By Karan Desai
According to Bollywood lore, Jaya Bachchan stomped out of a preview of Prakash Mehra’s Laawaris. She was quite surprised, unpleasantly so, to see her husband break into a drag act. Presumably, she didn’t like what she saw.
Nowadays, things and reactions are different. Kareena Kapoor Khan visited the sets of Humshakals to watch her husband in drag for Humshakals. She found him very sweet. Saif Ali Khan in a woman’s garb was a pretty as a picture. Maybe. We can’t say the same about the portly Ram Kapoor or the grin-flashing Riteish Deshmukh (who’s dolled up as a woman before).
The drag act of Humshakals is not the only reason why it is such a nonsensical film. On the whole, it is offensive to any viewer who has a shred of intelligence. That the film has gone house full and is considered a hit, is besides the point. Unfortunately, at times bad films click and in any case the mantra of Bollywood has been money, money, money. Period. Sajid Khan can ha-ha all the way to the bank, but he will not be respected as a filmmaker. ‘Respect’ did we say? That is not a positive word at the time of writing this blog. And chances are that it will never be.
Anyway, criticising Sajid Khan is as futile as blaming an evening round of junk food for a groaning tummy. We’d rather delete Humshakals from our memories, we saw half of it because of Saif Ali Khan, who we thought was quality conscious to a degree at least. Our bad.
But this grossed-out thingy did prompt us to rewind to the ‘importance’ of drag acts in our movies. They are considered the next best thing to set off guffaws after slipping on a banana, or juggling a frisky dog in one’s trousers (Kya Kool Hai Hum). Crowd pleasing humour is like that only. What to do?
Strangely when heroines dress up as males, there’s no ROFTL laughter. Women do that in the movies, only under extreme circumstances. Like Padmini did in Mera Naam Joker. Or Rani Mukherjee in Dil Bole Hadippa to get a chance to play cricket, a variation on Barbra Streisand attempting to break into male domain in Yentl.
Drag acts are not exclusive to Bollywood, of course. On the contrary, they have been imported from Hollywood. They have lost something of the original’s humour in translation. Yet, it has to be said that two or three of them worked. Rishi Kapoor with the no-longer-visible Paintal made for likeable avatars of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot. Kamal Haasan was more than likeable in Chachi 420, a rip-off from Robin Williams’ act in Mrs Doubtfire.
Kishore Kumar (Half Ticket), Mehmood (Arzoo) and Shammi Kapoor (Bluff Master), impersonating women didn’t descend to outright vulgarity.
Of late, the accent has been on the fake ‘assets’ of the actors-turned-actresses in question. Aamir Khan couldn’t convince us with his padding, fluttering lashes and mascara in Baazi. Neither could Shah Rukh Khan (Duplicate, Trimurti).
The real eyesores were Javed Jaffery, Naseeruddin Shah (yeh aapne kya kya kiya? sirji) and Aditya Pancholi in Tehelka which has been mercifully forgotten. Jaffrey has gone into the drag mode for more movies. For Johnny Lever, a petticoat and hideous blouse,were the done thing. Like it was for TV comedian Sunil Grover on the incredibly popular Comedy Nights with Kapil.
He-man Dharmendra (Kaatilon ke Kaatil) and the suave Shashi Kapoor (Haseena Maan Jaayegi) made the gender switch too. Which actor hasn’t? Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna is simpler to track actually. Tell us, if we are wrong.
We are not passing moral judgement on the drag act being used as laughter-for-laughter’s sake. Some can do it, some can’t. Some gain brownie points for amusing the audience. Some don’t like Biswajeet who virtually signed off his career after the chhamak chhalo song-and dance in Manmohan Desai’s Kismat, to the tune and lyrics of Kajra mohabbatwala. Super song, actually, playbacked by Asha Bhosle-Shamshad Begum.
All we are lamenting is that there must be some other ways also of raising laughter. Resorting to the age-old woman impersonation bit is a cliché, isn’t it? And when it descends into the desperate measure category of Humshakals, it’s impossible to lie back and enjoy it. Get the act right, guys.
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