Reminiscing Bollywood Vamps
Sexy cabaret numbers, nautch girls, sky-high heels, loud makeup and exaggerated hairstyles, all these things belong to the past when fraternity of vamps and item girls like Helen, Bindu and Aruna Irani dominated the Indian film industry.
That was an era where vicious vamps played a pivotal role in the success of a film. In the sixties and seventies, there used to be two stereotypical female characters in a movie. One was our good, innocent leading lady i.e. heroine while the other one was a bitchy vamp, often portrayed as morally degraded. Audience shared an awkward love-hate relationship with these female villains who smoked and drank and did everything that our ideal “Bhartiya naaris” would not even dare to think.
They were the quintessential bad women, who dressed provocatively, danced sensuously and attempted to seduce men with their sultry eyes. They grabbed more eyeballs and money than the leading ladies owing to their oomph factor and sizzling dances. They were not only perfect in portraying negativity on screen but also brought much needed entertainment and spice to the films.
However, scenario changed and good became the new evil. With the introduction of westernized female protagonist in our films, the popular vamps of yesteryears took a backseat. Parveen Babi and Zeenat Aman were foremost among the few heroines, who questioned the existence of vamps in the late eighties. With their drastically different roles in Deewar and Hare Rama Hare Krishna, they changed the entire equation of new age heroines.
Also the advent of disco age caused a decline in the role of female antagonists since the item songs got replaced by disco songs, mainly centered around the female leads. As the bollywood dynamics changed further, the act of ferocious vamps completely vanished. Actresses like Kajol and Priyanka chopra came out of their comfort zone and experimented with negative roles in films like Gupt and Aitraaz respectively.
Modern cinema heroine now possesses all the ability and opportunity to portray a mix of positive and negative shades on the screen. But still, the poise and elegance of yesteryears vamps is beyond comparison to anybody. Love them or hate them, but we can never ignore their cosmopolitan impact on the Hindi films. As a tribute to the fading vamps magic, Pandolin lists down some famous vixens of film industry:
Nadira: Nadira Baghdadi Jew, better known as Farhat Nadira, was probably the first Indian actress who smoked on screen. She began her acting career with a 1952 Hindi film titled “Aan” and subsequently worked with showman Raj Kapoor in “Shree 420”. Her arched eyebrows and enticing moves in the song “Mud mud ke naa dekh” are still remembered with great admiration among Indian audiences. She often portrayed a young and confident woman’s role with superb sophistication in her persona and acting. She enacted the role of vamp with such boldness and class that she was declared an actress much ahead of her times.
She performed her roles with so much intensity and depth that the entire dimension of vamp’s character got uplifted to a new level. She worked for more than fifty years in Indian cinema and has got over sixty films to her performance credits. She featured in some of the best-known hindi movies like ‘Waris‘, ‘Shree 420’, ‘Pakeezah‘, ‘Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi’, ‘Saagar‘ and ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’, which went on to become classics. At the age of 74, Nadira was honored with a Filmfare award for her role as the heroine’s mother in Hindi film titled “Julie”. Later on, in the year 2000, she did a cameo in Shahrukh Khan-starrer ‘Josh‘ that happened to be her last acting venture in movies.
Lalita Pawar: Often referred to as the mother of all vamps, Lalita Pawar reigned the arena of badness and impiety for nearly three decades in the Hindi film industry. She was particularly famous for playing wicked mother-in-law in almost all family drama films. She played her most memorable role in a 1959 Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film “Anari”, for which, she also bagged the Filmfare best supporting actress award. She was so natural in her devious characters that apart from films like Mr & Mrs 55, Sujata, Shree 420 and many more, she got to play the legendary role of Manthra in Ramanand Sagar’s television series “Ramayana”.
Shashi Kala: This Padma Shri award winning actress from Solapur district in Maharashtra, made her foray into bollywood with a 1936 film titled “Karodpati”. Shashikala was majorly seen as the second lead in the film who connived and plotted against all other characters, specially the heroine. She played either the vivacious carefree or completely negative characters with equal charm and ease. Her remarkable film performances include Sujata, Aarti and Gumrah while she got the Filmfare award in supporting category for the latter two films. Shashikala finally got rewarded with Lifetime Achievement Award at V.Shantaram Awards in 2009.
Bindu: From her sizzling cabaret in the song, “Mera naam hai shabnam” from Kati Patang to her portrayal of Villain’s moll as “Mona Darling” in Zanjeer, Bindu excelled in everything. She was known to be the Sex Symbol of seventies and applauded for her mesmerizing performances in films like Imtihaan and Hawas where she enacted the role of seductress and nymphomaniac respectively. In the eighties, she was even featured as evil mother-in-law conspiring against main protagonists. She acted in over 160 films over a period of four decades with the notable ones being Do Raaste, Ittefaq, Dastaan, Abhimaan and Arjun Pandit. After giving ravishing vamp performances, Bindu later shifted her focus to character roles and proved her versatility in acting.
Aruna Irani: Just like Bindu, Aruna Irani also performed variety of roles ranging from a seductive item girl to devious mother-in-law in more than 300 Hindi films. She is best known for her supporting roles in films like Bobby, Rocky, Suhaag and Beta. India has never seen a more deceitful stepmother than Irani’s portrayal in “Beta”. She became the most popular vamp in the industry who outshined not only in acting but also dancing. Later on, she took up more positive and comic characters, both in films and television. Afterwards, she got busy with her multiple direction and production ventures apart from acting. In February 2012, Aruna Irani was conferred with the much-coveted Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in Mumbai.
Helen: No Vamp list is complete without Helen in it. She was the undisputed Cabaret Queen of India in the 1970s and 80s. With her iconic performances in cabaret numbers like Piya tu ab to aaja from “Caravan”, Aa Jaane jaan from “Inteqam”, Mehbooba Mehbooba from “Sholay” and Yeh mera dil from “Don”, she became the Golden girl of Indian film industry. Her anglicized looks proved useful in emphasizing the character gap between the modernized vamp and the conventional heroine.
During the period of 70s, Helen had a monopoly in item songs and vamp scenes. Though, she was not a vamp in true sense but she played quite westernized and free-spirited characters in her films. Her item songs and dance moves are still evergreen and usually remixed and copied in modern bollywood themes. Contrary to the current explicit films, Helen performances were never categorized disgraceful or obscene.