Salman Khan was the surprise star at the box office; his real life love Katrina Kaif ignited millions of male – and female – fantasies with some scintillating dance numbers; Shah Rukh Khan went on a marketing blitz for Ra:One which turned out to be a damp squid and of course little Miss Bachchan captured the imagination of the entire world. It was certainly an interesting 2011 for Bollywood and its stars, established and otherwise, for the right as well as wrong reasons.
2012 however, is all set to be dominated by a sultry young actress who is already a bit of a veteran of the industry and who will be reincarnated in a number of different guises to the delight of her fans around the world. Bipasha Basu looks utterly ravishing as she connects with the UK Asian from Mumbai on a video call, not betraying a hint of the strain of what has been a rather difficult year for her personally nor the excitement of what is set to be a vintage few months ahead as she celebrates a decade on screen.
After 6 often fascinating years as one half of one of Bollywood’s most successful, glamorous – not to mention incredibly beautiful – ‘Super Couples’, Ms Basu called it quits with her leading man in real life John Abraham in 2011, a year in which she enjoyed a solitary release. 2012 is set to more than make up for that little anomaly.
First up in January is ‘Players’, a ‘reimagining’ of classic British movie ‘The Italian Job’. The 1969 original starring Michael Caine remains an all time great, setting an audacious heist in the context of the swinging sixties. A 2003 Hollywood remake with Mark Wahlberg at the helm was an exercise in bringing a classic up-to-date but sat uncomfortably in a sombre post-9/11 world and was panned by critics and audiences alike.
In 2011/2012, when remakes of classic Hollywood films have become de-rigeur, the Abbas Mustan-directed ‘Players’ seems to have captured the essence of the original film pitch perfectly, if early previews are anything to go by. Ms Basu says she is a fan of both the British and Hollywood versions but feels ‘Players’ is even bigger. “I think the originals were both amazing cinema. With ‘Players’ the crux of the story remains the same but the screenplay is quite different and there are several really interesting sub-plots and a couple of new characters. What’s more, it has definitely been ‘Indianized’ and we are no more just in Italy. We travelled extensively for shooting and it looks absolutely amazing. It definitely caters to the audience of 2012 in terms of ambition; the action sequences and locations are amazing and everything has been taken up a notch”, she says in her signature husky monotone.
Basu plays Riya, an ‘automobiles expert’, equally comfortable parading her stunning figure in a string bikini on a beach as she is tinkering with the inner workings of a muscle car, superbike or All Terrain Vehicle. Riya is part of an extended team of ‘Players’ assembled by Abhishek Bachchan’s ‘Charlie’ for the biggest heist of 2012. The role is yet another in a long line of unique, often fearless choices made by an actress who has married the ability to choose diverse roles that fulfil her personal ambitions and which attract mainstream adulation as well.
After a successful modelling career, she turned down film roles offered by two Bollywood heavyweights – Vinod Khanna and Jaya Bachchan, both roles incidentally starring alongside Khanna Jr and Bachchan Jr. Instead, the sultry Bengali took up a negative role in Abbas-Mustan’s ‘Ajnabee’, playing a conniving gold-digger in a role which won her rave reviews and a Filmfare Award.
Since then, her choices have mirrored her personality, a fearless and independent-minded actress who refuses to conform and whose non-conformism has endeared her to millions of fans around the world; from mega blockbusters in the classic Bollywood mould such as ‘Dhoom’ and ‘Race’ to edgier, smaller films such as ‘Jism’, ‘Footpath’ and ‘Corporate’ and even completely left-field roles in films such as ‘Omkara’. “I have always believed in gut feeling and pursuing things that feel good to me and make me happy. You could say that a lot of things in my life happened by accident. Coming into the film industry was an instinctive thing because I was bored of modelling but I’m grateful that it has worked out well. I don’t plan things too far in advance. In terms of being an actor I have had to learn on the job and I’ve always chosen roles based on a combination of factors, from whether I like the story and the character to the filmmakers involved.”
It’s an approach that has paid rich dividends with a career that has been marked with consistent success. “I was called Bohemian and unconventional when I first started. At the time the typical Bollywood heroine was a lightskinned wispy young girl who was very timid and shy, eternally saved by the hero. Things have definitely changed today. Brown skin is hot and sexy and it’s good to be sexy. The roles have changed because the modern Indian woman has changed. We have more independence in society and that is reflected in the roles Indian actresses are being offered and taking up”.
It has already been a quite extraordinary journey for the “short and fat Bengali girl” from New Delhi, as Bipasha describes herself; before that is, she enjoyed a growth spurt and became the tall, dark beauty with the complexion that brings to mind the finest swiss chocolate and the air of Amazonian mystery that has bewildered and delighted millions. From winning the prestigious Ford Modelling contract at the tender age of 17 to the catwalks of New York and Paris to appearing in more than 50 Hindi, Tamil and Bengali films, it seems she has done it all with just the one frontier to cross; that of Hollywood. So it’s no surprise that the one of her forays in 2012 will be ‘Singularity’, a sweeping epic directed by ‘The Killing Fields’ maestro Roland Joffe and starring Hollywood hearthrob Josh Hartnett. “It’s my first English language film and I’m really excited, particularly because it’s such an international project. We have Australian actors, Indian actors, English actors and Americans of course as well. It was an emotionally demanding film because it’s such a wonderful love story”. The film is set against the backdrop of the Anglo-Maratha of the 1770’s during which the British East India Company fought to gain a foothold in India. Bipasha plays the female bodyguard of a Maratha Queen who becomes the object of affection of a Scotch soldier.
Before ‘Singularity’ however, will be ‘Jodi Breakers’ alongside rising cross-over star Madhavan, with the stars playing a pair of professional ‘Couple Breakers’, in Bipasha’s first real foray into the Romantic Comedy mould. With action, romance, humour and Hollywood on the cards, what more could anyone want from the New Year? “I really want to put ‘Happy’ back in ‘Happy New Year’. I know it might sound simplistic but I really, truly want to adhere to my conviction to Love Yourself. I just want to be truly, truly happy”, she says wistfully, reluctant to be drawn into any discussions about love. All the better then, for the millions of minions who swoon at those almond-shaped eyes.
– Vijitha Alles & Poonam Joshi