/ The Evolution of Bollywood Beauty

The Evolution of Bollywood Beauty

Jul 30, 2013

Defining what’s ‘hot?’

A closer look at those who captured our hearts then and now.

My mother and grandmother gupshup in front of the television while watching an old Hema Malini film. I hear them chatting about this ‘dream girl’—her beauty, her stunning features, her captivating physique. I soon realize, they’re not mesmerized by an old Hema Malini film…they’re mesmerized by Hema Malini! I glance at the screen and am taken aback by the young Malini’s hefty hips, chubby cheeks, and what appears to be a double chin. I stare at my mother in utter bewilderment as I ask, “Dream girl? You have got to be kidding me.”

This is how beauty has evolved over the years. What appears to be beautiful to someone from the 1970s, may not necessarily be considered beautiful to someone in this day and age. Bollywood, no stranger to beauty, buff and brawn has defined beauty, an idea that has changed from generation to generation.

Taking a look at the Indian film industry, the largest in the world, we can see our key players. We see the actresses that caused masculine palms to sweat and hearts to palpitate and the actors that made young girls scamper to the theatre to watch their favourite Bollywood boys on the big screen (I’ll do my best to capture as many key players as possible, but bear with me, I do have a cap on space here…!).

Each key player brought something unique and something memorable to the evolution of beauty. Let’s take a closer look.

Madhubala was the epitome of beautiful in the latter part of the 1940’s and the 1950’s. A 21-year-old East Indian girl scans her picture and says, “What’s the big deal about her?” The big deal was her infamous smile and her beautifully shaped lips. No, she didn’t look like J-lo or Beyoncé but guess what? Both of those women would not have been considered beautiful at that time. Madhubala lived in a time where an angelic-like demeanour and a sense of innocence defined beauty—and she was the very definition of that.

Ever heard of a little family called the Kapoors? To go through the entire family tree here would take a heck of a lot of time. We do know that we have four generations of pure success. Prithavi Raj Kapoor leads the family followed by sons, Raj Kapoor (Producer, Director and Actor extraordinaire) Shashi Kapoor (a sight for sore eyes) and of course, Shammi Kapoor, whose hip shaking and long hair, make him the “Elvis” of India and often referred to as India’s “playboy.” Of course who could forget cat-eyes Babita and daughters Karisma and Kareena? Babita, a screen queen during the 1960’s, introduced the beauty of light eyes on an Indian woman’s face. Pure exotica.

Dilip Kumar, often referred to as the “Tragedy King,” named after the genre of roles he normally played, was an actor of multiple eras: the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. While Hollywood’s hunky heartthrob, Marlon Brando lit up the big screen in the West, Kumar earned the equivalent title in the East. In fact, it was his captivating good looks that got him into the Indian film industry in the first place. Whether we call him ‘hot’ or as the residents of India would say, ‘he looks smart,’ the end result is the same: Dilip Kumar captivated the hearts of film-goers for decades.

This original Devdas hottie-hero proved his impeccable taste when he married actress, Saira Banu in 1966. Banu, known as the ‘beauty queen’ of Indian films sizzled up the big screen as one of the first actresses who ever dared to do the unthinkable—expose bare skin. Her controversial swimsuit in the film April Fool may not have earned her the actress of the year award but it definitely won her a hot n’ sexy reputation. We can see the evolution of beauty in full force here. Innocence, simplicity, and elegance were now being pushed out of the way for ‘hot n’ steamy’ ‘sexy’ and ‘daring.’ Known for her mod capri pants and cat lined eyes; Banu was definitely a ‘hottie’ of her time.

Zeenat Aman introduced western beauty to audiences in South Asia. Sultry and sexy, as opposed to the more conservative stars of that era, Aman was definitely considered to be what we call today, ‘a hot chick.’ Satyam Shivam Sundaram, a film released in 1978 by Raj Kapoor may not have broken box office history, but it did break tradition. Showing off her slim body and barely-there curves, Aman continued to break cultural boundaries by wearing a two-piece bikini in the hit film, Qurbani (1980). To say she looked good is an understatement.

Rajesh Khanna, the Carey Grant of India, was a sex symbol throughout the 1970’s. His fans were often seen kissing his car, leaving him imprints of their lipstick as tokens of their affection. Loyal female fans also spread their Desi love by chanting his name while some even sent him letters written in their own blood. Notoriously known for his infamous wink on the big screen and his full wavy hair, Khanna showed us that handsome could be coupled with sex appeal.

The men who were considered hot also included the bad boys of Indian cinema as seen with Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, and Amjad Khan. After all, even today, the memory of the Khan’s infamous bad guy Gabbar Singh, in Sholay, lives on.

Dharmendra added the macho man concept to the evolution of beauty and what was ‘hot.’ After tearing off his shirt in Phool Aur Patthar (1966), he gave way to the concept of really catering to female sexuality in one of the most sensuous scenes of the 60’s, as he is seen leaning over a sleeping Meena Kumari only to finally cover her up.

Amitabh Bachchan. Do I really need to say anymore?! After all, his name does mean ‘the light that would never go off,’ a message synonymous to that of his acting career. Sigh—Amitabh Bachchan— the epitome of cool. What didn’t this man bring to the evolution of beauty? Who else could sport all white from head to toe standing at 6 feet plus? Not only did Bachchan introduce and perfect the art of the testosterone fueled baritone voice (he spoke, and you listened!), but he also showed Bollywood the true definition of ‘ever lasting.’

And then there was Rekha. It is impossible to discuss beauty in Bollywood cinema without mentioning her jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, gasping for air, beauty. Newsflash: Rekha wasn’t always a sight for sore eyes. Hers was a real life story of the ugly duckling that blossomed into a beautiful swan (a tale that would be retold by Karisma Kapoor years later). Rekha was known for a beauty that was so uncanny, so remarkable, and so very breathtaking. A flawless and beautiful face, we wouldn’t see a beauty like that come again until much later on—until Taal hit the big screen in 1999.

Madonna once said that “Rita Hayworth gave good face…” The same could be said of Sri Devi, the diva of all facial expressions.

One of the most talented and notorious actresses of the Indian film industry, Devi starred in numerous hits. Often referred to as a ‘firecracker’ on screen, Devi was quirky, she was funny and of course those eyes… those big, bold and beautiful kajoled eyes.

Madhuri Dixit’s unforgettable and very perfect smile lit up the big screen in the late 80’s and throughout the 1990’s. Straight iron? Who needs one of those? This actress brought the trend of curls back to life in the bollywood fashion world. Dixit’s beauty and elegance went beyond just her pretty face; it extended into her astounding dance abilities; specifically her elegance in Kathak. Often appearing as she was floating on air, this 90’s bollywood beauty is known to sit in the same league as Madhubala and Rekha.

Up until this point, what have we seen? Long hair on men, full figured women with beautiful faces and an emphasis on particular facial features that heighten the concept of beauty, i.e. beautiful eyes, beautiful smiles.

Into the 21st century. What is beautiful? What is hot?

Bodies, bodies, bodies!

A lean, trim, sculpted, well taken care of, no rolls, fit, fit, fit body is the next stage within the evolution of beauty in Bollywood. Kareena Kapoor is the female pioneer in this idea of beauty, along with her male counterparts: Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt. Khan and Dutt, the first to show off their ever-bulging muscles, were later joined by Aamir Khan in Ghajini, Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om and John Abraham and Hrithik Roshan in…well just about anything.

Speaking of Shah Rukh Khan, ever watch a film called Daar? Who knew that this 1993 K-K-K-Kiran-obsessed stalker would contribute so highly to defining male beauty? Khan contributed something to the evolution of beauty in Bollywood like no one before him—charm. He was the ultimate Desi Prince Charming. In such knock-your-socks-off performances in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), and Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), Khan can play it all. He’s a true romantic, he’s a great actor, and he’s undeniably charismatic. In fact, charm seems to be the theme of the 21st century as we see another actor, with a similar charming demeanor by the name of Abhishek Bachchan.

There are loads of actresses that have contributed to the fit and toned conception of beauty, however, there is no name more synonymous with beauty, more linked to flawless, or more compared to perfection then the former Miss World, Aishwariya Rai Bachchan. Her beauty exuded on the screen with Taal in 1999 and she continues to be sexy, elegant, and classy. While no other celebrity has sparked such a heated debate on what exactly is beauty, the fact remains, this woman has taken that idea to a whole other hemisphere. The evolution of beauty in Bollywood and the actors and actresses that have dictated what’s hot and what’s not, will continue to grow and change as the years go on. I envision a time when I will be sitting with my daughter on the sofa admiring Priyanka Chopra’s performance in Fashion (2008). We’ve all “oooed” and “aahed” over Chopra in this blockbuster hit, but god only knows what my daughter will think twenty years down the road.



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