BOLD AND BEAUTIFULby Dhruv Somani November 13 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 10 mins, 43 secs
Film historian Dhruv Somani, a loyal fan of Sushmita Sen, retraces her estimable career, as her birthday approaches on November 19.
She is a woman with a beautiful heart and a beautiful soul. She had a connection with people from the moment she graced the stage during the Miss India pageant in Goa, 1996.
Sushmita Sen, then, created history by winning the crown as India’s first Miss Universe. Lately, she was in the news for an alleged relationship announcement on social media. There was gossip and chaos in society circles and the media but she remained calm, giving a perfect reply to the trolls, and was commended for her frank-speak.
Being a true Scorpion, time and again she has emerged stronger like the dialogue from her recent series Aaryaa: “Apne Panjhe Kholo.”
Many of her films did not click at the ticket counters, scoring more misses than hits. Questions were raised, be it on her film choices or the men in her life. Being an ardent admirer of Sush, here’s a tribute to this woman of substance on her birthday (19th November).
Sushmita’s Bollywood debut was in Dastak (1996) opposite two newcomers Sharad Kapoor and Mukul Dev, a psychological thriller directed by Mahesh Bhatt. The plot revolved around a mentally unstable genius and his obsession with the Miss Universe. His fascination turns dangerous, he kills people closely associated with her and kidnaps her.
It is said that Sushmita was reluctant to sign the film since she knew nothing about acting but Mahesh Bhatt cajoled her and gave her a few tips on mastering acting skills. Although Dastak failed to impress the audiences, she had arrived as a mainstream heroine.
Next year she was seen in the Tamil film Ratchagan (1997), a romantic actioner co-starring Nagarjuna and Raghuvaran. Zor arrived in 1998 directed by Sangeet Shivan. An action film again, the acting crew included Sunny Deol, Milind Gunaji, Anupam Kher and Om Puri. Though Zor was a commercial failure, its songs Main Kudi Anjaani and Tere Pyar Mein became popular.
1999 was the most remarkable year of her career. Fans like me got to see an abundance of Sushmita with four new releases. In Sirf Tum (1999), she was cast opposite Sanjay Kapoor. This was a love triangle with Sushmita portraying (Neha), the boss of a company who hopelessly falls in love with one of her employees Deepak, who is already in love with Aarti. It was a rather brief role, which remains memorable because of her stunning number Dilbar Dilbar shot at various locations in the U.S. The song was remixed recently and once again created waves with Nora Fatehi making the sensuous dance moves in Satyamev Jayate (2018). Sirf Tum did well at the ticket counters while Sushmita’s sensuous dance moves got a thumbs up.
Next, she appeared in Ajay Devgn’s home production Hindustan Ki Kasam, which was a big budget project. Ajay Devgn featured in a double role with Amitabh Bachchan, Manisha Koirala, Kadar Khan, Navin Nischol, Gulshan Grover, and Shakti Kapoor. Here was a spy caper in which she played Priya, mostly costumed in pretty printed chiffon sarees. Unfortunately, it failed at the box office.
Biwi No: 1, directed by David Dhawan followed, in the company of frontline stars Salman Khan, Karishma Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Tabu, Saif Ali Khan and Himani Shivpuri. She essayed the role of Rupali Walia, a top model who falls in love with the already married man Prem Mehra. The doomed extra-marital affair causes ups and downs in everyone’s lives including hers.
David Dhawan with his flair for comedy managed to showcase Sushmita light-heartedly. Salman Khan and she were paired for the first time. Reportedly, there were ego issues since she was asked not to wear heels because she would look way taller than him. She looked taller than him anyway, which looked rather sweet. She had two amazing hit numbers in the film, Chunri Chunri and Ishq Chandi Hai. Chunri Chunri is one of the most played songs in any party even today. Biwi No: 1 was a super-hit at the ticket and she walked away with her first Filmfare award for the Best Supporting Actor (Female).
Another Tamil film, Madhuvan, starring Arjun Saija and Manisha Koirala was released in which she made an impact with the song Shakalaka Baby Shakalaka Baby. It was the film which was remade in Hindi as Nayak (2001) starring Anil Kapoor and Rani Mukherjee. Her song was retained in the Hindi version.
The new millennium brought her back with two films, the first one being, Aaghaaz, a no-punches-barred actioner directed by Yogesh Ishwar. The cast included Sunil Shetty, Namrata Shirodhkar, Suman Rangnathan, Shraddha Nigam, Asha Sachdev and Akshay Anand. Here she essayed the role of police Inspector Sudha. Though the film tanked, she impressed the producers with her minimal makeup look and laid the foundation of one of her future films Samay (2003) where she once again portrayed a police officer.
The other film that year was Khalid Mohamed’s Fiza starring Hritik Roshan, Karisma Kapoor, Neha, Jaya Bachchan, Asha Sachdev and Isha Koppikar in which she did the guest dance number, Mujhe Mast Mahaul Mein Jeene De, shot at various locations around Udaipur. Sushmita looked ravishing in her dance moves while this song is still one of the most viewed numbers on YouTube. It remains to be one of the best all-time item numbers.
In Kyo Kii Main Jhuth Nahin Bolta (2001), David Dhawan paired her with the King of Comedy Govinda. She played the role of Sonam, daughter of a reputed lawyer, and gets married to Raj Malhotra, a small-time lawyer who eventually becomes famous. Her simple role was appreciated while her songs Ek Ladki Chaiye and Paa Liya Hai Pyar Tera zoomed up the charts. Once again, after Biwi No.1, she proved she had a flair for comedy.
Next came, Bas Itna sa Khwaab Hai (2001), directed by Goldie Behl, in which she played Lara Oberoi, the colleague of a shrewd media baron Navad Ali. She was not paired opposite any hero but made a striking pair with Abhishek Bachchan and even Jackie Shroff. She left a wow effect in the songs Dil Nasheen a blue gown and Jhoomen Ye Zameen. However, the film was a commercial failure.
The year 2003 was an auspicious one as she was seen in three films. Aankhen was directed by Vipul Amritlal Shah in which shared the frame with Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Arjun Rampal and Paresh Rawal. She enacted the role of Neha Srivastav who trains three blind men to loot a bank under the instructions of Vijay Singh Rajput. Here she had an author-backed role since she was the only heroine with all the men (Bipasha Basu and Kashmira Shah were there only for a song each). She was paired opposite Arjun Rampal for the first time and they looked fabulous together. A very beautiful song Kuchh Kasme Hai Jawan was shot on them but had to be deleted, keeping the length and continuity of the film in mind. Aankhen did well and remains as one of the best heist films made in Bollywood.
Then, Tum Ko Na Bhool Paayenge saw her reunite with Salman Khan. Here she played Salman’s former girlfriend Mahek whom he remembers vaguely in his hallucinations until he meets her. She sacrifices her own life for her lover. She had a brief, likeable role albeit with limited scope and some lovely songs. The film, overall, failed to impress the viewers. It also starred Dia Mirza.
Next, came a big surprise, Filhaal directed by Meghna Gulzar in which she co-starred with Tabu, Sanjay Suri, and Palash Sen. As Sia, she offers to become a surrogate mother to her best friend Rewa who cannot bear a child. A film ahead of its time, Sushmita floored the audience with her terrific performance. Filhaal did not click commercially but still stands out as a sensitive study about relationships. The song assigned to her was the melodious Ye Lamha Filhaal Jee Lene De sung by Asha Bhosle, which remains iconic.
ACP Malavika Chauhan, a widowed cop with a 10-year-old daughter was her fiery character in Samay – When Time Strikes (2003). She was outstanding in this slick thriller even though she did not wear the mandatory police uniform. Samay did reasonably well while she was applauded for her striking performance.
The year 2004 was magically significant. She appeared in Farah Khan’s debut directorial venture Main Hoon Naa opposite Shah Rukh Khan. She played the chemistry teacher Chandni, a fantasy-like beauty. Her fashion-making statement sarees and costumes designed by Mahish Malhotra made her look to-a-camera-born. Her songs Tumhe Jo Maine Dekha, Tumse Milke Dil Ka Hai Jo Haal and Gori Gori were all chartbusters while the film was a super hit at the ticket counters. She remains as the eternal Chandni after Main Hoon Naa.
Ram Gopal Verma’s horror feast, Vaastu Shastra, saw her opposite J.D. Chakravarthy, playing the role of Dr. Jhilmil, which probably was too scary for the audiences but did well at the ticket counters. Paisa Vasool released the same year co-starring Manish Koirala (her own production). Although it was a fun film, where both the leading actresses had a blast shooting, it tanked. Her parody of Helen’s cult dance numbers was something, which I enjoyed seeing thoroughly.
Next: Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya? directed by David Dhawan featured her again with Salman Khan, in the company of Sohail Khan and Katrina Kaif. Here she is Naina Kapoor who is silently in love with her doctor boss, Sameer Malhotra, who is in love with Sonia. The outcome was enjoyable, did well commercially and she was critically applauded. She looked sensuous in her rain song Laga Laga Re Laga Prem Rog here.
In Main Aisa Hi Hoon, she played a lawyer Neeti Khanna along with Ajay Devgn. The role was brief but she delivered a knockout performance as the fiery lawyer. Unfortunately, the film failed, it was a copy of the American film I am Sam. She looked stunning opposite Anil Kapoor in Dharmesh Darshan’s Bewaffa in which she had a special appearance but the important role of Aarti, the elder sister of Kareena Kapoor.
The period drama Kisna – The Warrior Poet directed by Subhash Ghai followed, in which she was in top form as Naima Begum. She performed a traditional mujra, Chilman Uthegi Nahin, which took five days to be shot on a massive set, after almost a month of practice with ace choreographer Saroj Khan.
In 2006, Sushmita was in Kalpana Lajmi’s hard-hitting Chingaari in which she portrayed a sex worker, Basanti, in a village. Mithun Chakraborty was the villain. Though the film flopped, her performance was thumbed up. It was a very strong role, which eventually drained her mentally but she withdrew from the promotions of the film due to issues with the male actor who used her name cheaply for publicity.
Tanuja Chandra’s Zindaggi Rocks presented her as Kriya Sengupta, a mother who is desperate to find a donor for her son Dhruv who has a hole in his heart. Once again, she was praised but commercial failures dogged her.
Subsequently, Alag (2006), Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag (2007), Karma Aur Holi and Do Knot Disturb (2009) came and went by. In Vivek Vaswani’s Dulha Mil Gaya, she was again teamed with Shah Rukh Khan, supported by Fardeen Khan. She looked ultra-glamorous and illuminated the screen as Shimmer but it was no-go at the box office. In Anees Bazmee’s No Problem with Anil Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Akshaye Khanna, Sunil Shetty, Kangana Ranaut and Paresh Rawal she was seen as Kaajal Khurana with a split personality. A quirky role with comedy elements in a relentlessly tedious film, it created no ripples.
Sushmita took a sabbatical to focus on her growing daughters and her health which had some complications. She did appear in a Bengali film Nirbaak (2015), which went unnoticed. Reportedly, she was considered for some films like Don and had even screen-tested for Sanjay Leela Bhansali but those projects and directors evaded her. She acted in the English version of Astitva titled It Was Raining That Night directed by Mahesh Manjrekar, which remains unreleased to date, Incidentally, she had a major accident on the sets of this film.
Finally, she made a smashing comeback on the OTT channels with Aarya in 2020 directed by Ram Madhvani, Sandeep Modi and Vinod Rawat. The second season , which appeared in 2021 was widely viewed.
Currently she made waves with the first look of her upcoming show, Taali, which is expected in 2023. And something tells me that the lioness will roar once again. You can’t ever put a power-packed actor down.