Vidya Sinha: The Actress Who Redefined the Urban Middle Class Woman in Bollywood
Thank you Vidya Sinha for playing wonderful, empowered, and relatable women characters as Deepa and Prabha that redefined Bollywood women characters forever.
At a time when Zeenat Aman, Parveen Babi and Rekha ruled the box office, and Shabana Azmi was struggling to carve a niche out for herself with films like Ankur (1974), a beautiful, dusky, married woman, Vidya Sinha, became a household name with her film, Rajnigandha (1974).
Sinha wasn't like any other Bollywood heroine. Although she did model as an 18-year old, she didn't have the conventional 'model' looks that were generally associated with the likes of tall, poker-straight haired actresses like Aman and Babi.
But, she was instantly loved by the middle class. Her summery cotton saris and simple braided hair with unruly curls were a rave among educated, urban, working women, who until Sinha's Deepa in Rajnigandha had little representation in Bollywood films.
While employment was one of the burning issues of the 70s, Bollywood always examined it with a strong male gaze. An ambitious woman was generally shown to be a negative character, but Sinha's Deepa was one of the few Bollywood characters to normalise a woman's ambition.
Sinha's Deepa was a sincere student and completing her PhD when we meet her for the first time. She was more educated than her boyfriend, Sanjay(Amol Palekar), but never apologetic about it. Much like urban middle-class women of her time, she too wanted to work after finishing her studies. Sinha imbued Deepa with the casual effortless grace of a woman with a purpose.
Deepa paid the restaurant bill when her unmindful, talkative boyfriend, Sanjay (Palekar) forgot to pick up the tab and travelled to Mumbai without hesitation when a good job opportunity presented itself. When her ex-flame and friend, Navin (Dinesh Thakur) took her out to eat, she insisted on paying. And, when confronted between whom to choose --- the irresponsible kindhearted current boyfriend, Sanjay or the idealistic and extremely responsible ex, Navin, she struggles and finds a solution to her heart's dilemma on her own.
The next film that kept Sinha in the game was Chhoti Si Baat, where she again played the role of a working woman named Prabha Narayan, who was being wooed by two men. Sinha's character enjoyed the attention she got from them, which was again a rarity among woman characters back in the day. She was portrayed as a beautiful, confident and hardworking individual, who would often read Denise Robins novels while waiting for the bus. In the true Basu Chatterjee humour and with some fabulous songs, this film was one of her iconic movies, apart from Pati, Patni aur Woh that brought Sinha more commercial success.
The actress starred in several films before calling it quits and settling abroad and although she returned for a second innings in Bollywood with Bodyguard, much like the 70s, Bollywood had little to offer to her and did not give her films where she could have showcased her immense talents.
Rest in peace Vidya Sinha, thank you for playing such wonderful, empowered, and relatable women characters as Deepa and Prabha, they have redefined Bollywood women characters forever.
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