Varun-Anushka in ‘Sui Dhaaga’: Trading Vanity for Relatability

There’s a scene in Sui Dhaaga where Mauji played by Varun Dhawan and his wife Mamta played by Anushka Sharma are on a dusty patch of land, waiting in queue to get a sewing machine - the grime on their hands and faces, their messy hair and sweat patches on their clothes pronounced. This is a refreshing visual for an industry that churns out films where even in the most physically and emotionally tormenting situations actors have their hair in place. Remember Aishwarya Rai in Jazbaa? Won’t blame you, if you don’t.

Not that this a big deal- as an actor you are supposed to be true to the context of your character even if that means stripping yourself of crutches like glamorous clothes and makeup. But in Bollywood, a big hullabaloo is made about actors, particularly female actors going ‘de-glam’. Anushka was repeatedly asked during her promotions about this ‘bold’ decision of hers. Her response was apt.

"This thing about ‘no glamour’, we need to stop talking about it. It isn’t a big deal. If I am in a character like that, I won’t apply make-up. If you’re doing a song in a film like ‘Judwaa’, you should do (makeup) because that’s the nature of the film." - Anushka Sharma

Why should there be a standard for beauty? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with actors wearing great clothes and looking good as long it justifies the context. Anushka is completely believable as the meek Mamta, clad in her sarees with the pallu over her head; her hair mostly tied up in a messy braid. This complete lack of vanity is what makes us root for Mamta. She has this wallflower-like quality and Anushka imbues her with a quiet confidence. The biggest compliment to Anushka is that I forgot after the first fifteen minutes that I was watching her, she made me invest in Mamta in spite of the fact that the character spoke so little.

Anushka Sharma displays a complete lack of vanity as she plays Mamta in Sui Dhaaga.

Even Varun Dhawan sheds his commercial ‘hero’ image to play Mauji a fun-loving guy, but someone who is yet to make it big in life. His father thinks of him as a loser and his employers are condescending, often even slapping the side of his head. Varun isn’t afraid to be the loser and is beaten up and humiliated multiple times in the film.

To see a leading man who is vulnerable and not aspiring towards macho ideals of bashing up fifteen men is rather disruptive. The notion that you have to be this perfect guy to be a hero is very limiting and a far cry from reality. The success of the film is also testimony to the fact that we want to see people like us- people who are struggling, flawed and basically just human. Someone like Mauji would have probably been the sidekick to a hero earlier, but he is now the leading man.

Vidya Balan’s candid click from the sets of Tumhari Sulu.

The reason this is an anomaly is because so much of the ‘stardom’ in Bollywood is linked to how you look. The endorsements and events are all an extension of that. Most actors are found working towards the chiseled body. Vidya Balan who has never adhered to these norms had once said,

"If I have to look glamorous, I’ll do a red carpet appearance. But on screen I wouldn’t want vanity to get the better of me." - Vidya Balan

For her role in The Dirty Picture, Vidya had to pile on twelve kilos and she was uninhibited when it came to embracing her non-size zero physique in Tumhari Sullu, trading glamour for relatability. Even recently, Bhumi Pednekar looked completely at ease as the house-help in Lust Stories. Her skin dusky, nails chipped off but her eyes articulate. Dressed in a simple salwar kameez, Bhumi made us believe she was Sudha- a house-help having an affair with her employer. This is also an interesting contrast from the time when actors were made to look fairer on screen. For her role in Udta Punjab, Alia Bhatt’s face on screen was pigmented. She played a migrant labourer in the film- her hands grubby, her hair sticky with a tinge of orange Henna hue. In Tanu Weds Manu Returns Kangana Ranaut was unrecognisable as the Haryanvi athlete Datto, with her buck teeth and her uneven short hair. These characters in particular stand out because these are mainstream stars unafraid of looking disheveled on screen.

Bhumi Pednekar played a house help in the anthology Lust Stories.
Alia Bhatt as a migrant labourer in Udta Punjab and Kangana Ranaut as the Haryanvi athlete Datto in Tanu Weds Manu Returns.

Most men (the A-list actors) on the other hand have been less experimental. I don’t remember Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh or Shah Rukh Khan looking particularly disheveled in a film. They may have experimented with their looks, bulked up for a film but it has not translated into a drastic unkempt transformation really. The perfectionist method actor Aamir Khan is an exception who put on massive weight for Dangal. Also in a surprising turn Salman Khan showed off his pot belly in a scene in Sultan, in one of the character’s vulnerable moments. Surprising because one really can’t remember the last time Salman looked particularly different, shedding his macho image in any film let alone be seen with a paunch. You have someone like Rajkummar Rao gain twenty kilos to play Subhash Chandra Bose in a web series, or starve himself to play a man trapped in a room for Trapped, but catch a male superstar doing this often?

Aamir Khan in a still from Dangal.
Salman Khan in a vulnerable moment in Sultan.
Varun Dhawan and Anushka Sharma play a tailor and an embroiderer respectively in the film.

Varun-Anushka’s work in Sui Dhaaga is an addition to the cluster of mainstream stars essaying their characters, leaving their vanity aside. Hopefully this becomes the norm and not an anomaly.

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