Begum Jaan, Chameli, Mumtaz… on-screen prostitutes of Bollywood

A number of Bollywood actresses since the golden era have portrayed the role of a prostitute on the big screen. Waheeda Rehman played a prostitute in her first major lead role in ‘Pyaasa’. Meena Kumari’s ‘Pakeezah’ and ‘Umrao Jaan’ starring Rekha are first of the names that comes to mind whenever on talks of courtesans in Bollywood films. Sharmila Tagore (Amar Prem, Mausam) and Priya Rajvansh (Hanste Zakhm) among others enacted the role of a sex-worker with aplomb.

Vidya Balan too has essayed a sex-worker’s role in the just-released ‘Begum Jaan’, and her power-packed act as the fierce, sharp-tongued and determined head of a brothel is being highly praised. Many of her contemporaries, including Rani Mukherji, Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor, Shruti Haasan and some others, also pulled-off a hooker’s character on screen, and some of them won critical acclaim for it. Let’s have a look at a few of them.  

Kareena Kapoor: Kareena played a street-smart hooker in Sudhir Mishra’s ‘Chameli’, and it is considered one of her best performances. she was sold off into flesh-trade by her uncle as a young girl. She encounters Rahul Bose’s character, who finds a new perspective in life after meeting her. Kareena’s look, gait and mannerisms as a sex-worker was spot on and the actress bagged the Filmfare Special Award for Best Performance. Kareena played a prostitute for the second time in Aamir Khan and Rani Mukherji starrer ‘Talaash’.

Tabu: The acclaimed actress played a sex-worker in Madhur Bhandarkar’s ‘Chandni Bar’. Tabu effortlessly slipped herself into the character of a prostitute forced into the job due to circumstances in this gritty tale of prostitution and gangsters. The film won four National Awards, including one Best Actress for Tabu.

Konkona Sen Sharma: Konkona is one powerhouse performer who gets beneath the skin of her character and leaves a mark even in a brief appearance. Her portrayal of the street hooker Noorie in Madhur Bhandarkar’s Traffic Signal is one such performance. She got barely 15 minutes of screen time in the entire movie, but left an indelible mark with perfect looks, body-language and mannerism.  

Rani Mukherji: Rani was highly praised for her enactment of a high-class escort in Pradeep Sarkar’s ‘Laga Chunari Mein Daag’. She played Vibhavari Sahay, a cheerful daughter of a middle-class family in Benaras, who comes to Mumbai to find a job to help her family, but is forced to become a call-girl, Natasha, after being tricked by her so-called boss. Rani effectively brought out the plight, desperation and dilemma of the character. She was also seen in the role of a prostitute, Gulabji, in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Saawariya’.

Kalki Koechlin: The talented actress portrayed the role of a prostitute in her debut film itself. Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Dev D’, which was a modern-day adaption of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s novel ‘Devdas’, had Kalki playing Leni aka Chanda, who turns a call-girl after her objectionable MMS goes viral. She bagged the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role and carved a niche for herself in Bollywood.

Huma Qureshi: Huma, who began her Bollywood career with edgy and unconventional movie, played a prostitute named Jhimli in Sriram Raghavan’s revenge drama ‘Badlapur’. She carried off the role most bravely and effectively, and despite having barely 5-6 scenes, she earned a lot of praise and critical acclaim for her performance.