Bollywood purists find star’s svelte new image hard to stomach

28 Apr

For years a fleshy physique was considered a must for an actress aspiring to break into Bollywood. Now its first “size-zero” female star has the sub-continent’s cinematic purists in a tizzy, amid fears that an imported Western fondness for slim women threatens to debase the country’s culture.
The Indian press has of late been preoccupied by the newly svelte body of Kareena Kapoor, one of the country’s biggest – if now skinniest – leading ladies. Kapoor had lost several pounds for Tashan, her latest film, the result, she said, of “power yoga” and a special diet. Critics, a little unkindly, suggested that she resembled a “barely alive cadaver”.

The Business Standard, a staid daily, said, in one typically disapproving review: “Indian fashion and films should look to set new standards in everything . . . instead of following a regressive Western concept of beauty.”

Until very recently it would have been hard to charge any of Bollywood’s reigning divas of being scrawny. Tastes, however, are changing. Last year’s biggest Bollywood hit, Om Shanti Om, starred Deepika Padukone, a newcomer, who played a 1970s actress but who, with her slight frame, looked nothing like the “plump and round” stars of 30 years ago. One reviewer noted: “Padukone has well-developed biceps, pectoral and intercostal muscles that suggest long hours doing weight training at the gym.”

The Indian love affair with voluptuousness stretches back into antiquity. The Victorians who stumbled upon ancient Indian carvings were often unprepared for the proportions of the depicted women. Captain T. S. Burt, who discovered the explicit Khajuraho monuments in 1838, delivered the verdict: “A little warmer than necessary.”

Today, some Indians are losing patience with loose Western morals. The decision by Vijay Malya, an Indian billionaire, to fly in the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders to urge on his new cricket team, the Bangalore Royal Challengers, prompted an outcry last week. The authorities ultimately resisted calls to ban the “First Ladies of American Football” – but did insist that the cheerleaders covered up.

Meanwhile, India’s gossip pages reported that Kapoor had fainted on set and was anorexic – charges she has denied vehemently. The Times of India claimed last week: “Teenage girls have begun to starve themselves.”

For some Indians the suggestion that Kapoor was in fact aping one particular Western idol proved the final straw.

Ms Kapoor protested: “People are saying I want to be like Victoria Beckham . . . but honestly, I’m proud of my sculpted body. It is a look that I needed for my new film. I do yoga religiously and I’m eating like any healthy girl, thank you.”