As the unofficial Rajmata of Alibaug, in the new Disney+Hotstar series Karmma Calling, Raveena Tandon enjoyed being wicked. At 51, Tandon, who began her career in 1991 with Patthar ke Phool, has never played a wimp. But like most talented women of the ’90s, she is better known for her songs. “Whenever there is a wedding, I am invariably pulled to the floor, to dance to my own remixes,” she says. From ‘Tu cheez badi hai mast mast’ (Mohra, 1994) to ‘Tip tip barsa paani’ (Mohra), from ‘Shehar ki ladki’ (Rakshak, 1996) to ‘Kisi disco mein jaaye’ (Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, 1998), her songs have kept her stardom alive. “Movies come and go but the songs stay on YouTube forever,” she says. As one of the most stylish and svelte heroines of her time, Tandon has ended up owning her songs. “The ’90s kids are still rocking,” she adds, whether it is the men or the women. And now that roles are being written specifically for her, she is happy to flex her acting muscles. “Luckily for us, the roles we are choosing have us as the heroes of the stories. Earlier we were not given these opportunities,” says Tandon. She has four releases this year, apart from Karmma Calling, including a pivotal role in the third edition of the comedy franchise, Welcome 3. In Karrma Calling, she plays a former ’90s actor who marries a swish, if crooked, businessman. Has she modelled her Indrani Kothari on any real life high society priestess? “You can never know such people, can you?” she says. Now that her youngest daughter Rasha is getting ready for her debut, does she have any advice for her? “My lips are sealed,” she says, adding that the ecosystem around even debutants has changed drastically from her time, becoming far more professional.
The Female Fighter
Move over police officers and sports heroes, the fighters are here. In the male-dominated Mumbai film industry, there is a new species of “women-oriented” cinema. It’s the cinema of patriotism where women are allowed to soar high in the sky— following the 2016 decision when the Indian Air Force welcomed women into combat positions. But the women can have careers in the Air Force only if they promise to live for their country. So whether it was Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (2020), starring Janhvi Kapoor and based on a real life helicopter pilot who fought during the Kargil war; Tejas (2023), where Kangana Ranaut played a fighter pilot, or Fighter, where Deepika Padukone plays Minal Rathore, the daughter of an airline ground officer, who becomes a helicopter rescue pilot, the ‘Bharat ki Beti’ is a newly minted hero. In Tejas, Kangana Ranaut has to utter dialogues such as “Bharat ko chedoge to chodenge nahin (If you trouble India, we won’t leave you?)” or “When in doubt, think about the nation.” In Fighter, Padukone is not accepted by her parents, who preferred that she marry and “settle down”. It takes a long lecture from her fellow pilot for the parents to feel proud of a daughter who has decided to “marry her country”. It is in keeping with the recrafting of a national narrative where young women are encouraged to pursue their dreams, as long as they are within acceptably pure boundaries, where the nation is the family and devotion to Bharat Mata the only emotion. “Terrorism sab ke liye personal hona chahiye (Terrorism should be personal for everyone),” Tejas says at another point. So there is no discussion on the woman’s emotional, intellectual or sexual needs, merely a subservience to the idea of nationhood. Can she be a proud captain of industry chasing monetary success or a spiritual seeker showing the path to others? No, whatever she does will have to be in the service of the nation.
Scene and Heard
The violent trailer of Dev Patel’s directorial debut Monkey Man suggests a revenge drama with mythological underpinnings which may be why it has gone from finding a home at Netflix (always wary of stepping into controversial territory in India) to a theatrical-first release. The movie was shot at the height of the pandemic in Bangkok, Thailand, with a few stellar Indian actors, such as Sobhita Dhulipala, Sikandar Kher and Makarand Deshpande. The movie reunites Patel with John Collee, the writer of Hotel Mumbai (2018) which is based on the 26/11 attacks on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.