Lives of the women of the street have been recounted in myriad Hindi films but it is a subject that the dream merchants never seem to get weary of. Joining the long list of films based on sex-workers will be Laaga Chunari Mein Daag that is slated for Friday release.

The film, being produced by Bollywood's biggest dream merchants Yash Raj Films, hopes to push the envelope further by portraying the life of a small town girl who willingly chooses sex trade as a career.

Hindi cinema's interpretation of the so-called oldest profession in the world has been ever evolving. While earliest films like Pyaasa painted a picture of abject tragedy, films like Umrao Jaan, Pakeezah and Devdas depicted courtesans as women with refined sense of music and poetry. Their exploitation was often glossed over and they came across as tragic, gorgeous women of taste who sacrificed their lives for the men they loved.

Shoma A. Chatterji, author of Woman: A Study of the Portrayal of Women in Indian Cinema, explains that the virtual domination of male filmmakers in Bollywood then had meant that patriarchy and markets dictated how sex-workers and the politics of prostitution are projected in the Hindi film industry.

More recently, Madhur Bhandarkar's Chandni Bar, Sudhir Mishra's Chameli, Manisha Koirala's Market, Deepak Shivdasani's Julie and Kalpana Lazmi's Chingaari have tried to demystify and deglamourise the lives of sex workers.

In Chandini Bar, Tabu performed the sexy dance sequences inside the club much like any mechanical, routine job and worked hard to educate her child. Kareena Kapoor in Chameli was a foul-mouthed young woman, who is cynical about relationships but knows how to invest her hard-earned money for a secure future. For all her curtness she still has a soft side to her as she tries to educate a young boy and prevents him from taking to vices like smoking.

In fact, with the exception of Rehana Sultan in B.R. Ishara's Chetna and Shabana Azmi in Shyam Benegal's Mandi, nearly all celluloid versions of sex-workers have been self-sacrificing and victims of circumstances, and in spite of claims to the otherwise Laga Chunari Mein Daag may end up being no different.

In the film, Rani Mukerji is a middle-class, fun-loving and happy-go-lucky girl in Banaras who takes to prostitution. Director Pradeep Sarkar of Parineeta fame cites financial crisis in the family as the reason for her to 'make the sacrifice'. Clearly, the filmmaker wants to add a touch of nobility to defuse the stigmatised profession.

There are two million women sex workers in India with most coerced into the trade by abduction or deception. An estimated two in five sex workers are below 18 years of age. Those involved in the sex trade are demanding the legalisation of the profession. They claim that a legal status will bring the multi-million dollar industry out of the dark, improve the living conditions of the women and their children, fight HIV/AIDS and prevent induction of children into the trade.

But such serious issues hardly ever find mention in our Hindi films. Here is hoping that come Friday and Laaga Chunari Mein Daag will up the level of discourse and not remain merely a reminder of the pathos of Waheeda Rahman in Pyaasa.

Actress-turned-filmmaker Revathi says: 'I met many commercial sex workers. Spoke at length with them. I realise now that there is no point in telling them to not get involved in it. Instead, you should ensure they are not exploited by middle men and their basic rights of health care and education for their children are met with.'

For Rani Mukerji, who missed bagging the coveted National Award for her performance in 'Black' by a whisker, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag offers a second chance.

The act of a sex-worker has fetched the coveted award for many leading ladies in the past. Yesteryears star Sharmila Tagore was bestowed the National Award for walking the street in 'Mausam', Rekha had got it for her courtesan role in Umrao Jaan and recently Tabu had bagged the prize for Chandni Bar.

Vyjantimala's role of a golden-hearted courtesan in Bimal Roy's Devdas and Shabana Azmi's no-holds-bar act as a woman who wants sex trade to flourish in Shyam Benegal's Mandi have been other memorable performances. Rani would no doubt be hoping that her act is similarly recognised.

The film also stars critically acclaimed female actor Konkana Sen and veteran Jaya Bachchan in a pivotal role. The men in the film include Abhishek Bachchan, Kunal Kapoor and Anupam Kher.

Abhishek and Rani, who had emerged as a hit pair after Bunty Aur Babli, will be seen together on-screen after a long gap. Though both have not had much commercial success lately, the film is more crucial for Rani.

It remains to be seen whether she can deliver once again both commercially and critically.