AFTER MADHURI Dixit, who? Well, it might just be Madhuri Dixit! The fact is, in the years since Mrs Nene who'll be seen on the big screen again in Aaja Nachle —has been away from Bollywood, no one has quite been able to fill her stilettos. And 2007 has, so far, not been a particularly good year for established women actors, even as newcomers like Deepika Padukone (Om Shanti Om) and Sonam Kapoor (Saawariya) have made waves.
While Rani Mukerjee (Tara Rum Pum and Laaga Chunari Mein Daag), Preity Zinta (Jhoom Barabar Jhoom), Priyanka Chopra (Salaam -E- Ishq) and Aishwarya Bachchan (The Mistress of Spices and Provoked: A True Love Story) suffered a series of duds, younger stars like Katrina Kaif (Namaste London, Apne and Partner), Kangana Ranaut (Metro) and now Deepika and Sonam are coming into their own. Lara Dutta, after many years on the fringes, too enjoyed success this year with Partner and got favourable reviews for the otherwise forgettable Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.
"Rani, Preity and Ash have been around for some time. We can do with some new faces and freshness on the big screen," says film critic Taran Adarsh who hails Ayesha Takia in last year's Dor. "Ayesha is a very fine actress. We need more of her kind in the industry."
Agrees trade analyst and film critic Amod Mehra. "Ayesha was amazing in Dor and so was Kangana in Metro." He also notes that Katrina has improved a lot from playing only modern characters. "You cannot find fault in her performance in Namaste London but her role was not outstanding in the film like Lara's in JBJ."
While Katrina looks forward to Subhash Ghai's Yuvraaj, Anees Bazmee's Welcome and Atul Agnihotri's Hello, there are others like Soha Ali Khan who are steadily climbing up the popularity charts. After getting noticed in Rang De Basanti, Soha is banking on Sudhir Mishra's Khoya Khoya Chaand and Meghna Gulzar and Jasmeet Dhodhi's Dus Kahaniyaan.
As for Deepika and Sonam, the industry is abuzz like never before. "Deepika was fantastic in OSO. To share the same frame as SRK and deliver with adept screen presence speaks volumes for her talent," says Taran. Agrees Amod. "Deepika is a star; even Sonam is very good in Saawariya though the film isn't doing that well."
What worked for them was a combination of good script, big banner and talented director. "When all three are in place it always yields good results," says Taran.
Sonam is now reported to have bagged Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Dilli 6 opposite Abhishek Bachchan. Rakeysh zeroed-in on Sonam after seeing her in the TV promos of Saawariya. Meanwhile, Deepika is tight-lipped about the offers that have reportedly come her way, including Sohail Khan Production's Mr and Mrs Khanna opposite Salman Khan.
So what's with the big heroines? Is it the wrong choice of scripts, lack of experimentation or sheer fatigue with stereotype? Opinions vary.
Amod says the older heroines were let down by their film scripts. "Priyanka was good in Salaam-E-Ishq, so was Rani in LCMD but the script failed them. As for Aishwarya, she had only two international releases and both were disasters." Public memory being short, the success of Guru early in the year has already receded into the background.
Amod also feels that both Preity and Ash, who are in their thirties, have a limited screen life. Rani too is heading that way. "The problem with Rani is that she is working with the same directors and producers. She's either in the Chopra or in the Karan Johar camp. This is getting her into a rut." She has only one film in her kitty and that too is a Yashraj film - the untitled Kunal Kohli venture where she plays an angel. "Rani needs to experiment with other filmmakers and move out of the camps. Look at what she did in Black," says Amod.
Meanwhile, Pritish Nandy of PNC Communications feels that it's not about old versus new heroines, but the ability of today's heroine to go beyond being a mere prop in the screenplay and demand real, powerful roles. "Chameli (Kareena), Pyar Ke Side Effects (Mallika Sherawat), Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (Chitrangada Singh) all had strong women characters," he says.
However, Vipul Shah steers clear of this debate and puts the blame on the media for concocting the divide. "The media plays it in their minds about big or small heroines. Katrina has given five hits in a row and yet she's dubbed a newcomer?" he questions.
Still, it would be premature to write off the seasoned stars. Preity's hopes are pinned on Rituparno Ghosh's The Last Lear and Samir Karnik's musical adventure Mera Bharat Mahaan. While Priyanka looks forward to Drona, Love Story 2050 and Rumi Jaffrey's long-delayed comedy God Tussi Great Ho, she also has Madhur Bhandarkar's Fashion and Karan Johar's untitled venture to be directed by Tarun Mansukhani. As for Ash, she still has two much-awaited Bollywood films - Jodhaa Akbar and Sarkar Raj in her kitty, apart from her Hollywood projects.
But the established star who is really riding high right now is Kareena Kapoor. After making news largely for her tumultuous personal life, Kareena finally had reason to celebrate with the success of Jab We Met, co-starring ex-beau Shahid Kapur. "Such roles have a tendency of getting irritating. But Kareena pulled it off very well," says Amod. She now has Tashan and Golmal Returns for 2008 while Lajjo with Aamir Khan as a co-star is on hold.So, who'll be Queen bee in 2008? Well, this is one answer that might just be in the stars!
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