Tales of Women in Hindi Cinema — The Flicker Flick
Women for most times in Hindi Cinema have been portrayed in a degrading and demeaning manner with no voice — either as a sacrificial mother or a damsel in distress or a manipulative villain with no layering whatsoever. The dimensions and character layering laid out for a man have generally been absent in a women’s role. They have been easily and carelessly stereotyped in movies — Their part has been mostly relegated to play a romantic interest to their male counterparts or be a sexual object for an item dance with no agency whatsoever.
It would be unfair to say that Hindi Cinema, since the beginning, has never portrayed strong women because it has. But in the past couple of years, the representation has not been too strong. This time in March — in honor of the Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day — we have curated a list of 9 strong women characters in Hindi Cinema in recent years who have a voice and a personality; who are messy, sometimes murderers, vulnerably and strong at the same time. These characters are not necessarily societal role models. What is highlighted here is the idea of how the shaping of women’s characters is becoming more insightful and carefully constructed and not relegated to their stereotypical roles.
Hindi Cinema is evolving as our society is evolving and becoming more and more globalized. People are now asking the right questions and more critical and attentive to what they are watching or putting out. The recent release of Kabir Singh is a great example of that. Although a huge commercial success, this movie also because famous for its extremely sexist messaging which people were quick to notice and point out. As long as discussions like these are happening, we are definitely moving in the right direction.
Gully Boy — Safeena
Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti are known for creating female characters that are layered and complex, something only reserved for men for the longest time. Gully Boy’s Safeena is bold & ambitious, holding her aspiration of being a surgeon, in a society that raises women to find happiness in marriage. Her mother is extremely orthodox and physically abusive, something that explains why Safeena is a violent person. And while it is most unacceptable, it is interesting to see a woman character not afraid to hold space physically in a man’s world. Safeena lives in a world that does not allow her to wear lipstick or have male friends. She is feisty and vulnerable at the same time. The reason why Murad means so much to her is not only because both have been together since their childhood but also because to be with him is to be free.
Here is a wonderful article by Rahul Desai, film critic, analyzing the relationship of Safeena and Murad — the girl of Gully Boy
One of the highlights of Piku besides Deepika Padukone playing the lead with such perfection, is the idea of how she is no damsel in distress. She earns and sustains her father, she has an active sex life, she is very independent both financially and emotionally, she is in her 30s and unmarried. She also is never afraid to confront instead of quietly sitting down. The women in the film are active participants in the discussion of things like property which are considered male’s domain and it is refreshing to watch for one woman take charge of things.
Wake up Sid — Aisha
Looking back, Aisha seems like the true protagonist of Wake Up Sid. She arrives in Mumbai from her town all by herself with her dreams to become a writer. She is ambitious, focused, and not afraid to struggle. She finds a flat and manages to live all by herself. In fact, the man in the film, Sid, is of no use to her as such. The movie provides us with Aisha’s uncertainties, vulnerabilities, and journey. She has dreams of achieving and become something in life. She is not ready to settle for less. This is shown in how she is not afraid to ask her boss to check out her writing or confronting Sid if he being careless. This ‘new girl in the city’ is a great role model for girls to never back down in the pursuance of self.
Check out this brilliant article on Aisha Wake Up Sid’s Aisha Banerjee
Queen — Rani
When you have built your whole life around a man, it is difficult to break through that mold and find who you are and what you want, especially for someone like Rani who comes from a small Punjabi town. Again, unlike a film where a man rescues a woman, it is a woman who rescues herself. She is Queen in no need of a King. Rani is dumped by her fiancé days before the wedding and decides to go on to the honeymoon all by herself. Never go to any place alone, this is a big step by Rani. In doing so she learns what she is capable of regardless of what she has been told. She drives a car, makes friends, works in a restaurant. She never would have been able to do these things if she would have married a man who only told her what she can’t do.
For a better understanding see Queen — She rules
Andhadhun — Simi
Tabu’s Simi in Andhadhun is a character is depicted as confident, desperate, and deceitful. In her mind, she just happens to have herself in a situation where her husband had to be murdered. She wants to live the life she wants and she chooses not to put up with anyone causing inconvenience to her. And mind you, she is at no point guilty or ashamed of her behavior. Simi has made it to the list solely because it has been so long since Hindi Cinema has created any female antagonist as fleshed out and as delicious as Simi.
Here is a review of the film Andhadhun — A Thriller Aided By A Great Cast And Nostalgia
Meri Pyaari Bindu — Bindu
Bindu — unafraid and bold. Instead of passively waiting for things to happen to her, she makes change happen. Bindu is exactly clear in what she wants and while some people may consider her “selfish” in not wanting to stay with Abhimanyu, I think it is believable and amazing. Her sense of self is not defined by a man but by her dreams and it is extremely empowering. There’s a scene present in the film where Bindu is very disappointed and depressed as she watches her CDs lying in the store and how nobody is buying her music. Here, Abhimanyu, asks her where she sees herself in five years. He says he sees himself with her in a flat with a dog and two children, even though he hates working as a banker. However, Bindu says she has only seen herself as a musician on tour, and without that, she was lost. And while in the end her becoming mother can be questioned, it is still on her own terms. Bindu never compromised.
There is an interesting article on men and how women’s position in their lives is limited to help find themselves — Meri Pyaari Bindu: When all a woman’s good for, is helping a man ‘find himself’
MARY KOM — MARY
Mangte Chungeijang Kom (Mary Kom), a renowned Indian boxing player, has been a source of immense woman empowerment. Choosing a career in boxing is a very difficult task for any woman as she is expected to take care of kids and make a household rather than actually go out and follow her ambition. The movie tries to handle several layered and difficult struggles of Mary Kom’s life. She wins the world championship but a woman is often told that she can’t have it all, that at some point in her life she has to choose between her family or career, a choice men rarely have to make. The movie does justice to the struggles in her life and we are introduced to a phase in her life when she chose family over a career living a discontent married life and finally comes back to the ring. This movie is something many women can relate to who are expected by society to balance both professional and personal life.
ENGLISH VINGLISH — SHASHI
Shashi perfectly represents Indian housewives who are constantly invisiblized by society, who we tend to ignore, not realizing how important their role is in our lives. She is regularly made fun of by her family members for not being able to speak English and never treated with an inch of decency. At one point she says, “mard khana banaye toh kala hai, aurat banaye toh uska farz hai.” The movie’s messaging might become problematic in the sense of how she finds confidence after learning the colonizer’s language and falling back into her family role. But one can see how Shashi derives a sense of self in understanding that she can do anything she wants.
Here is a review of the film English Vinglish
Thappad — Amrita
Empowerment is not only seen in a woman being ambitious, it is also seen in a woman standing up for herself. This is a story of a woman who is standing up for herself after receiving a slap from her husband in his drunkenness’ in a society where domestic abuse is so normalized. Amrita keeps hanging in the middle over what she feels and what society expects. Thappad is a commentary on how a ‘thappad’ isn’t a personal matter between a husband and his wife but a social structure that makes men feel they can do that to his wife because of the internal notion that a housewife is there only to serve the family members. She has no identity of her own. And when Amrita demands dignity, she makes people uncomfortable.
Check out this amazing post Thappad Is Not Just About A Slap, But About Its Male Entitlement
Some honorable mentions: Sahmat from Raazi, Meghna from Fashion, Rumi from Manmarziyaan, and Vidya in Kahaani.
Who are your favorite female characters portrayed on the big screen? Let us know in the comments :))
By: Shanna Jain
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Originally published at https://theflickerflick.siterubix.com on March 15, 2021.