Anusually yours!

Much before Bipasha Basu there was Anu Aggarwal. A tall, dusky beauty who used her lips for seduction, her broad shoulders for temptation. Many summers ago when this sociology graduate from Delhi University was hand-picked for Aashiqui by Mahesh Bhatt, that master of melancholy, many were surprised. She defied all stereotypes of a Bollywood heroine; she was neither svelte nor fair. She was far from coy and too slim to be the object of an average Indian male’s desire. Bhatt knew more than they did. And Anu Aggarwal, launched with a rare photo ‘pout with abandon’ advertisement campaign in the run-up to the release of the film, won over the audiences. She was a seductress in the garb of an actress. Many hummed the melodies of the film, imagined her and attended to rest of the business. She was the brave new girl.

Then followed a few ordinary films like King Uncle and Khalnayika – trust Sawan Kumar to find an anti-heroine in the new pin-up girl – and Anu disappeared. Some wondered aloud that she was a fake, she was a one-film wonder, she could not run around the trees, she could not carry off Indian dresses and the like. Others were equally vocal: Anu was too well educated to be a typical dumb doll Hindi film actresses were expected to be. By a long stretch she was not the girl who, as a coy wife, would open the door for a tired husband, and say, ‘Aa gaye aap!’ Yes, certainly. So, Anu went and worked with Mani Kaul for Cloud Door which paved the way to Cannes. The international media was fawning over her. As she tried to understand the not-so-subtle difference between erotica and pornography where one concealed, the other revealed, the critics found sensuality in her sexuality. She had the world at her feet. And a condom advertisement in her kitty too – this again was unheard of in Hindi cinema where till a few years ago heroines were supposed to be virginal good girls, it is the bad girls who expressed desire; good girls presented tea or coffee, the bad ones dished out condoms. Yet Anu disappeared. So where did she go? Therein lies the story. It is a story that Anu herself believes is better than a box office smash hit. It is a story that was waiting to be told. Apt time too she has chosen considering her passport to fame Aashiqui is completing 25 years this month. Anu exhibits not fifty but a million shades of grey.

As I read up the bare essentials on the back cover of “Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead”, I was initially reminded of Vinod Khanna and his short lived tryst with spirituality. Images of Osho, Rajneeshpuram and Khanna himself in saffron robes flashed across my mind as I discovered that Anu, not ready to be taken as just a glam doll, had taken to spirituality to find out the purpose of life, the purpose of being, the reason we are.

This awakening came through the hand of providence. Returning home from the US consul general’s party in Mumbai, Anu was lacerated by metal. “Cut by broken glass. Pulped inside the grunting car that was shaken by the stormy wind. Mercilessly reduced to a bloody mass of defeated bones; crushed and cracked….the policemen were astonished when they saw the white Mercedes take three 360 degree James Bond-kind of turns before flopping down next to the turbulent sea.

It was only when they saw a female body slither out of the driver’s seat that they rushed to pick up her body….Her feet fell on the broken glass of the windscreens.” Miracle of miracles, Anu survived.

Dr Kartik, who operated upon her, though said, “She had hysterical post-traumatic amnesia. Damaged hippocampus in the brain means she will not be able to image in a future, because when a normal human being imagines the future, they use their past experiences to construct a possible scenario.”

Anu lives in the now, in the present moment. She had been to the Other Side. Sanyas, that marriage between a guru and a disciple, beckoned. And Anu opted for “Oneness with infinity”. Life 2 opened. Gone were those lovely locks. She had no home, no room, no bed. No money, no jewellery. Sanyasi. Life of self-abnegation.

Throw in a swami and his temper. And a realisation. “That even when a being is supposed to be, and is proclaimed, as enlightened – he is not God. There, I saw the follies of spiritual organisations and gurus.” A voice from inside answered. Thus came about “Anusual”, an unusual way of narrating an extraordinary life.

Aashiqui? Cloud Door, anyone?

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 3:15:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Ziya_Us_Salam/anusually-yours/article7486189.ece

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