Mumbai, 08 Mar 2019 8:00 IST
While Bidita Bag is fabulous in her act, she is let down by the supporting cast and an inconsistent screenplay.
If one were to pick the most thankless jobs, then the role of a body double would vie for a top spot. One risks their life to pull off a certain dare but it’s always the protagonist who walks away with the laurels, while you are literally left to lick your wounds. Such is life for a stunt artiste in the film industry.
The patriarchal mind usually associates acts of daredevilry with men, but in the 1970s-80s there was Reshma Pathan who stepped into the man’s world and became India’s first female stunt artiste.
Barring the odd combat scene, Hindi cinema’s pretty heroines largely featured in action scenes as the damsel in distress. It was Pathan who often put her life on the line for these sequences as their body double. A mishap on Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975) threatened to cut short her career, but Pathan braved through the pain to pull off the sequence. Hema Malini was the film’s heroine, but Pathan emerged as the true Sholay girl.
Director Aditya Sarpotdar builds The Sholay Girl (2019) around Pathan’s heroics in Sholay. He picks talented actress Bidita Bag to play his Sholay Girl.
Humble beginnings, natural knack for dare, a stroke of destiny, moments of despair, but victory is achieved at last. Sarpotdar's film adopts standard tropes of an underdog tale. While Sarpotdar and writer Sameer Siddiqui touch upon the gender bias, Pathan speaks for her kind.
Poor pay, lack of safety measures and disorganized functioning have plagued many unsung heroes on every film set. Cold-hearted producers only cared for their perfect shots and tight budgets. The poor stunt artistes had to carry on despite injuries. Those who reported unfit were replaced in a jiffy. Sarpotdar’s film reminds you of the tough lives of stuntmen then.
Chitrangda Singh had walked out of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz (2017) as she wasn't comfortable filming certain intimate scenes. Bidita Bag knows how to make the most of an opportunity. While Singh had developed cold feet, Bag gleefully accepted the role. In an interview with us, Bag had said she had no qualms and had, in fact, asked the makers if they needed to reshoot the intimate scenes. This ‘I’ll do it’ attitude makes her apt to play the fearless Reshma Pathan.
More than any action, Bag packs a punch with her verbal volleys. Bag becomes one with this feisty woman from the humble bylanes of Kolsa, Mumbai. She aces the Mumbai lingo and backs it with the swag of a Pathan.
The eldest among four siblings, Pathan took the responsibility of her family on her shoulders from a young age. She conducted herself as the son in the house. She uses masculine verbs to address herself. From her dialect and body language to the dialogue delivery, Bag puts up a flawless show. She single-handedly carries the film on her shoulders. The Pathan-Shakoor (Vineet Raina) love story is akin to a fire and ice relationship.
While Bag is flawless, she doesn’t get the requisite backing from the supporting cast. Chandan Roy Sanyal looks like a misfit as Pathan’s mentor Azim and is inconsistent in his act. Prince Roddey looks the part as a young Ramesh Sippy, but has very little to say. Aditya Lakhia is poor as Bag’s father Aadam.
While Sarpotdar delves into Pathan's personal crises, the scenes lack conviction. Pathan taking down the uncouth men from the neighbourhood looks straight out of an over-the-top action film.
At 83 minutes, The Sholay Girl falls into a template. Pathan is either injured or falters in the first take. A concerned Azim fears for her health, but the lady always shoots back, “Main karunga” [I’ll do it]. Three such sequences are one too many. Also, Pathan lying on the bed, with her leg in a cast and mumbling, ‘wiggle your toes’ is reminiscent of Beatrix Kiddo (played by Uma Thurman) from Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003).
What’s commendable though is that Pathan has a #MeToo movement to share in the film. Without pointing fingers at anyone, Sarpotdar creates a character that’s an amalgamation of different superstars in the 1970s. As per a reliable source, one of them passed away in 1990 just two years after his marriage. The other is a living one-time superstar known for his formulaic films in the 1970s and 1980s.
If this is a film to honour the courage of India’s first stunt woman, then the crucial action, chase sequence from Sholay had to look authentic. Pathan came out of a cast to pull off the sequences. Bag is an actress, not a stuntwoman. While it’s natural for her to use a body double, the particular action scene comes across as poorly executed on the screen.
The inconsistent screenplay and average show by the supporting cast hurts The Sholay Girl. It’s Bag alone that lights up the film.
Reshma Pathan herself makes a special appearance in the end that draws the loudest cheers. The veteran comes out of the shadows to achieve her big dream. Despite its follies, The Sholay Girl is inspiring and worth a watch.
The Sholay Girl will stream on Zee5 from 8 March.
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