Kangana Ranaut co-directs (by default) and acts in Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi, a film in which she has had more than just a professional actor’s interest, though the film is officially produced by others. This film stars Jisshu Sengupta as her husband. For obvious reasons (the queen was widowed early in the story), her “romantic lead” has a brief and “non-meaty” role, so would a male star have done the sketchy role the way many heroines have had decorative characters in the home productions of heroes?
Stardom is so fragile—it is as much about egos as well as about box-office power. Never mind how gender equality brigade rants, the fact is that the biggest heroine can never dream of commanding the clout of the top heroes. In honest moments, many actresses have accepted this even while continuing to stress that payments and status should be gender-unbiased!
The male superstars, thus, have a choice: for their own productions, especially, they can sign the biggest female names, rank newcomers, or anyone from the complete spectrum of in-betweens. But when a heroine launches her home production (and many do it to provide meaty roles for themselves), they cannot go in for the biggest heroes. After all, the biggest male stars cannot do secondary roles, can they?
Salman Khan sportingly did a cameo (but as himself!) in Raveena Tandon’s small film Stumped! (2003), but he played himself. The film on cricket saw small-timer Aly Khan playing Raveena’s husband who is a soldier and has gone missing. Salman was presumably also chosen as he was also Raveena’s first hero in Patthar Ke Phool.
Akshay Kumar similarly did a tiny role as Lara Dutta’s husband in her superb maiden production Chalo Dilli. The film narrated the (mis)adventures of Lara along with fellow traveller Vinay Pathak, who was thus the actual ‘hero’ of the film. Again, Akshay was Lara’s first hero in the 2003 Andaaz.
Biggest of them all
The biggest female superstar, Deepika Padukone, who has even done not one but three Shah Rukh Khan home productions, has just turned producer. Her film, titled Chhapaak, is a serious biopic of an acid attack victim, with Meghna Gulzar as director. Vikrant Massey, actor in several midstream films, is her hero.
Anushka Sharma, who has already co-produced three films, has never got a top-flight male co-star despite having worked with the top most heroes. In NH10, she had Neil Bhoopalam, in Phillauri it was Diljit Dosanjh, and in her latest Pari, it was Parambhrata Chatterjee.
Sonam Kapoor, too, has had three films co-produced for her by sister Rhea Kapoor and dad Anil Kapoor. The first, Aisha, starred Abhay Deol, who was never a big name. The next, Khoobsurat, featured Pakistani TV biggie Fawad Khan, and the latest, the ensemble cast Veere Di Wedding, saw Vishwas Kini as the man who she decides to finally marry after going to bed with him earlier.
Rani Mukerji has never got heroes in her two latest films, Mardaani and Hichki, both produced by husband Aditya Chopra. In the former, she played a crack cop, and buzz is that she will soon do its sequel. In the latter, she played a schoolteacher with a physical challenge. Neither needed heroes.
The same was the case with Manisha Koirala’s home production Paisa Vasool (2004), a quirky blackmail drama that also starred Sushmita Sen. Like Mardaani, it had a powerful antagonist but no romantic lead. Manisha herself played a divorcee.
Kajol, recently, starred in husband Ajay Devgn’s production Helicopter Eela. In the conventional sense, there was no male lead—Riddhi Sen played her son, around whom the story revolved, while Tota Roy Chowdhury played her estranged husband.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s mother Brinda Rai produced her 2003 film Dil Ka Rishta, but though they had the then-top name Tips Films as co-producers, the actress, who was already in the top bracket, could not go above Arjun Rampal and Priyanshu Chatterjee as her leading men.
Preity Zinta had to make do with TV actor-turned-filmmaker, Gaurav Chanana rechristened Rhehan Malleik (!!!) as her lover in another calamity, Ishqk In Paris, her debut production.
Even Esha Deol, re-launched by her mother Hema Malini in an author-backed role in Tell Me O Kkhuda, had to settle for Arjan Bajwa as her hero, as the film had three heavyweight senior heroes—Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor, as potential fathers—she was on a mission to find her dad in the story.
There is no difference even when these lead actresses do outside films, come Priyanka Chopra’s Mary Kom, Vidya Balan’s Kahaani franchise, Tumhari Sulu et al, Sonakshi Sinha’s Akira and Noor, Happy Bhag Jayegi and Tanu Weds Manu… franchises, Kangana Ranaut’s Queen and Simran and others.
Much the same is true of the so-called comeback films like Madhuri Dixit Nene’s Aaja Nachle, Dedh Ishqiya and Gulaab Gang, Karisma Kapoor’s Dangerous Ishhq, Sridevi’s English Vinglish, Manisha Koirala’s Bhoot Returns, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s Jazbaa and Sarbjit and many more.
Like it or not, accept it or otherwise, we have come a long way (downwards) from the era when Mala Sinha and Nanda were considered strong enough to launch new heroes or support upcoming leading men, or when Meena Kumari, Nargis, Vyjayanthimala and Nutan commanded more power than most of their heroes.
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