There are two Mallika Sherawats, probably more, I'm not sure. But there was one Mallika who would ring me persistently before the release of her career-making film "Murder" crying over how unjust Bollywood was to her and her ilk who came from outside.
"You only like Kareena Kapoor," she once pouted in her pre-"Murder" days. "She's your favourite and I feel so jealous." Then she sobbed about how badly Kareena had treated her during the making of "Jeena Sirf Terre Liye" where Mallika, then known as Reema Lamba, was ignored, snubbed and all but expelled into outer space by the star.
I almost felt sorry for this shivering moaning child from Rohtak exposed to the cruel blows of destiny.
Suddenly the blows vanished. And there emerged another Mallika whom I got a glimpse of a day after "Murder" opened to wolf-whistles. Very frankly, I was surprised by her performance in "Murder" -- Mallika's powers of self-renewal were evident in how far she had moved since her last film "Khwahish".
Now I was treated to an even more rapid process of renewal, as she went straight from being anxious and vulnerable to confident and defiant within two hours of the film's release.
I remember her excited call from some north Indian town (was it Jabalpur?) informing me about how men were reacting to her at every theatre showing "Murder". "I've never seen such sexually charged crowds before!"
Sexually charged? I wondered if that was good or bad. When I expressed concern about her safety, she turned the pout on full blast.
"I just don't feel safe any longer (after 'Murder'). I live alone in Mumbai and anything can happen. For a small town girl it's very unsettling to be put through so much unwanted attention," she said.
I suggested she call a close relative over to chaperone her. "How about my brother?" she asked.
The same evening, her brother Jimmy materialised in Mumbai from Rohtak. Before I could wonder how it was possible for the young man to have left behind whatever he was doing back home and appear at his sister's doorstep within hours, the Murder Mademoiselle had already moved on to the next stage of the ongoing charade that seems to be her life.
I remember a night after "Murder" when I tried to get in touch with her. Mallika sent a SMS back asking if I could call her, please?
When I wondered why there was such a sudden change in the protocol (she used to call, I never did, with her innumerable complaints against the cruelties of showbiz), she immediately defended herself. "Subhashji I've no money. I can't afford all these telephone bills."
Sure, and I am Bill Gates.
That night we spoke about how elating her success was. "You don't know how I got here. I virtually had to crawl out of Rohtak. Someday I'll tell you all about it. Right now I've to go to bed."
Alone, of course. Mallika is obsessive about projecting her "life like a nun". Later, when her friends from her modelling days in Delhi mentioned a husband, I wondered which monastery this nun belonged to.
Suddenly, the calls ceased altogether. Mallika felt I had "misunderstood" her all the time. Did she mean I understood her all too well?
From being always eager to tell her story to going off press on the day "Murder" released, her ruthless climb to what she imagines to be the top is stuff that Sidney Sheldon wrote novels about.
I remember telling her once that she reminded me of the protagonist in Sheldon's "The Other Side Of Midnight" and she had laughed uproariously.
She has a great sense of humour, that's for sure. When I told her about this filmmaker who has the reputation of stripping his heroines with his eyes she had chuckled, "Good at least when he does it to me, he'll see a good body under the clothes."
It's that unflagging spirit of self-preservation compounded by a spirit of ongoing adventure that keeps her going.
Mallika knows what her USP is. On the cover of the latest issue of Stardust her picture leaves nothing to the imagination. "We've become completely outdated," a happening heroine said sarcastically.
Mallika transmutes all the negative vibes thrown her way into her positive energy. She knows her time is limited. Hence she creates a shock value around her persona, uses stock phrases and statements ("I want to marry a man who has more balls than me") to create the impression of being a small town girl who lucked out by liberating mind, body and soul from the shackles of conservatism and oppression.
Little does she know that she has surrendered herself to another form of captivity. To be a no-holds-barred sex symbol is to time your career by a stopwatch.
This, Mallika Sherawat will realise when her post-"Murder" film releases later this year. Until then she has Jackie Chan to keep her company.
God bless her international ambitions.
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