A quick glance through cinema over the years and history speaks volumes about it. Cinema in its early days of inception vociferously promoted men cross-dressing to enact on screen women roles in the absence of women themselves. Later as the womenfolk ventured into the industry to take their rightful place, the trend met with a slow death only to be revived now and then to bring a change. So when Mehboob dressed up as a woman, the audience applauded in glee.
Cross-dressing has changed and the connotations are wide and varied. With feminism reigning high, cross dressing has even come to imply women taking up the cudgels for reddress in the typical male idiom, the male attire. So how has cinema digested the change. In the 20th century Aamir khan dressed himself up as a sensuous beauty in the Hindi movie Baazi, Kamal Hassan in Chachi 420 and even the macho man Salman Khan put on the frock for a song sequence in the blockbuster Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. So how did the audience react? Mixed responses with some relishing the comedy, some indignant to the core at the degraded masculinity or femininity and some the least bothered even to comment. But the inner reaction was strange. Seema Biswas had put on the man's costume to grab power in Bandit Queen, while men are at the risk of being femininized or salvaging their masculinity.
Come 21st century and the audiences have matured, so too the actors or the actresses. Cross-dressing is not so much linked to the delicate issues of masculinity and femininity. Imran khan gracefully wore the saree for a song in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na at least for a split second and Ranvir Shorey was spotted cycling around the streets in a petticoat to please his girlfriend Mallika Sherawat in Ugly Aur Pagli. They have boldly accepted these trends as formulas to evoke peals of laughter as the much needed comic relief. Competition is the word as actors and actresses are bold enough to experiment shedding their inhibitions. So too the audiences have acquired a changed sensibility, where even reality dance or comedy shows have an episode dedicated to cross-dressing. Setting aside all prejudices of gender, the ultimate issue is comfortability. That explains why Anupam Kher is willing to cross-dress for a parody music video The trend is a positive sign towards a new change. Dress defines gender or gender defines dress, Hindi cinema is out there to re-define and lash against all established canons.