One is a fashion icon of the 1960s and ’70s, the other a contemporary national award-winning actor. Asha Parekh, 68, and Kangana Ranaut, 23, compare notes on beauty and the role of women in Bollywood. Parekh, who is known for a string of hits in a career spanning nearly four,One is a fashion icon of the 1960s and ’70s, the other a contemporary national award-winning actor. Asha Parekh, 68, and Kangana Ranaut, 23, compare notes on beauty and the role of women in Bollywood. Parekh, who is known for a string of hits in a career spanning nearly four decades, tells Ranaut of a time when there were no vanity vans, hairstylists for men and certainly no botox. Heroines dressed behind trees, sported elaborate coiffures and had their make-up done by the side of the road. Curvy was in, skinny was out. The salwar-kameez was fashionable, skin show was not. What has not changed is that the audience is just as obsessed about the woman’s beauty and for all the talk about size zero, curves still count, even if they are artificially created. Q. How has the perception of beauty changed since the ’70s?”Now high fashion means shopping abroad with your designer. In films, high society girls don’t wear salwars. Those who do are poor girls.”- Kangana Ranaut”It’s sad that our saris and salwar-kameezes, which looked so fabulous are now considered outdated. The dresses worn now are not ours.”- Asha ParekhKangana Ranaut: A lot. I think in the ’70s, women were more feminine, they were seen as more vulnerable and polite. But these days, the female characters in films are portrayed in a way filmmakers think is contemporary but is actually very reckless. Especially me, in my films I am either doing drugs or killing myself. It is because the society we are in now is torn between India and the West.Asha Parekh: I think the reason for this is that we have become Westernised. We are no longer Indian and that’s the unfortunate part. Many girls have size-zero figures because they have to wear western dresses which won’t look good on a plump woman.advertisementRanaut: That’s true. Our women are very curvy. Now we are in an age where women are extremely fashionable and even wear bikinis. A man likes to see an actress in such clothes, but when he has to take a woman home, he would want her dressed in a sari.Parekh: That’s the thing, we have double standards. At that time, the actresses were all such beautiful women. They were all elegant and each had her own stature.Q. How has the trend of size zero changed things?Parekh and RanautRanaut: It’s died a natural death because you can’t really get attracted to someone who is all bones. This whole concept came from the ramp because there, you need hangars to hang clothes. For example, this film I am doing now, my director tells me everyday not to lose weight.Parekh: I think Indian men used to like buxom women. Our saris are supposed to be draped around a figure that has a bottom as well as something on top. I am being blunt and should not say this, but when you are skinny, it’s like the sari has been wrapped around a stick.Ranaut: The sari itself is such a teasing thing because it is transparent with a small little blouse and your tummy showing. You don’t really have to wear a bikini and shorts to catch the attention of a man. Every man without exception thinks that the sari is the sexiest outfit. So there must be some reason for it.Q. And how is the grooming different from what was done at that time?Parekh: It’s not changed much as we had make-up men and hairdressers even then. In fact, we had very complicated hairstyles. In our time, everyone had a different style and only the hero and heroine had a make-up artist and hairstylist. The rest of the crew had one make-up man. What we didn’t have back then was the trend of men having hairdressers. It’s quite shocking to see men with hairdressers on the sets now. They keep combing their hair.Ranaut: And they get paid so much. My hairdresser complains, I create so many hairstyles and I get paid less than the actors’ stylists because they are from fashionable salons. During one of my shoots, the actor had barely inch-long hair and the hairdresser kept fussing with it.Q. How important is fair skin now?Ranaut: I think it remains an obsession.Parekh: It wasn’t important. A dark girl can be very beautiful. Smita Patil was never fair, neither is Shabana Azmi. There are so many of them I can point to. They weren’t so very fair but they were such great artistes. You couldn’t help but be dumbfounded on seeing them perform on screen.advertisementQ. Is there an emphasis on cosmetic surgery now?Parekh: You shouldn’t play with your body. The effects are temporary and you don’t know what will happen after a period of time. The reaction may come years later. You have to respect what God has given you. We did do things like diet to lose weight. I once had to wear tuxedos for a film. I was plump at that time and felt I looked horrible in them. So I went on a crash diet but I don’t like the idea of going under the knife to lose weight.Ranaut: The camera can magnify even the tiniest flaw. I had an accident when I was small and no one could really see the stitches, but on screen they looked so stark. Cosmetic surgery helped me but there are things like botox that freeze your face forever and you can’t really express yourself.Parekh: If you have scars from an accident and use plastic surgery to remove them, it’s all right. But why do people need botox when they are growing old? One should age gracefully.Ranaut: It has allowed actresses to work for longer. But I personally feel that an actor is all about the characters he or she plays. If I am young, I can play a young seductress but when I get older, I would want to play roles befitting my age. As I age, experience motherhood and gain maturity, I would like to portray characters who reflect that life experience. If I am 40, why should I play a 16-year-old?Q. How has the body image changed since the ’70s? When did breast implants become popular?Parekh: I shouldn’t be naming them but one of the best known actresses today has had so many surgeries that you can see that doctors have actually sculpted her. It is shocking but even her face is completely done. When she speaks, you can see all her muscles are jammed.Ranaut: It’s an individual choice. It is mostly people who do stage shows who tend to go for implants. These have their own problems. To put it this way, when you jump, your house jumps more than your implants, and that’s not a good thing at all.(After recovering from peals of laughter, they continue)Parekh Indian clothes look nice if you have a little bit of flesh. It’s sad that our saris and salwar-kameezes, which looked so fabulous, are now considered outdated. The dresses worn now are not ours. And if you are wearing a dress and you are fat, you will look obnoxious. I see some very fat people wearing tight dresses and they look really terrible.Ranaut That’s not true. If you have curves, it always looks good. I liked the way all of you carried Western clothes even when you were all so curvy. When I was doing my first film, I was painfully skinny. People would ask me if I ate air but I was a teenager then and it’s normal for them to be thin. Actresses from your time ask me, why am I so thin but the point is they are so much older than me and when they were my age, they were even skinnier. When I become my mother’s age, I am sure I will look exactly like her.advertisementQ. Kangana, after working on Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, what is your perception of beauty in the ’70s?Ranaut: Women were more dressy then. I used to spend a lot of time getting my hair done. But these days, the director says I want you to be normal, like how you would be at home. They focus a lot on reality now which I didn’t feel in Once Upon… I felt like this woman who is like a dream girl. So she doesn’t have to be a reflection of reality.Parekh: At that time, everything looked like a dream. It wasn’t that we didn’t have plain dresses. But there are films where we had to look gorgeous and really done up. We had very complicated hairstyles and often it would take two hours to create a single hairstyle.Q. How has the sense of fashion and clothing changed?Parekh: A lot. Girls don’t wear saris now.Ranaut: Films now don’t have characters who wear salwar-kameez and even if they do, they are shown to be poor girls who don’t dress up. Like the way Saira Banu was dressed in Padosan. She was so sophisticated and she wore churidars and saris. But now high fashion means shopping abroad with your designer. In films, high society girls don’t wear salwars. Those who do are poor girls, like Priyanka Chopra in Kaminey or Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Taal. It’s like you are poor and cannot go beyond a Rs-250 salwar-kameez.Q. Does skin show enhance beauty?Parekh: We did have skin show, but not so much. In our time, you wouldn’t find a lead heroine in a bikini. You would have a Helen in feathers and sequins, but never the lead actress because she was seen to be gharelu (homely).Ranaut: I agree. In those films, you wouldn’t see a mainstream heroine in a bikini because then the perception was that this is the girl the hero wants to marry. So if you put her in a bikini, you break the audience’s reverie. But today’s hero is confused and he doesn’t know whom he loves. He may like three actresses at the same time. It’s not about just actresses or changing fashion, it’s the whole society around us that has changed.Parekh: Yes. What is projected in films is what you see happening.Ranaut: Which hero can you imagine from the ’70s or ’80s who will say something crazy to his girlfriend like, I am in love with you but I’m not sure I want to marry you, or I’m in love with you but I need a break from you, or I’m in love with you but I think I’m in love with her too?Q. How differently were actresses treated then?Ranaut: Today filmmakers think all actresses are fools, they are dumb blondes, don’t know what they are saying and are stupid creatures who are lucky to be born beautiful. It is sad. You get to hear things like, “You are probably the first actress I have met who is intelligent.” If you ask why or how a certain scene happened, they will be surprised and happy to see you are thinking and will explain it to you. But the perception is that you don’t understand anything and you just want to know who the hero is, how much money you are getting and who is dressing you. They treat you like a baby who doesn’t know anything and doesn’t need to know anything.Parekh: That is shocking. In my time, there was a lot of dignity. A lot of people looked up to us and there was an aura about each artiste. I have been a great fan of Vyjayanthimala. I remember when she was shooting for Amrapali at Mehboob Studio, no one was allowed to go on sets. I was shooting for Teesri Manzil (1966) at that time with Shammi Kapoor and we thought we must go to see her because she is so gorgeous. We couldn’t just barge on to the sets because she didn’t allow anyone. He told me, “I am the distributor of the film so she can’t throw me out”, and when I said what about me, he said “You come with me”. So we crept on to the set. It was a round set with staircases all over and we watched from there. She just took our breath away; she was so gorgeous. Her figure looked like a sculpture standing in front of us. People looked up to these stars when they saw them. When Madhubala arrived on the sets, a hushed whisper would descend on everyone. That was the kind of aura the stars carried at that time.Ranaut: Today, the way a director treats my hero is not the same as he would treat me. It’s because the hero is like family to the filmmaker with an understanding that they have worked together for 15 years and will be together for the next 15 years. The actresses though are flavours of the season, here today, gone tomorrow. The life of an actress has become very short and most don’t last for more than three to five years. It is very unlike your time when actresses worked for up to three decades. Madhuri Dixit was the last one but even she had 20 years.Parekh: Filmmakers respected us. It was a different time altogether. It was like a family, an emotional tie. There was a lot of camaraderie in the unit. So much so that when a film ended, we would all be very upset at the thought that we would spread out again. Now it depends on the films. If your film clicks, you are on top.Ranaut: Earlier it was never just about the hero. Today the hero selects four girls and of these, whoever is available gets the part. That’s why actresses who don’t even know the language are on the top. It is because she is required just for a song and a few funny scenes, so it’s easy to replace her. Who could have replaced an Asha, a Hema or a Sharmila? That’s how you last 30 years, have a strong fan following and a relationship with people. That is how you command respect. It isn’t the same now. You can still go back and relive so many of your great performances but now heroes are so insecure they cut all your scenes. For Fashion, all UTV kept saying was there was no hero, so how could they put so much money in such a film.Parekh: In our time too, there were few heroine-centred films but we did have our individual styles. Everybody in the industry right now is so insecure-not just heroes. It is because all are trying to run fast and get the maximum mileage. So everyone is running and grabbing things. But it is commendable how you face the media today; it’s madness. I don’t know how much stress all of you go through. I don’t think I would have been able to cope with such pressure.Ranaut: I always wanted to know why you never married. I can’t understand how someone like you could remain single.Parekh: It was never destined. I am happier being single when I see the children of others going haywire.