There is all too often a certain shared commonality among the leading ladies who break into films today – they are glossy, varnished-to-the-last-toenail, dripping designer wear and exuding glamour. Bhumi Pednekar is decidedly different — in most of her films the glamour quotient is dialled down in favour of an earthy sensuality.
The actress has delivered a one-two knockout punch with her twin hits — Bala and Pati Patni Aur Woh — and has happily proved that different can be successful too.
In Bhumi's recent consecutive successes, the lack of glamorous accoutrements is not the point; the point is the sensible pragmatic outlook to life with which Bhumi's characters exhort the weak-willed leading men (both Ayushmann Khurrana and Kartik Aryan) to look beyond the superficial.
In Pati Patni Aur Woh, Bhumi tells her straying husband Kartik that the next time a girl (his client, Ananya Panday, in this instance) lets him know that she loves his smile, he should think of the woman who brought the smile to his face before embarking on an extramarital affair.
And when her husband cheekily suggests that she should include modern outfits in her wardrobe, Bhumi, a small-town girl whose fashion sense extends to fancy blouses, asks pointedly, “And on what occasions will I wear the western clothes?”
In Bala, Bhumi plays a dedicated lawyer who has been derided and rejected since her schooldays by Ayushmann Khurrana because of her dark chocolate complexion.
Since Bhumi nurses a crush on him, despite their hurtful skirmishes, she helps him come to terms with his premature balding and also fights his case in court to secure him an amicable divorce from his wife, Yami Gautam.
But while she is generous to a fault, Bhumi gives him an earful when she learns that he has been making her skin tone a shade lighter with an app to make her look fair in her pictures displayed on matrimonial sites. In the climax, in a show of independence and principles, she rejects the divorced Ayushmann’s proposal because she has already committed to another man.
Bhumi’s career has had a remarkable trajectory encompassing several taboo-trashing characters. Let’s look at two other films of Bhumi which I have watched with great interest. In her debut-making film, Dum Lagake Haisha, Bhumi had the most non-typical role possible for a starry-eyed newcomer.
She intrepidly essayed the role of an overweight woman, who is spurned by her husband, played by Ayushmann Khurrana. After a bitter marriage, they end up in the court for a divorce; but when sentenced to spend six months with each other, the brawling couple unwittingly begin to understand and approve of each other.
In a rather contrived climax, Ayushmann literally bears the weight of his wife and his guilt on his shoulders in a competition which entails carrying your spouse and running to the winning post. The film was a success; and Bhumi bagged every Best Debutant award that year.
The actress quickly shed the excess weight subsequently but fortunately seemed in no hurry to take on a glamorous role and play just another ingenue. Her second film Toilet – Ek Prem Katha had a meaty role for her as a new wife who demands adequate sanitation in her marital home in a village and refuses to kowtow to what she considers her husband's unacceptable laxity on this issue.
Since then, Bhumi has also been seen as a forthright girl unwilling to dodge confronting her fiance's erectile dysfunction in Shubh Mangal Saavdhaan, a woman on the run with dacoits in Sonchiriya and a sharp shooter in her sixties in Saand Ki Aankh.
Bhumi’s success shows it’s a misconception to think that a leading lady needs to be dressed in western clothes and have fluttering false eyelashes to be considered attractive. Bhumi doesn’t lean on MAC or Gucci to score brownie points.
She gives well nuanced performances, and her on screen look is realistically in sync with the small-town girl characters she plays. Significantly, her films are box-office winners, and the fact that she is paired opposite mainstream heart-throbs like Ayushmann, Kartik, Vicky is testimony to her acceptance. She has even scored a hat-trick of hits with Ayushmann.
The actress has an interesting line up of assignments: Karan Johar's production Bhoot with Vicky Kaushal; Karan Johar’s (yes, again) Takht a multi-starrer alongside Ranveer Singh, Vicky Kaushal, Kareena Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Janhvi; Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitaare directed by Alankrita Srivastava of Lipstick Under My Burkha fame; and Durgavati, a woman-oriented film presented by Akshay Kumar.
There are some in the industry who think that Bhumi has acquired an image by repeatedly playing small-town girls (interestingly, we don’t seem to as easily classify actresses playing a variety of glamour girls as image-bound). Maybe one of the forthcoming films will tap the yet-to-be-showcased glamorous side of Bhumi.
Maybe she will sport designer brands and keep the make-up specialists busy...Or maybe she won’t. Be that as it may, the actress has already showed us it doesn’t really matter either way...as long as the character is riveting.
Dinesh Raheja is an author, columnist,TV scriptwriter, and film historian.