I the blood curdling season of Baby Falak and Infant Afreen, Poonam Dhillon’s “Save & Empower the Girl Child” show on Wednesday night was like a balm. Never mind that the girl child has become the latest bandwagon to jump on to for attention and a lot of celebrities who make all the right noises about it are themselves guilty of hankering after a male heir.
But Poonam Dhillon was really the best person to put together a show that wove celebrities of all hues with the sober colours of the theme. She began as a pretty face from Chandigarh, wore a swimsuit and sang Gapuchi gapuchi gum gum with Sachin in Trishul (her first film) 34 years ago. But she has grown into the best “networked” celebrity in the Hindi film industry today. Out socialising every single night, Poonam Dhillon has a vast circle of friends that she put to good use when she went hand-in-hand with Lilavati Hospital to do an event focusing on the girl child. Poonam’s own siblings (bro, sis and bro-in-law) are all doctors, so she has a close affinity for the medical profession.
Poonam neatly packaged her celebrity friends and a sprinkling of gynaecs into a fashion show with Manish Malhotra providing the clothes and the style. But to put the spotlight on the female gender, Poonam also had a dose of culture. She put on stage two slim, young reality show winners who gyrated to Odissi, Lavani and hip hop so energetically that Kajol, who watched from the front row, was prompted to say, “People ask me why I don’t do item numbers. It’s because I can’t dance like that.” Poonam also brought out her dear friend from Bangalore, dancer Vani Ganpathy (ex-wife of Kamal Hassan) and gave the stage to India’s only well-known female tabla player Anuradha Pal. If Ustad Zakir Husain has a North-South percussion group called Shakti, Anuradha has a female band called Stree Shakti. The many strees brought out their instruments and their vocals and put up a grand musical show.
But the dependence on Bollywood power continued. Even Anuradha began by thanking Poonam (understandably) and Kajol (quizzically) when the latter sailed out under her nose and didn’t even stay back to watch the all-female musical band. As far as Kajol was concerned, she had done her bit. She had arrived on time, gone backstage to bond with best buddy Manish Malhotra, got her make-up done, got her saree draped professionally and done a guest appearance in the audience.
On stage too, Kajol did her mandatory (extremely cliché) two-minute speech about how cruel it was to discriminate against the girl child. Strangely, she referred to the two occasions she had asked her late father Shomu Mukherji if he missed having a son. The second time she had asked him that question, he had told Kajol that she was both a son and a daughter to him, so missing a son was out of the question. Perhaps Kajol should have asked her mother Tanuja that question because when she was pregnant, she had sworn to everybody around that she had psyched herself strongly into having only a son. She had given birth to Kajol instead.
That’s why I say the girl child has become a bandwagon for celebrities to jump on to and make the right social noises even if their own actions and thoughts have been far away from it. For instance, Zarine Khan expounded on her three daughters who are her three best friends today (she even walked the ramp with one of them, jewellery designer Farah Khan). But it was Zarine and husband Sanjay Khan who had kept having kids (three daughters in a row) until son Zayed finally made his appearance. The fullstop came only after the birth of a son.
Poonam Dhillon was, however, bang on when she compered the entire evening, brought a host of celebrities on stage (including Leander Paes and Poonam Mahajan) and stuck to the theme of the girl child rather splendidly. She got Sushmita Sen to walk the ramp with her daughters and the three Kolhapure sisters (Padmini, Shivangi and Tejaswini) to strut in Manish’s creations for the first time together.
By the way, while the media tracks westernised scions like Rahul Gandhi and Omar Abdullah, it is the earthy, Hindi-spouting Poonam Mahajan who is the one to watch out for in Gen Next. Brother Rahul Mahajan, whose marital romps have made headlines, seems to be too much in a space of his own to step into his late father’s shoes. But Poonam Mahajan has inherited all her father’s clever political genes and makes powerful speeches that could soon give Sushma Swaraj a run for her money. Between the two BJP Poonams (Dhillon and Mahajan), they sure did their gender proud that evening.
After all that political correctness, here’s something from the opposite side of the spectrum. When one of the shorter starlets toplining a recent release that was houseful of actors, met her director for the first time, he reportedly took a long look at her and asked, “You’ve done a nose job and a lip job. Why didn’t you do a b..b job as well?’ She had no answer but happily wore skimpy bikinis all over the film. If you look at her plumped up lips, you’ll know for sure who we’re talking about.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is editor, The Film Street Journal