Indian films have always been a source of inspiration for the country. But being a patriarchal society, where sons are clearly preferred over daughters, India’s film industry has been largely male-dominated throughout its history. While male characters have been given powerful roles, women have been asked to play the weaker sex.
Women actors have typically been shown as helpless, weepy, and only of the nurturing kind. In India’s film history, very few films have been women-oriented. Mother India, Umrao Jaan, Damini and Mrityudand are the memorable ones, and there’s not much beyond these. These movies were, in fact, ahead of their time in showing the struggles of the Indian women. But, in any case, most of these women-oriented movies took the backseat, as male-centered films repeatedly stole the show.
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Most of the iconic hero-centric films, like Sholay, Agneepath, Saudagar, Khiladi and more were either focused on the hero or the villain, and the female characters were left to play the hero’s lover or villain’s mistress. In those days, the hero’s antics were the only take-away from the films, as it was all about the hero’s moral nature, his strength, his kindness, his deep love for his beloved, his sacrifices and everything else.
Fortunately, filmmakers have since chosen to evolve with the times and make films that revolve around a female protagonist, and depict women as being strong and self-sufficient. They’ve also started making more and more films which bring out the problems faced by women in society — like rape, domestic violence, and abuse, and have tried to be more true to a woman’s everyday life.
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Films like Angry Indian Goddesses by Pan Nalin, Queen by Vikas Bahl, Gulaab Gang by Soumik Sen, Kahaani by Sujoy Ghosh, NH 10 by Navdeep Singh, and Madhur Bhandarkar’s films like Fashion, Page 3, Chandni Bar and Heroine have all had female actors in lead roles.
Earlier this year, NH 10, a thriller by Navdeep Singh, had Anushka Sharma play a bold and independent woman who refuses to be just a bystander to crimes against women. And Rani Mukherjee in her film Mardaani played the role of a fearless female cop who unravels the dark secrets of human trafficking.
There was also a biopic film on India’s first female boxing champion Mary Kom, in which Priyanka Chopra played the lead role, showcasing Mary’s struggles and her journey to success in fulfilling her dream of becoming a boxer despite the difficult circumstances.
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Gulaab Gang, a crime drama strongly focusing on women empowerment, was another great example of this brand of films. In it, Madhuri Dixit played the role of Rajjo, the leader of a vigilante group who spreads the message of self-sustenance and self-reliance for women, while Juhi Chawla played the role of a shrewd politician who tries to maintain power through immoral and illegal means.
This new breed of films signals a new chapter for the women in Bollywood, as they no longer need to play second fiddle to the heroes or villains. They no longer need to play roles like they did in the past — as heroines in the role of a “Sati Savitri.”
Glad we’re leaving those days behind. Women are way bigger than any limiting stereotype society wants to caste on them. So let’s usher this new brand of cinema that’s trying to show women as they really are.