Preity Zinta was recently in the news for a role in Shaji Karun’s film on Raja Ravi Verma’s life. She is being considered for the role of Sugunabai, who was the painter’s muse for a large part of his career. Literally so, because she was the model for several of his paintings as well.
In recent times, MF Husain painted Madhuri Dixit on canvas as well as celluloid in a typically exaggerated demonstration of his passion for the star.
But, muses are not restricted to painters alone.
Film directors, the world over, have had their favourite heroines. A director’s muse is probably one who has forced the directors to think of roles specially written for her. Or, at the very least, have roles that would suit her the best. A muse is quite distinctive (from a mistress) in terms of the fact that they inspire the maker to think exclusively for them – hopefully for elevated performances. Though, obsession leads to depressed performances as well…
Satyajit Ray made some of his finest films – as well as ones with the most finely etched female leads – with Madhabi Mukherjee.
A relatively ordinary role in Kapurush (The Coward) was the precursor to Mahanagar, which is one of the strongest statements on women’s place in the society and had Madhabi essaying an understated but brilliant role of a middle-class housewife.
She went on to do the title role of what is regarded as Ray’s best film – Charulata. It has been documented that Ray’s wife was not keen on Madhabi for the role as she felt Madhabi’s teeth (paan-stained due to a long standing habit) would take away from the dignified beauty required for the role. Ray, however, felt that the stains can be hidden by camera placements and Madhabi’s talent was critical for the role. That explains the surfeit of low-angle shots in the film!
Bollywood directors down the ages also have had their muses.
Raj Kapoor’s pairing with Nargis was influential enough for Raj to use a famous pose of theirs as the mascot for his studio. They acted in a massive number of films – eighteen, I think – and some of Raj Kapoor’s own ventures had Nargis in roles that were strong, well written and eventually iconic.
From a frivolous point of view, Nargis wore swimsuits in RK films and set a million hearts aflutter. From a serious point of view, she played a lawyer (Awaara) or a working woman (Shri 420) or an ethereal beauty (Jaagte Raho) and several very different roles at a time when heroines were seldom more than eye-candy.
After Nargis walked off into the sunset with Sunil Dutt, Raj Kapoor’s muse became Vyjayathimala for a short while when she played a multi-faceted role in Sangam. Apparently, they had an affair also during this period, which Vyjayanthimala has now denied in her autobiography and Rishi Kapoor is strenuously propagating. Strange – Rishi thinks “My father is publicity hungry” is a worse insult than “My father is a philanderer”.
Guru Dutt was totally in love with Waheeda Rehman – and did brilliant (but very few) films with her in the lead. She delivered the goods in each one of them.
The first film she did with Guru Dutt was Pyaasa in a role, which would eventually become a cliché in Hindi cinema – The Golden Hearted Prostitute. She was the breathtaking beauty in the eponymous Chaudvin ka Chand and her last outing under Guru Dutt’s direction was Sahib Bibi Ghulam. While the direction of this film is credited to Abrar Alvi, it is widely accepted that Guru Dutt directed the film but refused credit because of the failure of his magnum opus – Kaagaz Ke Phool.
Ironically, in Kaagaz Ke Phool, Waheeda plays the protégé of a legendary director who loses touch with her mentor after becoming a star. Whether the fiction had shades of reality or whether Guru Dutt really committed suicide because he was not able to get Waheeda is probably the subject of another film.
In more recent times, Rajkumar Santoshi was rumoured to have a soft corner for Meenakshi Seshadri. But their output has been very limited.
After Ghayal, where Sunny Deol’s 100 decibel voice drowned out everything, they did Damini, a role written for the heroine and its success got Meenakshi a whole lot of critical acclaim as well. Ironically, Sunny Deol (with his ‘tareekh pe tareekh’ bombastism) walked away with the National Award!
She also did Ghatak (I think) with the same director-actor pair but her role was again quite insignificant. Now, I wonder that it would probably be more accurate to label Sunny as Santoshi’s muse. Whatte dhai-kilo-ka-thought!
That brings me to the subject I wanted to write about… Ram Gopal Verma and his heroines, almost all of whom have been covered extensively and labeled as RGV Ki Muse at regular intervals.
RGV probably has one of the shortest attention spans as a director as well as a human being. Evident from the flitting between genres and actors, Ramu’s Factory has a continuous stream of debutant directors presumably because he loses interest in a theme midway through the production and it is up to the director to shepherd the project to its completion. His muses have been as short lived.
His first muse was Urmila Matondkar, whom Ramu first cast in Drohi – an almost unknown film starring Nagarjuna and famous (among buffs) for a cabaret by Silk Smitha.
However, the first film, which completely recast Urmila as a sex goddess was (but of course!) Rangeela. Urmila was the smallest star (if she was one, in the first place!) of the three lead players in the film and thanks to Ramu’s affectionate camera caressing Urmila’s figure all through, she became the most celebrated.
After Rangeela, Daud upped the oomph factor even higher as Urmila’s sex-kitten role had great comic potential as well. She was turned 180-degrees with a deglamourised look as a simple Maharashtrian middle-class girl in the very next, Satya. And did crazed, maniacal parts in Bhoot, Kaun and Pyar Tune Kya Kiya. (Her roles in Mast and Jungle were rather non-descript.)
Urmila touched wildly different roles in a very short span of time with RGV – all of which she performed competently but she got them over more talented or sexier contemporaries.
Mast starred Antara Mali in an insignificant role.
Like Urmila’s elevation after an insignificant film, Antara was cast in the lead role of Road, which featured her washboard abs and pierced navel to perfection. Despite Road flopping quite miserably, Antara was cast (almost) as a contortionist in Naach, which flopped even more than Road (if that was possible)! She was also the object of Tushar Kapoor’s desires in Gaayab – though what the Invisible Man saw in her was quite unfathomable. As was the reason for making Mr Ya Ms, in which Ms Mali was expected to ‘display histrionic skills’ by playing a man trapped in a woman’s body. Needless to say, that film upstaged all three of predecessors in Flop Quotient.
At this point of time, RGV decided to abandon Antara and plonk for probably the most misplaced of his muses – Nisha Kothari.
Like his previous two, Nisha also made a low-key debut in a bit part in Sarkar. She was promptly elevated as the lead in the slugfest James starring Mohit ‘Oak Tree’ Ahlawat (so called because of his fabulous body and wooden acting). She came back in Shiva – and completely anti-justified her inclusion! Despite the film being without a script or any reason whatsoever, it might be safe to say that she was surely the weakest link the film.
Whether she was also the weakest link in RGV Ki Aag is still being debated. She is slated to appear in at least another film – Go. Maybe, the title is a hint for her!
To my mind, only Urmila Matondkar qualifies as a muse – who has routinely appeared in RGV’s films and they have been her most memorable performances as well. She continues to be a part of his projects (the latest being Mehbooba in Aag) – despite the brief dalliances with his other demi-muses.
The directors keep coming. So do the muses.
Earlier, when the corporate bosses were not there, the directors wrote entire films for them. Now, they have to fit them in guest appearances or item numbers. Or, get them for TV chat shows…