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Let’s Hear It For Bollywood’s Funny Girls

The Bollywood comedienne cometh into her own

From Madhubala to Rani Mukherjee, these 12 women have regaled us with their funny histrionics

Poll anyone on their favourite movies and chances are that at least one out-and-out comedy will make it to that list. Be it the over-the-top funnies in a David Dhawan or Karan Johar movie, the quirky absurdities of Rajkumar Santoshi or the dark humor of Vishal Bhardwaj, it’s difficult to imagine a Bollywood movie without a few funny lines.

While we can rattle off a long  list of  men who made us laugh, we often forget the women, don’t we? The girls that are courageous enough to eschew glamour, who are unafraid to look like a plain Jane and willing to act the fool – all for a good laugh. We praise their grace, their litheness, their drama and their serenity- but never their ability to fall perfectly flat and get up in one swoop.

So here’s to the Funny Girls of Bollywood – the ones we love more than the dancers, the thespians, the divas and the Miss Indias. The ones with whom we want to share a drink, and some frothy conversation to boot!

Madhubala

Why we love her:  Because she was undoubtedly the most beautiful woman of her time  – in the world (We are not the only ones to think this – Frank Capra wanted to hire her, and the American magazine Theatre Arts had a full page ode in its 1952 edition declaring: “The Biggest Star in the World – and she’s not in Beverly Hills”). Because no one did breezy romance and harmless flirting better than her. And because we Indians love a sob story – and what can be more tragic than the most desirable woman in the country being unable to marry the most desirable man (Dilip Kumar), and then dying young of a hole in her heart?

1960_kishore_madhubala_chalti ka naam gaadi

Funny Movies to Watch:  Madhubala was the right foil for Guru Dutt in the anti-feminist Mr. & Mrs. 55. But we liked her best in her frothy romances with Kishore Kumar, especially in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi.

Tun Tun

Why we love her: What’s not to like about a woman who can eat her way into hundreds of roles? Uma Devi came to Mumbai with dreams of becoming a playback singer, but music director Naushad discovered she had a greater talent – that of making people laugh. Given the moniker of Tun Tun by Dilip Kumar when she did her first acting role with him in Babul, she single handedly created the role of the female comedienne in Bollywood. We can’t imagine the 50s & 60s without Tun Tun’s slap-stick genius, and wish she’d travel into the future to host a live comedy show.

Tun Tun comedienne

Funny Movies to Watch:  With character roles created especially for her, Tun Tun’s list of comic movies is too long to recount. Notable amongst these are BabulMr. & Mrs. 55PyaasaKagaz Ke Phool and Namak Halaal.

Saira Banu

Why we love her: Because that perfectly kohl rimmed eye turned up in petulance or mischief with such ease. Because she made tiny sarees a fashion statement- and because she played her sexuality for laughs in such a nonchalant way. We are also fans of her ability to keep up with Shammi Kapoor at his most manic in Junglee. Also, it takes guts of steel to keep a straight face and join in the fun, when stalwarts like Mehmood and Kishore Kumar are chewing the scenery with abandon around you.

 

Funny Movies to Watch: Shagird and IS Johar have their admirers, but if you must watch just one, then let it be Padosan

Manorama

Why we love her: Its true that a part of us was cheering for her over the simpering Seeta in Seeta aur Geeta. But that was Manorama’s gift- an ability to imbue a touch of comic wildness even to an absolutely odious character. She made the most of her incredibly expressive face and minced every word with a Shakesperean fool’s delight. A true funny girl this one!

MANORAMA_SEETA AUR GEETA

Funny Movies to Watch: Manorama was the scene-stealer in more movies than one. We love her Ms. Tota in Carvan, and her tiny appearance in Bombay to Goa. But her villainous turn in Seeta air Geeta remains one of our favourite comic performances.

Hema Malini

Why we love her: The Dream Girl of Hindi cinema could dance on broken glass for her hero and fight off a gang of villians, both with equal élan. In an age when big stars worked on several movies simultaneously, she was renowned for her effortless transition from an emotionally charged melodrama to a perfectly timed comedy scene. No wonder she had all the heroes chasing after her, from Sanjeev Kumar to Jeetendra and Dharmendra.

Hema Malini Sholay

Funny Movies to Watch:  Hema Malini’s comic ability found great expression in films such as Satte Pe SattaSholay & Seeta Aur Geeta. As a character, it’s difficult choosing between Sholay’s Basanti and Seeta Aur Geeta’s Seeta/Geeta – but as a comedienne, we vote for Sholay.

Deepti Naval

Why we love her: Deepti Naval often played the straight woman to all the hijinks around her- but she did it with such an intelligence, that you just knows that she understood the joke but was just too imperious to join in. And when she did join in, she was just as hilarious as one of the boys. Her comic styling may be more of  words and an up-turned eyebrow than pratfalls, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult to execute. And between 1980’s Chashme Buddoor and 1983’s Katha- she executed perfectly comic turns in 5 gems including Rang BirangiKissi Se Na Kehna and Angoor

Funny Movies to Watch:  Deepti Naval and Farooq Shaikh are our Diane Keaton and Woody Allen, except for all the creepy subtext. Watch them hesitantly flirt with each other during the hilarious ‘Chamko’ sequence in Chashme Buddoor to appreciate her gifts as a comedienne(An added incentive to watch the movie is her glorious turn as a traditional Hindi film heroine as part of Jomo’s love dream)

Rekha

Why we love her: Arguably the most talented actress of her generation, Rekha could easily have gone the Meena Kumari way. Her renaissance from a fat teenager in Saawan Bhadon to the lusciously talented actress who portrayed some of the most exciting female characters of the 80s is nothing short of extraordinary.

Rekha Khubsoorat to-baat-pakki

Funny Movies to Watch: We wish more directors had exploited her funny bone, the way Hrishikesh Mukherjee did in the evergreen Khubsoorat.

Neetu Singh

Why we love her: Neetu Singh put the fizz in the word bubbly, but not in a vacuous Manic Pixie Dream Girl way. She played con girls, and rich princesses, and pick pockets and young college students all with a confidence that is rare in Bollywood movies. In their youth she and Rishi Kapoor were as cute as a pair of pink bunnies, but we liked her most for the way she always elicited a laugh from us with her carefree kudi punjaban voice.

Movies to Watch:  For Neetu Singh’s formidable comedic powers, watch the  two movies that bookended her career- her turn as two adorable kid sisters in Do Kaliyaan and as a hassled housewife in Do Dooni Char.

Sridevi

Why we love her:  If there is one actress would could convey a thousand emotions through just her eyes, it has to be Sridevi. We love her versatility and admire the sheer range of roles she has essayed – from the inane (remember Tohfa?) to the intense.

Sridevi Hawa Hawai Mr India

Funny Movies to Watch: It’s no mean task to match Hema Malini’s double-role histrionics, but Sridevi succeeded with a kickass performance in Chaalbaaz. But it’s for her role as journalist Seema in Mr. India that we love her best – her shenanigans with her editor Mr. Gaitonde (Annu Kapoor) and her expressions in Hawa Hawai are nothing short of priceless (even director Shekhar Kapur admitted to being so bowled over that he lost control of his camera!)

Juhi Chawla

Why we love her: Juhi makes us laugh more often with her irritating Kurkure adds than some actressses do in their lifetimes. But the real reason we love her because she never ever resorts to playing a shrill stereotype, instead infusing her comic characters with a warmth. The same mannerisms that would grate in a minor actress (see also: Genelia); would instead derive a chuckle when performed by someone as wonderfully nice as Ms. Chawla.

Juhi Chawla

 

Funny Movie to Watch: Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke, a movie she charmingly steals from Mr.Perfectionist Aamir Khan himself. And she’s the best part of the otherwise terrible Ishq and Duplicate

Rani Mukherjee

Rani Mukherjee has a siren’s voice, a tigress’ eyes, and the heart of a Carole Lombard. She has a go-for-broke energy where she’s willing to do anything to elicit a laugh from the audience. Her spirited Babli is not just one of our favourite comic turns in a movie, but one of our favourite Bollywood heroines-period, for her guile, ambition and chutzpah!  We only wish more people let her loose with her thousand-expression-a-minute vivacity, instead of straitjacketing her as the ‘beleaguered woman’ in stories.

Bunty Aur Babli

Funny Movies To Watch: Bunty aur Babli, of course! We kind-of sort-of also like her portions of Dil Bole Hadippa?

Ratna Pathak Shah

Why we love her: In an industry renowned for melodrama, even in humour, we reserve the highest honour for the masters and mistresses of deadpan comedy. And if the role is that of a mother of a 20 something who makes us laugh without being a caricature, we are willing to believe that there is hope yet for comediennes in Bollywood.  So our biggest shout out is reserved for the talented but obviously under-appreciated Ratna Pathak Shah.

ratna pathak shah in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na

Funny Movies to Watch:  It’s easy to get lost in a movie bolstered by the comic genius of Paresh Rawal & Naseruddian Shah (not to mention the mad antics of Sohail & Arabaaz Khan), but Ratna Pathak Shah dazzled as Savitri in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. No one but her could pull off reading The Feminine Mystique with such insouciance, but our favourite scene in the movie is her poker-faced reply to Aditi & Jai when they are wondering where the 3 years of college went by: “Phone pe beta, phone pe”.

 

Madhubala image courtesy: http://imprintsonindianfilmscreen.blogspot.in/2011/10/madhubala.html

Tun Tun sketch courtesy: http://iamavdhoot.blogspot.com

Hema Malini image courtesy: http://anuradhawarrier.blogspot.in/

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