Women power in full bloom

Mallika SherawatIt's that season again when leading ladies take centre-stage in Bollywood while the male superstars are content being relegated to the sidelines.
Beginning with last week's "Vastu Shastra", featuring Sushmita Sen in the pivotal role, and
"Kis Kis Ki Kismat", with Mallika Sherawat on a murderous mood, a whole clutch of compelling female-oriented films are about to hit the theatres in the next couple of months.

Next month in "Padmashri Laloo Prasad Yadav", Mahesh Manjrekar's remake of "A Fish Called Wanda", Masumi Makhija plays the central role of the femme fatale pursued by three men that made Jamie Lee Curtis a major star in America.

More importantly this week brings the lyrical, lucid and luminous "Morning Raga", which is as much an ode to Mahesh Dattani's writing and directorial skills as Shabana Azmi's powers to hold a film together.

Not only is she cast in the powerful role of a Carnatic singer grappling with her past and trying to come to terms with her present, she also has for company some really interesting actresses - Perizad Zorabian and Lilette Dubey - while male actors Mohan Agashe and the watchable debutant Prakash Rao make an impact from the sidelines.

And, hey, Pankaj Parasher's "Inteqaam" has Isha Koppiker doing Sharon Stone's murderous act from "Basic Instinct".

Also queuing up for release before this year is through are such long-delayed woman-oriented films as Tanuja Chandra's "Film Star", about the life of a fading film actress played by Mahima Chowdhary, and Manish Jha's "Matrabhoomi", which features Tulip Joshi as a victim of patriarchal domination in Bihar.

It isn't as though only the avant-garde filmmakers are looking at positioning women at the centre. The Diwali biggie "Aitraaz" has Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor fighting for the attentions of Akshay Kumar who grins and bears the brunt of the avalanche of female attention.

In Dharmesh Darshan's long-delayed "Bewafa", now scheduled for a late-December release, Kareena Kapoor takes centre-stage while her co-stars Anil Kapoor and Akshay Kumar battle it out for her hand.

And that maker of macho movies, Sanjay Gupta, is all set to release "Musafir" on Nov 26 where Sameera Reddy takes the lead while Anil Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Mahesh Manjrekar and Aditya Pancholi pant after her.

The immediate future of female-oriented cinema depends largely on the way Mahesh Dattani's "Morning Raga" and Abbas-Mustan's "Aitraaz" are greeted at the box office.

These are films which in their own peculiar way generate the same feminine heat that once resulted in such hugely influential and popular women's films as Mehboob Khan's "Mother India", Mahesh Bhatt's "Arth" and Ramesh Sippy's "Seeta Aur Geeta".

Of late women's films have become synonymous with sex and sleaze. The two successful women-oriented films this year, "Murder" and "Julie", were overheated, sex-oriented romps.

The coming weeks display an array of female-oriented films where the leading ladies take centre-stage, and not necessarily by taking off their clothes.

It's a critical time for the other gender and a period when they could emerge out of the processes of objectification and commodification where heroines have become trapped in spite of the brave attempts to rescue them in Sudhir Mishra's "Chameli" and Sriram Raghavan's "Ek Hasina Thi" earlier in the year.