eminently accessible  while Rekha’s birthday messages have to be left on her answering machine. She’ll respond  later if she so wishes. 

    But  there’s only   one person in Bollywood who hates to be  wished on  his birthday. And  that’s Ram Gopal  Varma.  So  any aspirant  to  hopes to  get a  role by sucking up to Ramu  on his birthday better get wise quick.

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