This week’s release, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Saat Khoon Maaf (based on a Ruskin Bond story) brings out a character unique to Hindi cinema — the female serial killer. It’s interesting to note, that Priyanka Chopra who plays a woman who murders seven husbands, also, at the start of her career, played a female boss, accused of sexual harassment by her male subordinate in Aitraaz. She also played an ambitious model who has what it takes to make it to the top, in Fashion. It does look like the petite actress is the face of the contemporary woman who is not afraid to let the darkness within seep out.
Which is not to say that killers and stalkers are rolemodels of strength — not by any stretch of the imagination — but Hindi cinema has for years confined the woman to impossible heights of goodness; submissiveness, sacrifice and saintliness being the most desired qualities. The model for this almost unreal woman is seen in Mother India. The woman, who had the strength not just to struggle against grinding poverty, but to be totally upright and chaste when faced with starvation, yet is so perfect a mother that she could kill her own wayward son for not adhering to her measure of goodness. For years after this, actresses yearned to play Mother India, to be put on pedestals and revered for their perfection.
The evil that women could do was always allowed to be expressed by the vamp — the gangster’s moll, the cabaret dancer, the courtesan, or the wicked mother-in-law exercising her power over a hapless bahu in the domestic domain. Almost all of them repented or died with apology on their lips. It was unthinkable to have a woman who was wicked, because she enjoyed not being a paragon of virtue.
If at all the good woman went on the rampage it was because she had been pushed beyond endurance — her husband or family was harmed, her child endangered, or her modesty outraged. Then she had the right to hunt down and kill the men who did it, preferably when there was no man around to do it for her (Phool Bane Angarey), or a devoted unsexed man around to handle the really dirty business (The Godmother).
Hindi cinema has had very few unrepentant femme fatales. And hardly any who got away with murder unpunished and guiltfree — not even Mallika Sherawat.