Bindu Turns 67: Where Have the Good Old Vamps of Bollywood Gone?
Ta ra ru ta ra ru…
Mera naam hai Shabnam,
Pyaar se log mujhe Shabbo kehte hain
Tumhara naam kya hai hunh haa haa?
Neena, Meena, Anju ya Manju Neena Meena, Anju, Manju….ya Madhuuuu?
(Excerpted from Kati Patang lyrics, 1970)
Forget Neena, Meena, Anju or Manju. Because there was Bindu, the va-va-voom vamp who tormented the oh-so-bechari Asha Parekh at a cabaret joint. Here Rajesh Khanna sipped from a cup of tea and junior artistes sat motionless before glasses of tap water (no booze permitted!). Only torment was shaken-n-stirred.
Bindu turns 67 today, although some claim that she may be a few years older. Who cares? After all, for nostalgia-philes, she could still well be a sweet-n-spicy 16.
Bindu wouldn’t get my vote for the Mambo Moll No 1 though. For sure, Helen would, she was the most agile dancer of them all, besides packing in a Martini-soaked voice which spelt seduction.
Strobe-lit in peekaboo outfits (camouflaged by skin-colour nylons), wigged out in flaming tints and exoticised in feathers-sequins-baubles, she could never be accused of vulgarity.
In fact, there have been so many lady dominatrixes over the decades that apart from Helen, it’s like picking runners-up from your favourite books and childhood crushes.
The Other Vamps who Mattered
Kuldip Kaur was described as “too hot handle” by the great Urdu litterateur Sadaat Manto Hassan. The bete noire of the lovelorn courtesan Anarkali (the 1953 version), Manto was struck by her pert nose, large eyes and a demeanour which translated as, “Keep your paws off me.”
Nigar Sultana dripping acid to degrade the most legendary Anarkali of them all, Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam (1960), denoted evil. The result was epic. Married to Director-e-Azam K Asif, after his premature death, La Sultana turned reclusive and was last seen in a mind-bender, Jumbish: The Movement (1986) about the arrival of the computer age.
Lalita Pawar could give Cruella de Vil a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. Partial face paralysis and a defective left eye, caused by a mistimed slap across her face by Master Bhagwan, turned out to be her fearsome features. Portraying the cobra-like matriarch and saas to the hilt, she had joined the movies as a leading lady during the silent era.
Nadira, the mud mud ke na dekha temptress of Shree 420 (1955), flaunted a smouldering cigarette holder as if to challenge the very notion of a no-smoking zone. As in real life, she was frank and forthright before the camera eye. Roles diminished as she aged, compelling her to spend a lonely life, short of cash. She often complained that she couldn’t afford dental treatment.
Shashikala, a menace-machine, was the blond-wigged femme fatale of Phool aur Patthar (1966), hiding her heart of platinum till she took the baddy’s bullet aimed at Dharmendra. Sigh, predators usually did crave redemption. Her performance as a no-bitching-barred blackmailer in Gumrah (1963), is rated her most accomplished. Eventually, after featuring in gentler character roles, she became a devotee of Mother Teresa.
Aruna Irani, a child actor, a heroine, a dancing darling and then, a matriarch oozing intolerance (check out Beta (1992), top-lined by Anil Kapoor-Madhuri Dixit). Bindu and she were the last of the certified vamps.
Whenever vamps were depicted in a sympathetic light (think Pran in Upkaar,1967 or Zanjeer, 1973), they were feted with audience approval and awards for turning over a new leaf. The prime examples being Lalita Pawar – Anari (1993), Mem Didi (1961), Professor (1962), Helen – Lahoo ke Do Rang (1997), Hum Hindustani (1960), Nadira – Chhoti Chhoti Baatein (1965), Pakeezah (1972), Shashikala – Sujata (1959), Anupama (1966) and Bindu (Arjun Pandit (1999), Abhimaan (1973).
Why don’t they make ‘em like the good old malignant ma’ms anymore? The knee-jerk answer is that the ‘westernised’, footloose Zeenat Aman and Pravin Babi altered the scenario dramatically.
From thereon, heroines could transmit 50 shades of grey, show off their mojo without flinching. To hell, with taboos like pre-marital sex, cigarettes, and strong spirits.
The tattoo of permissiveness has been taken forward for the worse or better by Kangana Ranaut getting plastered in Paris (Queen, 2013) , Katrina Kaif lighting up fliter tips nonchalantly (Fitoor, 2016), Alia Bhatt whooshing off on a beer binge (Kapoor & Sons, 2016), not to omit Kareena Kapoor hopping into a lesbian encounter (Heroine, 2012), and more lately pleading, “Can’t I have at least one whisky tonight?” (Ki and Ka, 2016). That the derring-do scenes, by traditional standards, come off as contrived and clumsy, is another story.
In addition, the cabaret interludes of yore (now known as ‘item numbers’) can be performed by the heroines themselves. In fact, in the skewered system of Bollywood filmmaking, the frontline heroines get a kick by going against typecasting. Kajol was given the licence to kill in Gupt, Priyanka Chopra did the Demi Moore cougar act in Aitraaz, and Kangana Ranaut became a man-eater in Revolver Rani.
The squeaky clean abhinetris can be she-devils, but only occasionally. It’s unavoidable circumstances, and not their basic instincts, which drive them to kiss and kill. Or like Bipasha Basu, the anti-heroine (some term that!) can stick to the Jism-genre of sex flicks and go on to become a one-woman horror show.
Is this a good thing? I’m not so sure. Inadvertently, films are a reflection of the times. But Bollywood’s takes are annoyingly simplistic and commercially calculated. For goosebumps give me Shabnam any day. Truly, can there ever be a guilty pleasure which can beat the refrain Neena, Meena, Anju ya.
(This is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on April 17, 2016. It is being republished on the occasion of Bindu’s birthday.)