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Bollywood's New Heroine Savours Her Glass of Wine

The world's most prolific film industry, which made VAT 69 a national symbol and Johnnie Walker the screen name of its most loved comedian, is making wine a fashion statement for the women who flock to see its products, says SOURISH BHATTACHARYYA

"If you consider that movies mirror society, ten years ago you never saw the heroine (in an Indian film) with a glass of wine or a cigarette. You still never see her with a cigarette, but now you often see her with a glass of something and it's almost always wine."

These were Sula Vineyards CEO Rajeev Samant's famous words (see at the Asia Grand Forum of Wine Evolution, a conference of top wine executives from all over the world who gathered in Paris on January 30-31.

Is the new Bollywood really taking to wine? It seems so, if you go by some of the memorable scenes (from a wine lover's point of view) in recent films. Aamir Khan takes a bottle of wine to Preity Zinta in Farhan Akhtar's hit debut movie Dil Chahta Hai . Aamir and the famously dimpled Preity are Bollywood's two superstars, and Dil Chahta Hai was all about male bonding.

In debutant Siddharth Raaj Anand's Salaam Namaste , which is about a live-in relationship turned sour because of the arrival of a child, it is Preity's turn to take a bottle of wine to the house-warming party of the characters played by Arshad Warsi and Australian AXN anchor-turned-Bollywood Tanya Zaetta. It was a critical scene because the party was where Preity and the film's male lead, Saif Ali Khan (a favourite among India's 20-something women), meet without each other's knowledge after they have split.

Saif's character, a chef, had wanted Preity to abort the child, because he was not prepared to be bound by family life, and the thought comes back to him when he sees the nursery that Warsi and Zaetta's characters have made in their new home in anticipation of a child.

Interestingly, both films were shot in Australia -- Dil Chahta Hai in Sydney and Salaam Namaste in Melbourne (Tourism Victoria outbid Tourism New South Wales to get the film shot in Melbourne). In yet-another-debutant Hriday Shetty's Pyar Mein Twist , 50-something star, ageless sizzler and teen heartthrob of the yesteryear, Dimple Kapadia, has a glass of wine, a St-Emilion, offered to her by Rishi Kapoor on their first date at an upscale restaurant ( Pyar Mein Twist is about two elderly people falling in love).

Dimple became famous after she appeared in a swimsuit in Bobby , the daring romantic film that broke new ground for 1970s India, where a couple holding hands in public would be stared out of the city. Kapoor loves to say that Johnny Walker should give the Kapoor family (India's pioneering filmmaking family to which he belongs) a plot of land at its distillery in recognition of the amount of whisky they've guzzled in their lifetime. Kapoor has visited the distillery and, as he said once, "offered my obeisance to my family deity" at the spring from where Johnny Walker draws its water.

The Kapoors may have worshipped Johnny Walker, and their love for the good thing, some say, may be responsible for the premature bad health and deaths of some members of the family, but wine appears to be the modern Bollywood heroine's favourite drink.

When Pepsi's current face Priyanka Chopra and India's heartthrob Abhishek Bachchan, in an elaborate con game in Rohan Sippy's hugely successful and avant garde film (featuring some great Moroccan fusion music), Bluffmaster , meet at Good Earth, Mumbai, just a bottle of Sula that separates them. Some time back, we saw Rati Agnihotri (another star of the yesteryear on a comeback trail) having a glass of red wine, while the men at the party savour their Scotch) in critically acclaimed director Govind Nihalani's 2004 film, Dev . Bollywood, indeed, has come a long way since its most memorable comedian, Badruddin Qazi (a bus conductor spotted by the inimitable Balraj Sahni), was renamed Johnnie Walker by Guru Dutt, one the most creative directors (and tragic figures) the industry has ever seen.

In a film-obsessed country, Bollywood sets fashion norms for the country. Will more and more women in middle-class India (or from small towns moving into big cities, lured by the prospects of a career in a call centre) take to drinking wine?

It appears so, because everyone is now talking about how women are driving the consumption of wine up, and they may be the reasons why Samant is so confident that India will become a 1.8-million-case wine market (tripling its consumption from current levels) by 2010.

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