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Fashion turns 10: Kangana Ranaut's character Shonali was an alter ego of Priyanka Chopra's Meghna Mathur

The climax of Madhur Bhandarkar's 2012 film Heroine was quite telling. Kareena Kapoor Khan, who plays the titular character of Mahi Arora, gives up on her acting career at its peak. She relinquishes the glitzy realm of Bollywood after being taken aback by the deserted funeral of veteran actress Shagufta Rizvi (Helen). She sees her impending doom in that episode, which prompts her to move abroad. When a passer by asks her if she is Mahi Arora, she refuses. By giving up on her passion, she rediscovers happiness.

A parallel can be drawn to the climax of Bhandarkar's 2008 film Fashion. The Priyanka Chopra-starrer explored the underbelly of the Indian fashion industry and graphed the journey of Chopra's character, Meghna Mathur, a Chandigarh girl who moves to Mumbai in order to pursue her dream of becoming a supermodel. The film traces her rise and fall, which succeeds that of Kangana Ranaut's character, Shonali Gaitwad. Meghna eventually replaces Shonali, compelling the latter to fall into an abyss of dejection. But as they say, "Those who don't know history are condemned to repeat it." Meghna faces a similar fall before the success can set in. In an attempt to atone her sins, she provides shelter to a by-now homeless and despondent Shonali. In the climax, when Meghna is on the verge of a do-or-die show, she learns of Shonali's death by drug overdose. Shattered, she walks the ramp nonetheless, shielding her pain under the armour of her confidence. In the most stunningly captured walk of the film, she leaves an impact on the audience by channelising the bitterness and sorrow within into a dramatic expression that complements her golden mermaid gown. Her eyes hold back the tears as they pierce through the screen. Meghna goes on to scale greater heights by serving as the showstopper of a fashion show in Paris. And so, unlike Mahi in Heroine, she does not give up on her career even though she saw a huge part of her die a thankless death in Shonali. Kangana's character was a symbol of a part of Meghna that pushed her to elbow her way to the top of the modelling food chain. It was the infected part of her attitude that had decayed into arrogance. Shonali had to die in order to let Meghna pave her way forward. It is not a cinematic coincidence that Shonali is Meghna's live exposure to the fashion world. When Meghna attends her first fashion show in the capacity of an audience member, Shonali is the first one to walk on the ramp. Dressed in a jet black sequined gown, she poses herself as a dangerous proposition but Priyanka is seen completely smitten by her. Most of her conversations with Shonali throughout the film are in the washroom or when they are alone inside a room. When Meghna becomes the face of Panache, Shonali visits her in the washroom and warns her to be cautious. She even offers her a smoke but Meghna refuses. It is probably Meghna's alter ego talking to her. Once Meghna silences Shonali, she stops paying heed to her infected conscience which gradually takes control of all her decisions in the course of the film. The deflection point in Meghna's trajectory is also shown through Shonali. During a fashion show in the third act, Shonali encounters a wardrobe malfunction on the ramp. This is when she turns into her vulnerable best. But instead of showing any sympathy or concern towards Shonali or the infected part of her conscience, Meghna says she is unsure of Shonali's intent of doing so. Shocked by Meghna's reaction, Shonali goes on a drug injecting spree. The poison soon infiltrates Meghna's veins too as Shonali's breaking point is only a symbol of Meghna's downfall. Towards the climax of the film, when Meghna is going through a low phase, Shonali gives her a pep talk. She says while it is too late for her to bounce back, Meghna still has a chance to redeem herself. The words echo in Meghna's mind as she prepares herself to take the climactic walk of fame. She recognises that a part of her is dead but also comes to terms with the fact that she only needs to severe herself from the cause of that infected part, and not necessarily the part herself. Unlike Mahi from Heroine, Meghna from Fashion recognises that she need not sacrifice her passion for the sake of her happiness. She attains the wisdom to separate the sin from the sin city. And in that moment, she triumphs the Shonali within.


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