Kareena Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore two divas, two eras

Kareena Kapoor has entered her fortieth year, and continues to look like a million bucks. I find myself marvelling at how fast time has flown but, amazingly, in 2020, the actress celebrates 20 years in films (her debut film as a leading lady, Refugee, was released in 2000)...and she does so with style.

After a career dip in the middle of the last decade when one saw her making questionable choices such as her decorative rolesin hero-oriented fare like Singham 2 and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Kareena has now bounced back big.

Her last two ventures, Veere Di Wedding (2018) and Good Newwz (2019), have not only been box office bonanzas but they also featured the actress in meaty, crowd-pleasing roles. From almost Write-off to Right on!

I just saw the recently released Good Newwz, in which Kareena plays a mother-to-be who finds that her husband is not the father of her baby due to a fertility clinic mix-up. It’s a rich premise for jokes as well as emotional turmoil and I thought Kareena navigated both extremes with practised ease.

The actress delivers her monologue about the trials and tribulations of pregnancy being worth the ultimate joy of holding a baby in her hands with a fervour that feels genuine.

Good Newwz brought to my mind Kareena’s unique feat — the actress has successfully trashed the age-old taboo that actresses in their thirties who are mothers in real life cannot have sustained successful careers as romantic leading ladies too.

Kareena married Saif Ali Khan in a much-publicised wedding in 2012 and she became mother to Taimur in 2016. Her son has since maintained a constant presence in the public consciousness thanks to his becoming a paparazzi favourite even as Kareena’s career has simultaneously scaled new heights.

In several ways, Kareena’s journey is reminiscent to that of her famous mother-in-law — veteran actress Sharmila Tagore. Sharmila too shattered the hard carapace of several stereotypes in her heydays in the ’60s and ’70s.

After she married the Nawab of Pataudi at the young age of 24, she featured in the biggest hit of her career, the 1969 blockbuster Aradhana, in which she played both lover and mother to nascent superstar Rajesh Khanna who had a double role.

Interestingly, after son Saif was born in 1970, Sharmila resumed work and her famous pairing with Khanna gained steam even further with popular films such as Amar Prem (1971) and Daag (1973). She had a heavy workload and went on to deliver memorable films such as Hrishikesh Mukherji’s Chupke Chupke (1975) and Gulzar’s Mausam (1975) for which she won the National Award for Best Actress.

Notably, after marriage and motherhood, Sharmila continued to play glamorous roles...do marvel at her tiny waistline in the Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1973) song Waada karo nahin chhodoge tum mera saath, which incidentally was shot at the skating rink in my school while we kids watched goggle-eyed after classes.

Both Kareena and Sharmila began their Hindi film careers with ingenue roles in mainstream films at the age of 20. Though Refugee did not work, Kareena shot to the top as the stylish Poo in Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001), which established her as the epitome of aspirational glamour in a newly liberalised India. Sharmila started off in Hindi films with breezy Shammi Kapoor musicals like Kashmir Ki Kali (1964) and An Evening In Paris (1967).

Despite having her roots in Bengali cinema courtesy classics like Devi and Apur Sansar with the venerable Satyajit Ray, Sharmila was not really seen as an actress in Hindi films, especially after An Evening In Paris, which projected her as a sex kitten in a swimsuit.

The senior actress swore to prove her credentials and did so spectacularly with Aradhana which bagged her the Best Actress Award. Kareena’s breakthrough film was her role as the pert but conflicted Geet in Jab We Met (2007) which fetched her the Best Actress award from Filmfare.

Where Sharmila and Kareena’s careers diverged was in their mid-thirties. The senior actress cut down on her film assignments after the birth of her two daughters, and anyway the more mainstream offers seemed to have slowed to a trickle in the male-dominated Seventies.

Over the next two decades, she was offered the occasional substantial role as in Dooriyan, Namkeen, Sunny, New Delhi Times, Mississippi Masala and Shubho Mahurat.

It’s indicative of the changed times we live in now that Kareena is thriving at the threshold of her 40s. She has major productions lined up for release like the Aamir Khan starrer Lal Singh Chaddha, Angrezi Medium and the Karan Johar directed multi-starrer Takhht.

Both Sharmila and Kareena have pushed the envelope and expanded the scope for women in the cinematic workplace. I wonder what the next generation will accomplish.