My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.
The tongue-twister in the title simply means 'Bengali women'.
As Sonakshi Sinha prepares to wow the critics in her new avatar as a Bengali girl called Pakhi in Vikramaditya Motwane’s period romance Lootera, this is absolutely the right time to look at legendary Bengali women in Bollywood.
No, not Bengali stars but Bengali characters.
One of the earliest Bengali characters in popular Hindi cinema was the eponymous Miss Chatterjee, who was the subject of Johnny Walker’s attention in the song Suno suno Miss Chatterjee (from the film Baharein phir bhi Aayegi). Ostensibly set in Calcutta, the song had inimitable Johnny Walker wooing his Bengali girlfriend with many words that (apparently) rhyme with Chatter(jee) – for example, Matter, Better, Letter!
In Do Anjaane, Rekha played Rekha Roy who went from being a regular housewife to a star of the Bengali film industry. The story seemed to be innocuously set in Calcutta and no overt Bongness was displayed till we realize that Rekha starred as the heroine of a film called Potibrata (Pati-vrataa, to the rest of the country). Her accent was a little dodgy but the audience seemed to lover her ‘ek chutki sindoor ki keemat’ kind of role.
Of all the Bengali characters in Bollywood, Rakhee in Kaala Patthar probably had the most subtle appearance. She was introduced as Dr Sudha Sen – an idealistic doctor in a coal mine clinic. She spoke no Bengali in the film and restricted herself to wearing Bengal handloom sarees to show her roots.
If Devdas is the most famous Bengali character in Bollywood, then his girlfriend Paro would be the second-most famous.
In Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s version, Bengali culture & language was distilled to one word as Aishwarya Rai went Issshhhh… with varying levels of pitch and volume to display her Bongness. Opposite Dilip Kumar, there was true blue Bengali actress – Suchitra Sen – playing Paro.
And in Dev D, Anurag Kashyap transported Paro to Punjab and had Mahie Gill laying out mattresses in the middle of mustard fields. Kya adaa, kya jalwe tere, Paro…
In Kamal Haasan’s ‘magnum opus’ Hey Ram, he was an archaeologist married to a Bengali woman Aparna played by Rani Mukherjee, the archetype of the sexy Bengali woman in a traditionally worn saree, with a large bindi, larger eyes and a husky voice to die for. We were never told how a South Indian archaeologist married a Bengali school-teacher. And after Kamal Haasan dived under the sheets with her, nobody asked.
As Saif Ali Khan put on batik kurtas and drove around Victoria Memorial in Parineeta, the object of his affection and childhood sweetheart was Lolita – which can only be described as the Second Most Typical Bengali Name of All Times (losing the top spot to Paromita, probably). Vidya Balan played the Bong belle with aplomb before she left to become Silk in Southern climes.
In Dhoom and Dhoom 2 (and most likely in Dhoom 3, as well), ACP Jai Dixit was married to a motor-mouth Bengali girl – Sweety, played by Rimii Sen. She spouted a few sentences in Bengali when angry and switched back to Hindi when being an eye-candy-in-hot-pants.
As if one Bengali woman wasn’t enough, Bipasha Basu played TWO Bong women in the Dhoom 2 by being Shonali Bose and Monali Bose though no mention of fish and football happened from her side.
While on the topic of Bipasha Basu and a Bengali woman called Shonali, we introduce:
1. Nishigandha Dasgupta – a hotshot MBA in Corporate, who cut a sexy figure in a sharp suit.
2. Shonali Mukherjee – an even hotter architect who was the object of a geek’s affections in Karthik Calling Karthik.
Neither of these characters was marked by any distinctive Bong stereotypes. Nor did they break into Bengali mid-sentence. But their names sure caught attention!