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No Less Ravishing

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Two decades since her ‘mast mast’ days, Raveena Tandon feels she’s at the peak of her powersThe shoot of a prime time reality television show is in session inside the belly of a Film City studio that seems large enough to accommodate an Egyptian pyramid. On the set, an amphitheatre of colours that would suit a royal wedding, stands a little girl performing her tiny heart out. At her feet lies a makeshift crowd, as responsive to cues as Pavlovian pets, and then there is the throne of the three judges.

Raveena Tandon, at their centre, is clad in gold, from toe to tresses, dishing out advice with humour and relish. As the little girl ratchets up the cute quotient, Raveena, quite obviously the pharaoh queen of proceedings here, despite the presence of two other stars, runs along the ramp overwhelmed. She hugs the little girl making the crowd go wild, the parents beam and the tiny girl disappears within the silken fabric of her golden poncho. But wait. A quick consult with the show’s production crew provides an alternate more emotional tweak to the take. The little girl keys into their instructions with all the understanding of her tender years and the scene is reshot. Spontaneity, tailored with a bit of choreography much like this reality show, sums up the Raveena Tandon of 2017, who in her own words, is currently, “at the peak of (her) powers. Maybe.”

During lunch the gold is shed in exchange for a pair of spectacles most unbecoming of the Raveena Tandon of the 90s – less ‘ravishing’, more room temperature. Fire was on her plate in the form of tandoori mushrooms, which she downed while explaining the reality show in the grand scheme of brand Raveena: “I enjoy doing this. You wear the best clothes. You look pretty. You wear the best jewellery. You go sit there. You criticise someone and you get paid for it. What better job? I want your job dude,” she says, launching into that familiar throaty Raveena Tandon laugh.

After more than two decades in the industry, Raveena knows a thing or two about a career in Bollywood. She herself has been conspicuously missing since the now forgotten Bombay Velvet. Her next film is by first-time filmmaker, Ashtar Sayed, called The Mother, that she keeps protected as if tied to a clause of secrecy. While speaking about it, the vociferous social media feminist avatar of Raveena Tandon bristles with (hashtag) outrage. “Every day there is a news article about violence or molestation or rape. Unfortunately, nobody seems to learn their lesson. It has reached a point where I don’t think that anyone is really scared of the law. The Mother is a film I hought was topical and is about something that frustrates most Indians especially the parents, to see that happen to your own daughter. The movie is about this and how our justice system is failing us.”

There is a going theory that the raunch of Bollywood makes it a key exponent of perversion in Indian men. Raveena, however, is of the opinion that raunch resurfaces often, but always has a limited shelf life. It is a discussion that leads to what she thinks is the etymology of ‘item’ in ‘item songs’. She says, “For example, Akshay and I performed together in Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast. It was as much his song as mine. Like Chaiya Chaiya was as much Shah Rukh’s song as it was Malaika’s. Unlike now where you have viral videos and half a dozen promotion campaigns. In the 90s, the music of the film was its strongest selling point. It was imperative for the producer to plug in a dance song that would be a chartbuster. It was thus called an item song. Like this is the song. It had nothing to do with a woman being objectified and being called an ‘item.’

As the mushrooms are reduced to a tangerine stain on her white china, Raveena speaks of a life with no regrets and then tailors her reply, citing but not mentioning instances in which she could go back in time and advise a younger Raveena. She speaks of the missed opportunity that the late Mukul Anand’s shelved magnum opus, Dus was, a movie that cinematographer, Vikas Sivaraman, had told her would have won her a National Award. She sighs a silent requiem for “Mukul, who left before his time.” She is less than stingy with compliments for the remade Dus, which she feels had nothing to do with the original.

As Raveena’s woman Friday freshens up the air, so does the mood, as she admires with a lack of inhibition uncharacteristic of a Bollywood actor, the work of the younger female actors swarming the industry. She admires the “spunk of Kareena (Kapoor), Anushka (Sharma) and Priyanka (Chopra)”, but reserves special praise for two others. She says, “It is fabulous to see Deepika (Padukone) and Alia (Bhatt) on screen. These are two people who didn’t walk into better performances. They leaped and jumped into fantastic performances. Right from the first film they were on their tenth film, if you know what I mean.”

To survive in the cutthroat world of Bollywood, it does help to grow a thick skin. If The Mother or Onir’s upcoming Shabd, in which Raveena plays a small, but vital role are indicators of Raveena’s intent, her words leave little doubt that there is still some fight left in this National Award-winning actress. “Just few days ago we were having this discussion with filmmakers, and they were saying how by the their forties when female actors come into their own, they are able to handle any role and any kind of script. I do feel a change happening even in the films being made and the scripts being offered to me. And I am looking forward to that change.”

As her fans throng the exit of her vanity van, desperate for even a whiff of the air she breathes, it becomes quite evident that she isn’t the only one.

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