While doing my previous post on Hum, I reminisced about Kimi Katkar and her films.
A certified starlet in the late 80s, she was one of several (minor) deities worshiped at the altar of teenage hormones. She came in - like the others - with a bang and then did a series of indistinguishable movies before settling down into happy matrimony.
They were never contenders for the No. 1 position but made up the numbers that make India the largest film-producing nation of the world. But they drew huge applause and commanded a reasonable fan-following among teenagers who were suitably impressed by their ability to change and drop clothes at frequent intervals.
This is the first instalment (in a series, that will hopefully be taken up by Nilendu) of Teen Queens.
Kimi made her debut in Tarzan opposite Hemant Birje - a man who gave new meanings to the words 'wooden' and 'guttural'. But as 'Jane', Kimi played her role to sultry and sexy perfection. Tarzan, my Tarzan / Aaja tujhe sikha doon pyar kaise ho was a rage then and it would be again if somebody just released the damn video with Kimi in it!
Kimi's voluptuous figure made her a shoo-in for all the bold-heroine parts in the 80-90s style cut-price multi-starrers (read more about them here). These films needed an asexual heroine (sub-plot of having seen murder / widowed at young age / domesticated) and a sexy in-your-face one (sub-plot of country liquor bar owner / dancer due to family compulsions or spoilt rich brat in 'modern' clothes).
She ran a country bar in Kaala Baazar. She was the college shrew in Rama O Rama. In villain Ranjeet's directorial debut (Karnaama), she had a series of 'bold' scenes with Vinod Khanna. And in the last film (and biggest hit) of her career, she was Jummalina Gonsalves - a dancer in a dockyard beer bar. Only in Vardi do I remember her breaking the mould and appearing in a white lab coat as Dr Sonam.
Keeping with her image, she was usually called Bijli. She acted many times opposite Anil Kapoor, who was a shoo-in for tapori roles himself. Her boldness was quite well-known. In one interview, she claimed that a kissing scene with Shatrughan Sinha (I forget the name of the film) had to be scrapped because the actor chickened out!
Eventually, she fell in love with fashion photographer Shantanu Sheorey and left films to marry him. There were rumours of her return but they died down completely within a few months.
She is probably settled in the USA right now and occasionally, a mid-30s Indian techie would see her walking down a supermarket aisle and wonder where he had seen this good-looking housewife before.
Sonam was the niece of Raza Murad (he of the Baritone Bigger than Big B!). Her real name is Bakhtawar (a name usually reserved for really cruel villains in Hindi cinema). Despite these two major shortcomings, she came to become synonymous with bikini roles in Hindi cinema between 1985 to 1995.
She kicked off with Yash Chopra's Vijay - in which she acted opposite Rishi Kapoor. Vijay was a sandwich between Yash's earlier Angry Young Man films (which gained him a formidable reputation) and his later Sweet Mushy Romantic films (which got him serious money). Nobody really remembers it. But aficionados would remember the petite Sonam in a yellow bikini being wooed by the voluminous Rishi.
Subsequently, Sonam flitted between a million skimpily-clad roles, which incorporated at least one swimming pool / sea-beach song each. In the notoriously prudish early 90s, she was not beyond a kiss or two (in the real sense of the act and not in the flower-touching style of Bollywood). In Ajooba, she even popped Rishi Kapoor down her blouse to hide him after he had shrunk to Liliputian dimensions, thanks to a magic potion.
I recall her screen-name being Sonam in more than one movie.
Her biggest hit was Tridev - which had our then national anthem Oye Oye - opposite Naseeruddin Shah, who did a fab job of acting really badly so that we are not distracted from Sonam's see-through harem pants! She also acted in the spiritual sequel - Vishwatma - again opposite Naseer in the most inconsequential role of the film, where she remained fully clothed while Divya Bharti stole the thunder with her thighs. This was probably because the director - Rajeev Rai - was in love with her by then and had no wish to expose his fiancee.
She married Rajeev Rai and eventually moved abroad (London?) because of Abu Salem's attempts to extort money and kill the director.
Neelam Kothari was never known by her full name. Probably because in the late 80s, the surname Kothari brought images of Pan Parag and therefore, bad teeth.
Her debut film - Love 86 (released in 1986, for those who are interested) - opposite Govinda was a massive hit and set her towards stardom. In the next few years, she acted in quite a few films opposite Govinda - most notably Khudgarz (which had Jeetendra and Shatrughan Sinha fighting each other in a loose copy of Kane And Abel) and Hatya (which finally marked Govinda's emergence as star).
Neelam's USP was cuteness. She was always seen in a pony-tail, wearing dungarees and t-shirt in college scenes or salwar-kameezes in family scenes. She was usually the daughter (Tanuja in Love 86) or sister (Amitabh in Agneepath) of an authoritarian figure. Her boyfriend was usually a tapori kind and her primary duty would be to playfully frown and pout at his antics. She has popped it a couple of times for the authoritarian figures to avenge her death (Indrajeet). In multi-starrers, she was the perfect foil to Kimi Katkar-style boisterous exposure and was the docile heroine. Though - for the life of me - I cannot recall any films of them together.
Much later, Neelam played herself in the biggest hit of her career. Unfortunately, Kuch Kuch Hota Hain was not about her, even though she had an eponymous TV show in the film. Neither was Hum Saath Saath Hain, in which she was the sister to the main leads and had to make do with Mahesh Thakur (known for being the father in millions of toothpaste and insurance ads) as her husband.
I don't know much about her marriage except that she married an NRI and there was opposition from the boy's side on having an actress daughter-in-law.
No one can pretend that any of these starlets would be getting a Lifetime Achievement Award. Their movies were strictly forgettable and mostly identical. Their acting was limited, which they were probably aware of. They lasted in the industry for approximately a decade each, acting in about 50 movies or so. They were never credited for their hits and remained in the news for the flitting affair or the bold cover picture.
Despite that, teenagers loved them, fantasised about them and their pictures adorned several hostel walls across the country. Thanks to our billion-strong film-crazy population, they commanded a fan following - though fleetingly - that would be higher than most Hollywood actresses at their peaks.
Even in such depressing times, when you think about Kimi Katkar dropping a coin inside her bra and challenging Amitabh to take it out, it brings a smile to your lips. And this is about two decades after she had acted in her last film.
This also has a value. This is also a social contribution. Infinitely better than our holier-than-thou politicians, at any rate.
Other similar starlets - that I can think of - are Farah, Shilpa Shirodkar, Divya Bharti, Raveena Tandon, and Mamta Kulkarni. They also deserve to be written about. Watch this space.