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.

that this little two-minute skit is the best thing that has happened to the A-List Femmes in Bollywood. All this means is that heroines who have made space for themselves have had to be visible to count. Madhuri, Sridevi, Juhi, Kajol all danced and pranced, and played second fiddle when they had to. Which was a lot of their screen time. But they also had the power to commandeer our gaze when they wanted to. And when they were given a chance to do so.

This could be Deepika’s turn in the sun. She’s already turned the light on herself in this year’s hit rom-com Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, where her thumkas matched that of her hero, Ranbir. That film was shared between the two of them, if not equally, then significantly. She was easily Shah Rukh Khan’s equal in Chennai Express (is he the one superstar who lets his ladies have some space, the hardest thing to do, in films made for blockbuster status?): she gets the lines and the laughs, too.

It may be a small thing. But look at what Sonakshi Sinha is made to do in film after film (we’ll leave aside her Lootera for a moment, because it was not this kind of big-budget massy entertainer) — be sassy but demure, sexy but contained, and most importantly, biddable. She is the one chosen to play foil to the much-older Salman and Akshay as they paw and claw through the film. She is capable of much more, but will she be given her head? Fat chance.

Priyanka Chopra maxed out inanity in last week’s Krrish 3. There was nothing she did on her own: superhero Hrithik was top rung, she was below. No different from the old-style bechari heroines, who waited to be rescued. The spirited Anushka Sharma is stuck with the bubbly girl roles, just the way Preity Zinta was. Vidya Balan is the only one who has escaped the superhero clap-trap, but she is about the only one.

That leaves Deepika. She showed up in a double role in her first film, with a neat ankle and a pretty dimple. Then she did nothing much at all, except occasionally drawing attention to the litheness of her limbs: I had pretty much arranged her alongside her contemporaries in my head, as those who were decorative, merely.

But this year, I’ve had to sit up and look. Could it be

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