August 19, 2008

Age of the Alpha Woman

By Kaveree Bamzai

Anita Hassanandani takes a deep breath, says Jai Mata Di, and dives from a 12-storey building. Yana Gupta smiles while a creepy crawly walks over her face. Pooja Bedi remembers her children before diving into ice cold water.

In Colors' new Khatron ke Khiladi (with an average first six-day TRP of 1.53), Akshay Kumar may be the star, wearing a singlet and knee-high trousers, but it's the women who are walking away with the wows. The role reversal is everywhere.

In Ugly Aur Pagli, a film distinguished by its idea (borrowed from a Korean film) rather than its execution, Ranvir Shorey is a slacker, having outlived his engineering school by four years.

Mallika Sherawat is a woman who snores, swears, slaps and swills several drinks. Whether it's a dare (will she wear her innerwear as pouterwear) or arm wrestling, Sherawat wins every gender bending battle.

In MTV Splitsvilla (TRP of 0.70), a show where 20 girls ostensibly compete for the attention of two boys, the girls show exactly what it takes to be the empowered new alpha woman. If Bianca Mendonca says the sexiest part of her body is her tongue, then another contestant Minakshi Khanduri thinks nothing of dedicating a poem to herself.

Whether it's a mud fight between Bosky Bhatia and Prianca Sharma or an expletive-filled exchange between Hannah Sim and Yamini Batra, nothing gets in the way of the girls and their prize-not the man but the opportunity to host a show with him.

"Our women have always been feisty," says Ashish Patil, general manager, MTV. So explosive are some situations-the format requires the women to exhibit their various talents, among them how to wear a swimsuit as much as how to go on a date-that MTV is unable to air them. The air is so thick with abuse.

It was the same in Channel V's modelling show, Get Gorgeous 5, whose finale saw the girls indulging in bitchfests and backstabbing sessions. Nothing is off-limits anymore in what appears to be the Rakhi Sawant-isation of women on television.

And it's making pop culture's creators finally understand the truth: that alpha women matter.

Take a look at television ads-from the TVS commercial where a young woman coaxes a boastful boy into declaring he cannot play tennis to the HDFC Standard Life Insurance ad where a young woman pays for her father's car to the tune of sar uthake jiyo.

In the global age of the alpha women, where Juno-esque girls meets Superbad slacker boys, several rules are being rewritten. Women can and do draw a line in the sand and ask others to follow.

Take Sherawat off-screen whether it is registering her name as a trademark or refusing to appear on Kaun Banega Crorepati, she does only what she pleases.

Or take the spirited Woodstockian, Gurbani Judge (Bani), finalist of Roadies 4.0 and now an MTV veejay, who is proud she can support her family at all of 20 she also thought nothing of taking her father to court, along with her elder sister, for maintenance when she was a minor.

It's a side of the new woman that has surprised even a television veteran like Ashvini Yardi, programming head, Colors. "Khatron ke Khiladi was 16 days of virtual boot camp in South Africa in sometimes below zero temperatures. These were glam girls. And yet some of them have broken Fear Factor records."

They're conscious of the Sita-aur-Gita blend-the girls say the Gayatri Mantra before they head off to drive cars that fly up to the second floor.

They also have the killer instinct whether it is Iris Maity who won Get Gorgeous 5 and thought nothing of abusing fellow contestant in the "survival of the fittest", or 19-year-old Shambvi Sharma, a Roadies 5.0 contestant (an Amity Law College student who has gone on to a role in a Bollywood movie) who flirted outrageously with the boys as part of her "strategy to survive in the game" and whose seductive ladyboy dance (complete with her slapping her behind) is a highly downloadable YouTube clip.

It's enough to give the boys a complex. Bani says she often gets stopped by girls who tell her their boyfriends are huge fans and Shambhvi says it's time boys got scared of girls.

It's like the wildly popular Meow of Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na who thinks nothing of letting out a stream of abuse and scratching her opponent's cheek while her best friend, a boy called Rats, lectures sweetly on the virtues of non-violence.

Girls mouthing off has become not only acceptable but official ever since Kareena Kapoor's dumped woman let out a stream of abuse at her truant boyfriend on the phone in Jab We Met and got him back, only to have the satisfaction of dumping him.

As Bani says, "When Roadies came out, my grandmother asked me why the bell rang every two seconds while I would speak." (It was MTV beeping out her favourite cuss word). Let's hear it for new Heroine Hunterwali. Beep.

Ugly Aur Pagli: Mallika Sherawat plays the hero in high heels, whose trademark dare to her man is marna hai kya (do you want to die?). The slaps are fun but the story flounders.
Khatron ke Khiladi: Akshay Kumar's tehran deviyan go for guts and glory. They jump from buildings and leap into icy water, shouting Jai Mata Di and reciting the Gayatri Mantra.
MTV Splitsvilla: Twenty girls were supposed to win the attentions of two boys but the men look like wusses as mean girls mouth off and mud wrestle to vanquish each other.

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