Curious but true – growing up, I did not have a lot of crushes on Indian actresses on TV.
It was always the TV, because back then, we did not use to visit the cinemas so often. At least, folks from my social background didn’t. Cable TV was the theater of the middle-class Bengali, and with many it was even simpler with just the one channel – DD1. I had grown up with DD1 as a child, until I was ten. Then I went to RKMVP, and cable came to my household. Apparently, my folks did not think it safe to have a student coexist with cable TV at home – it would hamper my results. But after I got into RKMVP, I watched cable every time I came home for the vacations.
That was how I was properly introduced to Cartoon Network, and later, Star Movies and HBO. These two channels were practically our only conduit to the world of Hollywood, – from Terminator and Home Alone to Enter the Dragon and Stuart Little and Toy Soldiers. The Harry Potter movies were a rare instance where many of us watched them at the cinema before rewatching them on the TV.
Things being this way, the TV was our primary window for girl-watching. Daphne Blake, Mary Jane Watson, Rogue – it was the television that brought them all to me. And I did not have any Indian crushes for the simple reason that I did not watch Hindi films.
My entire household didn’t watch Hindi films. Well, approximately so. I did watch Sholay, and I did watch the first two-thirds of Mera Naam Joker before falling asleep (I was twelve-ish, it was a night show, and that movie is 255 minutes long), and everyone else in the house were also familiar with films of this sort. What was forbidden were the mainstream 90s films with their inane, hip-swinging, crotch-thrusting music sequences, which were an anathema to my people. Amitabh Bachchan was the only hero some of whose films I had been allowed – and I had cared to – watch.
In spite of all this, around the time I was in middle-school, I found that I had a unmistakable crush on Preity Zinta.
Back then, Preity Zinta was the heartthrob of many, many young boys. Although not all of the films she starred in were popular, her looks had stolen countless hearts. Columnists in magazines talked about her dimpled smiles at least once a month. Descriptions like ‘She is a fitness freak with perfect physique of 32-26-32 and is approximately 5’4” tall’ were not uncommon. Speaking of me, I had caught sight of her in a Cadbury ad during a commercial break. From after that, I remember not leaving the room whenever that particular ad started to air. But all this was still small scale, – I hadn’t seen her in a movie yet. Then came Koi Mil Gaya in 2003, and that made things official.
Going back to English shows, there was one channel that was well-known among our teenage ranks to be a treasure-trove of matters aphrodisiac. It was called AXN. AXN probably was a play on the word ‘action.’ It was not a movie channel, but it showed soaps and serials, along with some reality shows, which broadly belonged to the genre of thrill or action. Among these serials was the fantasy-mythology series Xena: Warrior Princess.
Xena’s name can still be heard in the vaulted halls of cyberspace. There was a time when you thought of Xena, and not Diana, if someone mentioned Amazonian princesses. She was sassy, strong and charismatic, and ruled the hearts of many. However, I had a crush not on her, but her friend and protégé, Gabrielle.
Gabrielle had started off as an ordinary girl who simply wanted to run away from her dull, boring life to a life full of excitement and adventure. She wanted to go on voyages and learn to fight and do stuff that — mattered. Gabrielle was more than a character on the screen, because Gabrielle was us. And then, as the story grew, so did she, and she became someone who could stand toe-to-toe with the best warriors of them all. The character was played by Renee O’Connor, and I think I have a tinge of that crush I had on her, even to this day.
I am a 1990s-2000s kid, and to us, ‘fantasy’ is practically synonymous with Harry Potter. So it is not a surprise that like ninety percent of the heterosexual male population of my age, back in the day, developed a deep and passionate crush on the Hermione Granger girl – Emma Watson. Not all of us even knew her name, Hermione was enough. Hardcore Potterheads pointedly ignored the matter that in the books, Hermione is not, in fact, a diva. Emma Watson did to Hermione what Benedict Cumberbatch would do to Sherlock Holmes years later – she turned the geek into a goddess. And, oddball that I am, I wasn’t among the worshippers. I had to mention this simply because of how huge a phenomenon Emma was to my generation. I loved Harry, Ron and Hermione from the books, and no screen presence could change the shade of that love I had which was the love of friendship. To me, Hermione was a best-friend, and Emma was relevant only as long as she embodied her.
Before I end this episode, I think I will say a word about the lady who was in a sense the largest crush of my childhood, someone who is responsible for the image of ‘my-ideal-girlfriend’ that lies in my mind to this day, perhaps for the rest of my life. She was the only one of her kind that I had seen, and it was her who’d made me think, ‘Okay, so such girls can exist.’ I am talking about Terri Irwin.
I saw Terri first on TV at a relative’s house, on The Crocodile Hunter show on Animal Planet. Steve was instantly my favourite person. I was hooked on everything – his energy, his mannerism, his fool-in-love eyes whenever he looked at any of the critters. I didn’t know it yet, but Steve was to become a keystone of my life. But here’s not about Steve. While I was electrified by Steve, I was wonderstruck at his partner. Terri was beautiful. Beautiful, and there she was doing all this, handling snakes, catching crocodiles, wading rivers and jumping in the mud, all the time this energy and this smile on that beautiful face. Terri Irwin, to me, was the epitome of the perfect woman.
I was so serious about my feelings about her that I didn’t even tell anyone about it. And I had too much respect for the couple to mention it aloud, or even think about it too much. Schoolboys everywhere know, there is always a boudi in your life whom you fall in love with, and always know to be off-limits by your own decree. It is not the boudi you steal glances at when she’s by the clotheslines on the roof. It’s not the boudi you accidentally glimpse the shin of when she gets down one day from the rickshaw. It’s not something that’s carnal. Neither is it platonic. It is a queer cocktail, respect and admiration mixed in equal amounts, with a hint of worshipful fervor. The recipe, I guess, is only known to your heart.