Liberated Leading Ladies of the Celluloid

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Pyusha takes a look at some of the unconventional female characters and women-centric films Bollywood has produced in the recent years. She critiques such films with thumbnail reviews, as part of the Special Feature, exclusively for Different Truths.

Gone are the days when one could spot a grief-stricken woman in tattered clothes begging for mercy at the feet of her cruel mother-in-law or unaffected husband on the silver screen. Nowadays our heroines are bold, independent, outspoken and are often spotted drinking wine or smoking a cigarette with much élan (I am not promoting drinking or smoking).

By this, I don’t mean that woman-oriented films weren’t made during the last several decades. A number of films dealt with bold subjects and headstrong heroines which were indeed path-breaking like Arth but the way female characters are treated these days shows that times are changing and so is the perception.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, let’s take a look at some of the unconventional female characters and women-centric films Bollywood has produced in the recent years.

Remember Shivani Shivaji Roy from the film Mardaani? Female cops are not a big deal but Rani Mukherji gave us some spine-chilling moments with her bang on dialogues and action sequences. However, what showed the real beauty of womanhood was the way she was shown preparing breakfast for her niece dressed in her uniform or the way she maturely handled her husband when his self-respect got shattered.

Another character, which is one of my favourite, is Piku from Piku. Deepika Padukone and Amitabh Bachchan looked adorable together in this flick which came as a breath of fresh air when it was released. On one hand, a daughter is sick and tired of her old father’s tantrums, whereas, on the other side, she treats him like her own child. The little nuances of the film are sure to make one laugh and cry at the same time. Piku is shown as an independent architect who is very stubborn and strict regarding her father’s health but immediately melts down when her father needs her support. The character is very well balanced.

How can one forget Vidya Baghchi from Kahaani? The film is one of the best thrillers Indian cinema has ever had but Vidya Balan’s character was simply magnificent. The treatment of her character is different in both the franchises (Kahaani 2) but the one that strikes a chord with the audience is that of Vidya Bagchi. She is not only confident but handles her emotions effortlessly, which is a very tough job for a woman who has gone through so much.

Talking of Vidya Balan one can’t help but mention her character in the film Paa. Although the film is about a father-son relationship, I really like the mother-daughter (Vidya and Arundhati Nag) one more. The way Vidya’s (named the same in the film) mother supports her decision of raising her child alone sets a beautiful example for everyone. In life things cannot always be classified as good and bad or right and wrong, it depends upon situations and choices and a real woman is the one who knows how to respect her choice and decisions and deal with them boldly.

In current times, Vidya Balan is one such actor who has done a lot of female-oriented films and each one is different from the other. For example, let’s take The Dirty Picture. No one would call the character of Silk of that of an ideal woman but she was the best in her own eyes and she loved and respected herself and her work which is a very important aspect of a strong and independent woman. Recently, she portrayed the role of an over-enthusiastic housewife in Tumhari Sulu who wins the heart of millions with her simple mantra, “Main kar sakti hai.” It may sound simple but this mantra is actually the one which resonates inside all successful women in every field including art, politics, science, literature, and cinema.

A very popular idiom ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ has been amazingly portrayed in the recent thriller/drama Mom. Sridevi’s character Devki has been created very intelligently wherein she avenges the rape of her stepdaughter with the help of a private detective. The way she takes the command in her hand taking revenge using her brain is very interesting. It is rightly said that a mother can go to any extent for her children, which is one of the major strengths as well as weaknesses of a woman.

Talking about mothers Nil Battey Sannata is one such film that serves as a benchmark for films on motherhood. This simple story of a housemaid, who doesn’t want her daughter to be the same, touches hearts across all ages. Swara’s character beautifully brings out the challenges of a single mother who is trying her best to bring the best out from her daughter and is ready to go to any length to educate her naughty daughter who loves to stay away from books.

Apart from mainstream films, there are some others which were bold enough to confuse the censor board. One such film is Lipstick Under My Burkha which highlights the dreams and struggles of four completely different women and society’s take on them. I wonder what delayed the release but it is a must watch for all adults. I personally like the character of Ratna Pathak Shah who plays an old widow having unfulfilled desires. The other three include a housewife who secretly works as a saleswoman, a beautician who wants to make it big and a college student who loves to sing, dance and dress up boldly but belongs to a conservative family. The film gives a different perspective with which women should be treated.

Angry Indian Goddesses is a film which also deals with bold topics like same-sex marriage. It also highlights other subjects like rape and divorce as well.

Apart from serious flicks, Bollywood gave us some serious ‘Go women! Discover yourself’ goals through light-hearted films like Queen. Deciding to make a film on ‘going on your honeymoon alone’ is itself a bold decision. Kangana’s portrayal of the innocent Rani touched the hearts of not only all the brides to be but their friends, sisters, and mothers as well. Rani’s transition from a simple middle-class girl to a confident one is indeed stunning, not to forget her half Indian half Spanish friend Vijaylakshmi who helps her in finding her own self.

Talking of light-hearted self-discovery films, one film that needs mention is Dear Zindagi. Alia Bhat shines as Kaira but not everyone is lucky enough to have a Doctor Jug in their lives, who helps her overcome her fear of falling in love.

Another out of the box film from the same genre is English Vinglish which adds a whole new meaning to self-discovery. Similarly, Margarita with a Straw is also a light-hearted film, however, it deals with serious topics like disability and bisexuality in a very different manner. Kalki’s acting genius is very well evident in this flick.

When of talking of women-centric films and characters one cannot surely forget the biopic on Mary Kom and Neerja Bhanot (Mary Kom and Neerja) which have been wonderfully portrayed by Priyanka Chopra and Sonam Kapoor respectively.

Films keep coming and going, what stays with us is the message (the one and only reason behind afterthoughts) and that is what is needed to create a film especially when we are dealing with, and celebrating womanhood.

©Pyusha Chatterjee Singh

Photos from the Internet

#LadiesInIndianCinema #InternationalWomensDay #IWD2018 #DifferentTruths

Pyusha is a freelance journalist who loves to dream, travel and explore. She has worked with The New Indian Express and Hindustan Times and contributed to the Jagran Coffee Table Book (JCTB). She is currently ‘free’ and giving time to home and husband. She loves music and cooking. She is a foodie (eating, watching, thinking and experimenting). She loves to read (especially mystery and mythology) and writes for obvious reasons.