6 greatest ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ characters in Hindi cinema


Weird title for a blog post, I know. For those who are feeling lost, let me throw in a bit of introduction.

A stock character is a kind of stereotyped character that you find different writers reverting to every now and then. It is the sharaabi/luta hua lekhak, the khadoos raees seth (usually with a pretty daughter), the self-sacrificing best friend and the desh ke liye mar-mitne waala jawaan that you’ve seen and enjoyed movie after movie. Amitabh Bachchan (angry young man) made a whole career out of the stock character phenomenon. It is a character that, by virtue of their stereotype, had certain predictability in their behavior. The movie was always about how they were slightly different from the stereotype, or how that stereotype came out.

Among these stock characters, an oft-repeated one has been that of the hooker with a heart of gold. She has been an oxymoronic character in ways, where, typically, the bad (manifest in her choice of profession) is seen by the society and orthodoxy, and her good (which comes out in many different ways), by the hero in the movie (and the audience). The ‘good’ in the character is the redeeming quality that differs from character to character – while some go on to raise children with extreme care and nurture, others love with such fervent passion that it reminds us of all that is worth living and dying for. Classic examples of this stereotype from the west would be Holly Golightly in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (Audrey Hepburn), Vivian Ward in ‘Pretty Woman’ (Julia Roberts) and Nancy Callahan in ‘Sin City’ (Jessica Alba).

Well then, let’s get started. Below is a superhero-style list of what I believe have been the finest usages of this stock character in Indian cinema, played by some of the most beautiful women to have blessed us with their existence.


Name: Pushpa

First seen in: ‘Nishipadma’, a story by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay (there, Padma) in 1970.

Other appearances in popular culture: ‘Amar Prem’, Bollywood classic starring Rajesh Khanna and Kishore Kumar’s claim to the top of the vocal charts, in 1972. Played by Sharmila Tagore (in feature).

Life story: Abandoned by husband, Pushpa (Padma) is misled by village elder into prostitution in Calcutta, where a deep love brews between her and Anand babu, a rich businessman with a wrecked marriage. Another love that breeds in this movie is her motherly affection for the son of her muh-bola-bhai, who refuses to taint his street-cred with any sort of association with her, and whose wife is a cruel bitch, incapable of supplying said motherly love. The story ends like a Coca-Cola ad, with her love being reciprocated, more or less, from all fronts.

Issues in life: Passive attitude towards life, cries a lot.

Special skills: Aggressive goodness, can take shit.

Significance of name: Pushpa (or Padma) is the flower that blossoms in filth. I mean, god damn!


Name: Sahibjaan

First seen in: Pakeezah, Kamal Amrohi’s masterpiece that cost about 14 years, the lives of the cinematographer and one of the music directors, and the marriage of Kamal Amrohi and insanely beautiful Meena Kumari. The latter plays the lead (in feature). Released in 1972.

Other appearances in popular culture: N.A.

Life story: A stifled romance between a ‘respectable man’ and another specimen of our stock character type spawns a female offspring, Sahibjaan. This lassie, owing to being Meena Kumari, rises to the pinnacle of the trade her mother has taken up and groomed her into. During a chance sojourn into an idyllic forest location, she happens to enchant a forest officer, and also falls for him. This romance flourishes in stifled sighs and soulful songs. However, the same ol’ social forces force him to back off, and marry into high society. When Sahibjaan is invited to dance at the wedding of her lover, the irony that comes to the fore is that the forest officer’s uncle happens to be Sahibjaan’s mother’s lover from history, and hence, her father. I mean, fuck!

Issues in life: Dushman samaaj, simple innocence

Redeeming qualities: She was played by Meena Kumaari.


Name: Amiran a.k.a. Umrao Jaan

First seen in: ‘Umrao Jaan Ada’, a novel by Mirza Hadi Ruswa, in 1905.

Other appearances in popular culture:

1.)   Muzaffar Ali’s ‘Umrao Jaan’, Bollywood classic, with Amiran played by Rekha (in feature). Also starring Faaroque Sheikh, Naseeruddin Shah and Raj Babbar. Legendary music by Khayyam. Released in 1981 (picture above). Generally A1 grade picture.
2.)   J.P. Dutta’s ‘Umrao Jaan’ of 2006, with Aishwarya Rai playing Amiran.played by Aishwarya Rai. Also starring Abhishek Bachchan and Sunil Shetty. This writer has been successful in avoiding this movie in its entirety.

Life story: Petty discord pushes a neighbor to kidnap young Amiran and sell her off to a pimp, who, in turn, sells her off to a brothel. Umrao Jaan is the story of how Amiran finds refuge in poetry, finds love, gets rejected as a serious lover owing to being a prostitute, escapes, is recaptured, escapes again, and finally ends up in her native village. Her family’s refusal to take her back is a comment on the shallow values of modern society.

Issues in life: Dominating pimp-keeper lady.

Special skills: Killer poetry and singing skills, moves like Jagger.


Name: Gulabo

First seen in: Pyaasa, the 1957 cult classic by Guru Dutt-Abrar Alvi. Played by Waheeda Rehman. Also starred Mala Sinha and Johnny Walker. Every song, every frame a masterpiece. Music by S.D. Burman, lyrics by Sahir Ludhiyanvi. Cinematographer V.K. Murthy is the only cameraperson ever to win a Dadasaheb Phalke. Was declared as one of the 100 best movies of all time and 10 best romantic movies of all time, by Time magazine.

Other appearances in popular culture: N.A.

Life story: Gulabo is a singing prostitute, who prospects by singing poems written by society-reject poet Vijay. This poet has been betrayed in love earlier by a gold-digger called Mala, and hence and otherwise, is disenchanted with love, society, the universe and everything. She maintains her belief in him while he is shunned by one and all. In the end, when he gets all famous and shit (after he’s thought to be dead, a la Kobain and Kafka) and says “fuck this shit, Imma move out!”, He asks her out, and she’s like “cool, let’s do this shit.”

Issues in life: In love with a specimen of the ujda-hua kavi type.

Redeeming qualities: Keen ear for poetry.


Name: Chandramukhi

First seen in: Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s novel ‘Devdas’ in 1917.

Other appearances in popular culture: A whopping 16 movies have been made on Devdas, in various languages. The most prominent Hindi variants would be

1.)   The 1955 version, directed by Bimal Roy. Played by Vyajayanthimala, with a certain Mr. Yousuf Khan for Devdas.
2.)   The rather obnoxious variant of 2002, directed by chewing-gum-chomping Bhansali. Madhuri Dixit’s portrayal was one of the few saving graces of the movie which ‘starred’ Shah Rukh Khan as an excuse of Devdas.
3.)   Anurag Kashyap’s contemporary adaptation of 2009. Quite spectacular. Featured a fortunate Kalki Koechlin as Chandramukhi, with Abhay deol for Devdas.

Life story: Prostitute (no bones about it) who falls in love with self-destructive drunk who’s lost his intense love interest to petty issues such as marriage to another man after a trivial quarrel over samaaj mein oonch-neech. Chandramukhi accepts Devdas for what he is in his entirety – a man willing to destroy himself over lost love <sigh!>. In the end, she not only ends up finding favour with him, but also makes decent friends with Paro, the aforementioned married focus of Dev’s affection.

Issues in life: Nothing much apart from social unacceptance.

Redeeming qualities: Implicit openness to polygamous love (I mean, hooray!)


Name: Anarkali

First seen in: Abdul Halim Sharar’s (1869-1926) arguably fictional story about the romance between Akbar’s son and crown-prince Saleem (later Jehangir) and legendary ‘slave-girl’ Anarkali from Lahore (oh the pun!).

Other appearances in popular culture: K. Asif’s legendary 1960 movie Mughal-e-Azam, featuring a totally hard-core performance by Prithviraj Kapoor (not to be confused with the Chauhaan variant) as Akbar, and the much-mimicked Dilip Kumar portrayal of Saleem. Again, some of the greatest music in Hindi cinema. Also, the most expensive film of that time. If you don’t know who played this, we at Filmistani are deeply sorry for you.

Life story: Courtesan who is first seen by Saleem when she pretends to be a sculpture to help the sculptor win a bet where he’d claimed to Saleem that the sculpture he presents to the crown prince shall be of A-one quality. Saleem falls in love with Anarkali when he finds out she is human, and comes to understand her views on life and love while nonchalantly sniffing on flower, Mughal-style (seen here: battle with a rather insignificant vamp for Saleem heart). Akbar the badass is averse to this romance. Extremely averse. He jails her, and demands an item number of her, as a sign of giving up her romance.

“You talking to me?”

Her performance ends up being one of the most kickass love songs, kinda like an “up yours” to what was one of the most mighty kings till the time. She’s jailed again, and Akbar sentences her to death by use as construction material. Saleem, born out of much prayer and shit, goes to war again, in rebellion. In the end, Akbar lets her leave the land secretly, owing to a promise he’d made to her mother.

Issues in life: Love in the time of Akbar-a

Redeeming qualities: Chuck Norris-type bravado.