Seven years into Bollywood, Chitrangada remains a bit of an outsider. Budhaditya Bhattacharya discovers the changing shades of her career
2005 was a mediocre year for Bollywood by most accounts. Its biggest hit No Entry today seems a footnote in the story of the industry’s recent cluster of big earners, designated immodestly as the 100 crore club. But it was also the year of Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, a far cry from No Entry in its means and also in its ends. The abiding aura of the film arguably had a lot to do with its protagonist Geeta, played by debutante Chitrangada Singh. Since we are speaking of aura, we are necessarily in the realm of images and objects, but Chitrangada despises her conversion into either. Her item number ‘Kaafirana’ in the upcoming Joker directed Shirish Kunder, featuring Akshay Kumar and Sonakshi Sinha, has been narrated as being indicative of her movement from the thinking man’s actor to every man’s actor, a casting off of the art house image of Chitrangada, which was less self-cultivated and more an imposition in the first place.
The problem with these narratives is one of perception, says Chitrangada. On a promotional trail with Kaddu and Karela, the vegetarian aliens from the film, she calls her journey from Hazaaron… to Joker via Desi Boyz a “normal transition”. “Nobody sticks and no one should. Everybody moves on and plays different parts. I see it definitely as a growth.”
It wasn’t always so easy to play different parts, however. “This is the best time in the industry. It’s become accommodating to all kinds of films and all kinds of expressions. There is so much being done around women now. Vidya (Balan) has really opened it up for everyone else.” But the irony in this statement is palpable; her item number, initially called ‘I want fakht you’, was pulled up by the censors who then demanded an adjustment to the lyrics and The Dirty Picture was deemed unfit for broadcast on television.
Even if one were to concede that there has been a liberation of the image of the woman, the countryside remains conspicuous in its absence from cinematic expression. Chitrangada blames it on the multiplex culture which has fashioned for itself an urbane audience. But in the success of Dabangg, Rowdy Rathore and Gangs of Wasseypur, she sees the emergence of a rustic idiom, which could displace the city as the dominant locale of Bollywood and simultaneously restore the single theatre to its erstwhile glory. “There was a time when films used to be shot in Switzerland. But one of the reasons why these films have done so well is because we seem to have become proud of our Indianness,” she says.
In the industry that Chitrangada believes is becoming increasingly hospitable, she continues to occupy a position that isn’t easy to define. In the seven years that she has been in the industry she has acted in five films, so the suspicion that she is fastidious in choosing a film is one that has to be allowed for. She confirms the suspicion, saying “it is really important what the part is. I gravitate towards roles that feature powerful women. But the director who is offering me the role also matters”
This explains her tendency to be cast in the films of Sudhir Mishra. “Sudhir has written roles for women that are very different.” In Hazaaron…, the men around Geeta are either crippled or disillusioned in their attempts to foment revolution, while she continues to make a difference at the grassroots level. Even in Yeh Saali Zindagi, her character of Priti emerges as a strong one in a plot where men appear to be the prime agents.
In the upcoming Inkaar, also directed by Mishra, Chitrangada plays Maya and is paired with Arjun Rampal. “The character of Maya is as ambitious as she is in love. It is the character I relate to the most,” is all she reveals.
Returning to the subject of her place in the industry, Chitrangada says, “I have worked hard and have had to be patient. At times it felt unfair because I didn’t know enough people. But I’ve realised the industry is an amazing place. I left for four years but was accepted warmly when I returned. It really didn’t matter whether I was married or not. ” Despite these glowing recommendations to Bollywood, Chitrangada refers to herself as someone who is simultaneously “an insider and an outsider”. The validity of the statement remains to be seen, but at least it’s a departure from the ‘perennial outsider’ image.