Harshikaa Udasi on actors who are defying Bollywood’s beauty diktats and seeking success on their own terms

When Vidya Balan was cast opposite Shahid Kapoor in the 2008 film Kismat Konnection, the world came down heavily on everything from her dressing sense to her weight to her haircut! She must have nerves of steel to survive that onslaught for she is now the most sought-after and unquestioned actress. She can dress up in just about anything from a Kancheevaram to an Umrao Jaan-inspired outfit and invite criticism and applause and take it on her chin.

“It’s crazy. I can’t understand people’s obsession with perfection and uniformity in everything,” she had once confided in us while speaking on her ‘weight issue’.

When she joined the industry, Sonakshi had just managed to shed her extra kilos but she was nowhere close to the Bollywood concept of beauty. By no means slender, she couldn’t flaunt short clothes let alone a bikini. But that hasn’t stopped Junior Shotgun from delivering hit after hit. Sonakshi Sinha said in a recent interview that her fat is a fact she can’t deny. “I have been plump since I can remember. I lost weight only when I realised how unhealthy it was. But my imperfections are my USP,” she said.

The acceptance is coming in but don’t expect Bollywood and its followers to forget the washboard abs, that perfect smile, an hour glass figure or a perfectly aligned nose in a jiffy. Perfection is still the only thing to strive for, even though stars may appear like factory-made clones with stringent quality control: abs — check, complexion — check, weight — check, moves — check, and so on.

But with actors such as Vidya, Sonakshi, Kalki Koechlin, Huma Quereshi, Mahie Gill and Richa Chadda, who seem adept at marrying the right amount of glamour with acting prowess, these notions of perfection and uniformity are in grave danger of getting tweaked. Who thought that Kalki, by no means a conventional Bollywood beauty, could pull of roles as diverse as that in The Girl In Yellow Boots and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani with equal aplomb?

Bipasha Basu, who did turn a few shades fairer for some movies, has mainly revelled in her dusky complexion but has admitted to having lost out on many roles. “But I did get my chances and managed to score!” she said. There are a very few who manage that in a country that’s still obsessed with skin colour.

But many would agree that looking good is part and parcel of the industry. At a recent product launch, Sonam Kapoor, worried about the desire for perfection, said, “At any given point of time, I have eight people working on me. Be it make up, hair, nutrition, diet, workout, image, the most expensive beauty products and even Photoshop — we have it all. We can be made to look slimmer, beautiful and out-of-this-world perfect. I don’t want girls out there to emulate that.” Sonam, who also battled the bulge before getting into the industry, says that looking good is a part of her job.

Vidya, who is yet again pushing the envelope with her role in Ghanchakkar, said, “I am hardly looking ‘good’ in that sense. My director Raj Kumar Gupta wanted me to retain all the weight from The Dirty Picture and to top that he wanted me to wear unflattering clothes that cannot make me look better from any angle!”

Jiah Khan aka Nafisa Khan learnt the hard way about being ‘imperfect’ and its repercussions. The dusky actress, who recently committed suicide, was reportedly rejected for certain South films for being ‘too skinny’. Richa Chadda, who has often heard the ‘dusky’ epithet with her name, says that creative directors and casting heads in Bollywood ought to learn to be a little more kind. “We face rejections on a daily basis. Mainly it is because our attributes don’t match the concept of perfection that they have.” Bollywood also wants their beauties to remain perfect forever.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan had the worst post-partum experience possible with her weight gain being spoken about in every household. Many berated her for her chubby mummy look when the yummy mummy look was supposedly the way to go. But the lady went about her business as usual speaking out only once in public that she was a mother first and a public figure later, and that every lady’s body reacts differently to pregnancy.

Marilyn Monroe had famously said, “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” Bollywood better take note.