Of Bhumi Pednekar, fat chances and hitting the bull’s eye
It’s not unreasonable to hope that an actor who put on 30 kilograms to play an overweight woman convincingly and who used to be a casting director would step away from roles like the ones Pednekar has embraced in Saand ki Aankh and Bala
Once upon a time, there was a girl who had everything going for her, but her figure. Aunties and uncles loved her for being a paragon of virtue. Kids adored her because she knew all the lyrics to “Ice Ice baby”. Years later, they’d realise she’d taken some liberties with that song. For instance, it wasn’t “Love it or leave it, you better gain weight”, but she sang that line with such gusto, no one thought to question her. At one point, when there were calumnious allegations that the front door wasn’t wide enough for our heroine, she was put on a strict diet. In no time, she transformed, into a lissom but listless person. It seemed that along with adipose tissues, the spark had also left her person. Or as one aunty put it, “This is the problem with crash dieting. The fat goes and the brain withers.”
So far, there is no medical research to back the theory that weight and intelligence are linked, but I found myself remembering that prognosis as publicity shots from actor Bhumi Pednekar’s two upcoming films started doing the rounds. Pednekar made a brilliant debut as an overweight, newly-married young woman in Dum Laga Ke Haisha. Since then, the slimmer Pednekar has become, the more disappointing her roles have been. Today, the barely-concealed nationalism of Toilet: Ek Prem Katha seems preferable to the sight of Pednekar pretending to be a woman in her 60s in Saand ki Aankh or looking like she’s stained herself with shoe polish to play “a deep-coloured girl” (her words, not mine) in Bala.
The heroines of Saand ki Aankh are two women in their 60s, played by Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu, both in their 30s. Just for the heck of it, let me run past you the names of a few actors in their 60s or thereabouts: Rekha, Zeenat Aman, Shabana Azmi, Neena Gupta, Ratna Pathak Shah and Supriya Pathak. That’s just a sampling. Now, look at the poster for Saand ki Aankh and replace Pednekar and Pannu’s faces (with their atrociously amateur make-up) with those of Rekha and Aman. Or Azmi and Gupta. Or Pathak Shah and Pathak.
Got goosebumps? Well, that’s all you’re getting, because the Hindi film industry believes you the audience would prefer Pannu and Pednekar. This is despite the success of films like Kahaani, Queen, Badhaai Ho, and Andhadhun, which indicate audiences are open to unconventional stories and casting.
It’s not unreasonable to hope that an actor who put on 30 kilograms to play an overweight woman convincingly and who used to be a casting director (and is therefore aware that there are older and dusky women in the acting field) would step away from roles like the ones Pednekar has embraced in Saand ki Aankh and Bala. To be fair, it takes time and effort to change how an industry operates. Maybe Pednekar (and Pannu) are taking one small step forward for on-screen women even as they take two steps back for women actors. Maybe they’re just starved for meaty roles and worried about not getting work if they pass up these films. Or maybe Maya’s aunt was on to something with her correlation of fat and the smarts.
So say a prayer that at some point, we’ll see heroines from different age groups, with various skin tones and endless body types on screen, who reflect the diversity in the audience. And have a cupcake.