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Bollywood ratchets up the action meter
- Siddharth Srivastava           Let us know what you think about this article

A prominent Indian actress is invited to appear in Playboy, another graces the cover of Time magazine, two Indian women run successful porn sites, top Indian actresses indulge in intimacies on screen, and a series of Bollywood movies focuses on affairs outside marriage -- the themes are getting bold, and so are Indian women.

A caveat first. India still exists at two levels: first, in the pockets of urban affluence, where the stereotype of the traditional Indian woman whose sole duty is to raise kids and look after her husband is being continually challenged. Then there is the other India, where one hears of a Hindu boy being burnt for loving a Muslim girl or of the dreaded "culture police," Hindu fundamentalists who believe it is anathema for a girl and a boy to hold hands in public.

But barriers are being broken in arenas vital to modern Indian society --

movies, television and the Internet.

Two Indian women, Angela Devi and Sunny Leone, have hit the big time in the U.S. porn industry. Devi, 25, was born in New Delhi and has been living in Phoenix for 17 years. Her credits include regular appearances in the hard- core magazine Hustler since 2002 and in voyeuristic videos.

Leone, 23, was named Penthouse´s Pet of the Year a few months back. Both women also run successful Web sites.

In India, Mallika Sherwat, who has set scorching standards in her two bare-dare movies, has been invited to pose for the centerfold spread of Playboy magazine -- the first such offer to an Indian star. Sherwat´s publicist has said the actress was considering the proposal.

The success of Sherwat and her movies has sent other Bollywood actresses into a tizzy, and several are now shaking off their traditional Indian mores.

The first off the blocks is starlet Neha Dhupia, who in her second movie release, "Julie," is set to bare her backside, a first in a mainstream Bollywood film.

Another star, Mahima Chowdury, who famously spurned top director Subhash Ghai´s suggestion that she strip for a film a little a few years back, will be featuring in a series of lip-clinchers with her much older co-star, Anupam Kher, in the movie "Chess."

Bollywood prima donna Aishwarya Rai, who has appeared on the cover of Time magazine for an article that dealt with the coming of age of India´s film industry, has reportedly shared some close chemistry with her real-life beau, actor Vivek Oberoi, in a yet to be released movie.

Rai was considered the epitome of prudery, keeping a safe distance from most of her co-stars on-screen, till now.

Indian movie actresses are also exploring new movie themes, including extramarital affairs and one-night stands. The latest release in this genre, a movie called "Girlfriend," is the story of two lesbians.

It has raised the hackles of the "culture brigade," in the shape of the Shiv Sena, the regional party of Maharashtra state, whose activists are attacking cinema halls playing the film, accusing the producer and director of polluting Indian society.

All this boldness in one field of activity would of course mean nothing if Indian women were not making headway in other areas.

The unshackling of the Indian economy, the increased role of the private service sector and emergence of multinationals over the past few years has resulted in a gradual rise in the number of female managers and entrepreneurs.

A recent study shows that the number of successful girl geeks in India´s information technology sector has also grown exponentially. Bollywood itself is witnessing the emergence of female filmmakers such as Tanuja Chandra, Farah Khan, Pooja Bhatt and Ekta Kapoor -- all of whom are making successful movies.

The flip side of this success is the alarming drop in the ratio of women to men in India. The steepest fall has occurred in the cities, a modern reflection of the age-old preference for male sons.

This is another of the two Indias, one that is setting its own standards and another where girl babies are not welcomed.

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