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Daring to be in drag

SUBHASH KUMAR JHA

From Biswajeet to Amitabh, actors have always dressed up as women. But it takes an Aamir or a Kamal to perfect it.



AMAZING DISGUISE: Kamal Hassan in Chachi 420.

Aamir Khan dresses as a woman in the new commercial for a soft drink bringing back memories of all our leading men who have dared to be in drag. Khan created quite a flutter — and I don't mean just the false eyelashes — when he appeared in drag in Ashutosh Gowariker's Baazi (1995) to dance to a rock `n' roll tune.

Khan had spoken about how difficultthe whole process of getting into a woman's garb had been... apparently, not too difficult for him to give it up for good!

In the new cola ad, Khan plays a woman with coy confidence, a measure of his commitment to carry off any role.

Close on his heels comes Ashutosh Rana as the true-life eunuch politician Shabnam Mousi. This isn't the first time that Rana has appeared in drag. In Tanuja Chandra's Sangharsh, which catapulted him to fame, Rana had dressed up as a woman to outwit the law.

(One, however, couldn't imagine the screen legends of the golden era like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand or even Rajesh Khanna dressed in drag.)The first leading man to be seen in drag was the 1960s' pin-up boy Biswajeet.

In Manmohan Desai's espionage thriller Kismat, he disguised himself as a woman to sing Kajra mohabbat wala in Asha Bhosle's voice. His co-star Babita dressed as a man and sang in Shamshad Begum's voice. It was a first ... but certainly not the last.

In Narendra Bedi's 1975 comedy Raffoo Chakkar — a remake of Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot — Rishi Kapoor and Paintal were fabulous in drag.

In 1981, reigning superstar Amitabh Bachchan created a stir when in Prakash Mehra's Laawaris he turned up in drag to enact the popular Mere angnein mein number.

The mighty Kamal Hassan realised the truth behind Bachchan's truism when in the celebrated Chachi 420 he disguised himself as a woman to play nanny to his own children.

Kamal Hassan's drag act, inspired by Robin Williams in Mrs Doubtfire, is the most outstanding example of an Indian actor playing a woman.

The maverick actor didn't `play' a woman. He got into the skin of his character to actually create a believable woman. Govinda too tried to do a Mrs Doubtfire in Aunty No 1 with disastrous results.

In Amol Palekar's little-seen Daayra, Nirmal Pandey and Sonali Kulkarni plays two cross-dressers whose destiny's cross and uncross in a gender-bending crisscross.

Way back in 1913, Dada Sahib Phalke had to cast men in women's roles because of social taboos which forbade women from facing the camera.

Today when sexual options are far more liberally exercised it takes an Aamir Khan or a Kamal Hassan to enter the comfort zone of challenging histrionics through the dark areas of emotional and sexual expression.

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