When a Girl Whipped a Boy

Geeta

Seeta Aur Geeta has many such riveting moments.

There's just something about a girl wielding the whip at an evil guy. In Ramesh Sippy's Seeta Aur Geeta, Hema Malini gets to welt the baddie with a belt, slap him, hit him with the back of a table tennis racquet and even call him "kuttey". Sippy gives plenty of "hero" moments to his heroine in his evergreen entertainer. My favourite is the truly dhaansu Bachchan-like entry in the villain's den when Hema crashes through the window. Sippy turns the grim fairy tale of Cinderella into a Bollywood potboiler where Daring Princess has to rescue Suffering Princess, who happens to be her long lost twin sister.

Hema delivers a knockout performance — as the tortured Seeta in a white sari who is made to mop floors and as the bellbottom-clad skating diva Geeta (the latter a precursor of her Basanti role in Sholay). Dharmendra and Sanjeev Kumar play her able suitors and generously let her run the show.

This was Sippy's second film after Andaz and he was kicked to do his version of Dilip Kumar's Ram Aur Shyam. Sippy shared the idea with writers Salim-Javed. "I threw the idea at them and they got excited. I wanted to do my version of Ram Aur Shyam and felt it would suit a female lead better since people were more likely to accept a girl in a submissive role," says Sippy. The formula worked for Sippy's film and later for the Sridevi-starrer Chaalbaaz, which was inspired by Seeta Aur Geeta.

Hema was not the first choice for the title roles. Sippy wanted Mumtaz but last-minute scheduling conflicts and remuneration negotiations went awry, and Sippy ended up asking Hema to step in. "Mumtaz had a fruitful association with our company. She was the negative lead in Mere Sanam, the second lead in Brahmachari and then the main lead in Bandhan opposite Rajesh Khanna. I think she was overcommitted and didn't display the level of excitement that I expected from her, so I went over to Hema who was dubbing for Andaz and popped the question to her," Sippy says. Hema, who was still up and coming then, was overwhelmed by the offer since she felt she wasn't yet up to "playing the role of a female Dilip Kumar". Eventually, she agreed and ensured that Seeta Aur Geeta would be counted as her role of a lifetime.

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