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When Deepika Padukone kicked Shah Rukh Khan

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Deepika Padukone in a still from Ram-Leela Deepika Padukone in a still from Ram-Leela
SummaryThe actor seems to be the only one among her peers to command her own space.

A leading lady has always been a bit of a misnomer in big-budget Bollywood. Whenever top heroes are either greenlighting their own productions, or signing on with studios for their heavily publicised in-anticipation projects, that’s where things end. A heroine is almost always an afterthought, and almost always replaceable by another.

Stories are written for stars. And a mass audience comes to see a Shah Rukh film. Or a Salman film. The heroine could be Priyanka or Kareena or Katrina: same difference. What does she have to do anyway? She never gets an entry (the classic “arrival of hero” shot which introduces the leading man to roars and yells and claps from fans). She never gets to grab screen space by herself: sharing it will be the hero or the villain or the comic or the sidekick. The only time she gets everyone’s eye trained on her is when she is poured into a bikini, and climbs out sloooowly, glistening rivulets dripping tantalisingly down her body.

What I am waiting for is this bikinied lass to sashay past the hero whose gaze we have been forced to share, as it bores into her delectable soft parts, and plant herself in front of a full-length mirror. And blow herself a kiss, reserving a raspberry for the guy she’s left behind. Yes, that would be a thing.

But who knows when that will happen? For the moment, we’ve had to be content with one, ONE, sequence that a leading lady has solely inhabited fully in 2013. With great gusto and appetite. And made us suddenly aware of her as her, not just as someone with a set of curves to be whistled at. That’s when Deepika Padukone gets up from a bed in Chennai Express, kicking and thrashing (her hero, Shah Rukh Khan utters a few mock-panicky lines and then gamely gets out of the way), and throws herself into a paithyam punna (batty girl) act.

She pulls a series of faces, without really caring how she’s looking. She flails her arms. She thrums her feet on the bed. She uses her voice. Not just to simper. I mean really use it, making us aware of volume and timbre. Suddenly, she is not an appendage, whose role is to bring up the rear, walk two feet behind, and say and do the right thing. Suddenly, she is Deepika, who is there.

I’m not saying

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