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Subject: How can a woman be an ITEM?

Srabanti Chakrabarti
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Date Posted: 01/13/05 2:16:17am

Design: Uday Kuckian

From being a dusky eyed model in a Bengali magazine to the Gladrags Supermodel of the Year to an item bomb, it has been a long journey for Koena Mitra. Two years, innumerable ramp walks, ad campaigns, music videos and a couple of films later, Koena has made her mark in Bollywood.
And it has a lot to do with her steaming dance numbers in Road and Musafir.

"I always wanted to become an actress. I had planned the initial part of my career very well. I knew that if you win a beauty pageant, half of your job is done -- the media attention, the confidence, the platform… That's why I participated in the Gladrags Supermodel contest. I was fortunate to win it and get a one-year contract with Maureen Wadia," Koena explains. "And you cannot become a Bollywood star without staying in Mumbai. But it is not easy to suddenly pack your bags and relocate to Mumbai. The Gladrags crown helped me settle down in Mumbai."

Post the Gladrags contest, Koena appeared in music videos like Stereo Nation's Ishq and Jassi's Channo and commercials like Maruti Alto, ACP Whiskey and Clinic All Clear.

It was in one of these ads that Ram Gopal Varma noticed Koena and approached her for the item number in Road.
"The song Khullam khulla was a turning point in my career," she says. "No one refuses an offer from Ram Gopal Varma. Neither did I. But unfortunately, I was branded as an item girl.

"I have serious objection to being called an 'item girl.' How can a woman be an 'item'!" Koena exclaims. "The word should be removed from the dictionary. Madhuri Dixit was a graceful dancer. Do you call her an item?"

But, post-Road, most of the offers Koena received were item numbers like Aisa jadoo dala re (from Rajkumar Santoshi's Khakee), the title song in Karan Johar's production Kaal and a song from Ketan Mehta's The Rising.

"I did not want to be typecast. So I took a sabbatical from films and returned to modeling. In fact, I thought that if I did not get any good film offers, I would quit films." The Bong Babe even considered marriage!
And that's when she landed Sanjay Gupta's Musafir.

I was very excited after Sanjay read out the script. Though the film was a hero-oriented action-packed movie, I realised that my role was important. Earlier Sanjay had offered Plan to me, but I declined since there was no potential in that role."
And Koena relaunched herself in Bollywood.

She admits that the film did not win much critical acclaim, "But it was successful in creating a 'buzz' in Bollywood. The Saki re song has already become a rage. So if you ask me, Musafir has done what it should have for a newcomer like me."

But things may not have turned out the way they did.
"I was offered the lead role in Pooja Bhatt's Cabaret -- a film she was planning on a bar girl's life. There were numerous auditions and screen tests for the film and finally, I was selected. The entire process took more than six months. Finally, Pooja asked me to sign a contract, which would prohibit me from doing other films simultaneously.

"I refused to sign, so Pooja asked me to carry on with my plans and told me she would get back to me. I learnt later that Mallika Sherawat had been signed for the role. I respect Pooja immensely as a filmmaker, but since I had come so close to her during the screen tests, I had expected at least a phone call from her."

But Koena has no regrets about Cabaret. "The shooting has not even started yet, Musafir has released and now, I am awaiting the release of my second film, Insan on January 14."

I play Ajay Devgan's wife in Insan -- a simple, modern housewife. It is not a glamorous role. Apart from a love song, I don't have any song and dance sequences," she says.
"Rajkumar Santoshi offered me this role. I was so surprised that I asked him why he offered me this role!"

Santoshi explained that a good director has to be a good visualiser as well and he felt Bengali women look best in sarees. Since this role demanded that look, Koena was an automatic choice.

The dusky actress adds she would like to do Bengali films as well. "I am waiting for the right script," she says. "But if Reenadi (Aparna Sen) offers me a role in her film, I will do it without even reading the script. She is a very sensible filmmaker."

Koena seems to have a busy year ahead. "In February, I will start shooting for David Dhawan's Shaadi No 1. It is a comedy and very different from the other films I have done. It is devoid of sex and skin! In April, I will shoot for a film with Nagarjuna."

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