She was meek, docile and vulnerable. She was the optimistic homemaker who was covered up under her better half’s shadow. That is the manner by which women were first depicted in Indian cinema. The strong characters were regularly consigned just to those of vamps. But that as they say, is history. Gone are the days where silver screen was driven by men on and off the screen. Today women command an equal position in the thriving field of Indian cinema. We don’t need heroes to run a film. Actresses run the show with as much finesse as required. Over the years there has been a drastic shift in the portrayal of women on screen and also an increase in those calling the shots behind the camera.
One of the first few films to showcase the changing dynamics of a female character was the iconic “Mother India”. It reflected the inner strength of a woman and her grit and gumption with which she could fight the toughest problems. Slowly but steadily filmmakers started touching upon bolder topics where women were given a voice of their own. This was also a result of the changes being witnessed in the society at large where women were taking determined stances. In the years that followed, several women-centric films with hard-hitting female protagonists gathered momentum. Be it “Aandhi” which was based on a woman politician caught between her responsibilities to her family and her political career or “Bhumika” that centered the life of a film actress. The film with Smita Patil in the lead takes you on a quest for love, happiness and self identity through the protagonist’s character along with the challenges she encounters.
Then came a film like “Arth” where Shabana Azmi plays a fiercely independent woman, who despite having been left by her husband for another woman, fights against all odds to maintain her dignity and identity. While “Khoon Bhari Maang” had Rekha transform herself from a weak widow to a powerful lady out to avenge the atrocities committed on her family and her. The following decades witnessed the rise of women power and the dominance of female protagonists in mainstream and art films ranging from “Mirch Masala”, “Mandi”, “Sardari Begum” and “Mrityudand” to “Lajja”, “Astitva”, “Chandni Bar”, “Pinjar”, “Chameli”, “Satta”, “Dor” and many others. Though many of them were not commercially successful, they managed to penetrate into the patriarchal stereotypes of films.
In recent times we have seen some remarkable films where the woman is not merely eye candy or a supporting character but the main hero that drives the story.
Today, women in unconventional and dominant roles are appreciated and respected by audiences the world over. Today however, an actress demands and commands equal space on the silver screen as that of her male counterpart. The notion that only a hero can deliver a superhit in Bollywood has drastically changed. Over the years there has been a drastic transformation in the way women are depicted in cinema. Maybe it is the reflection of the society we live in, or maybe it is a portrait of the society we dream to live in.
And while we discuss the strong female character being etched out in today’s cinema, how can one not mention those women who are carving a niche for themselves behind the camera. Hindi cinema, mainstream or otherwise boasts of several talented female filmmakers. There was a time when a female filmmaker’s ability was questioned and there weren’t people ready to back her, but those were days of the past. Women today make the cinema they believe in and that too with the backing of not just top notch producers but the entire film fraternity.
And these filmmakers have not restricted themselves to mere women-oriented themes but their gamut of cinema extends far and wide. From stalwarts like Sai Paranjpye, Kalpana Lajmi, Aparna Sen, Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair to the recent crop of women filmmakers who have made a mark with their debut films including Ashima Chibbar (Mere Dad Ki Maruti), Sonam Nair (Gippi) and many others, the industry has been blessed with a powerhouse of talent and burgeoning ideas. There is no dearth of ability or skill.
It`s time to get motivated by the past and guarantee performers are judged by their capacities and accomplishments, and not named or stereotyped by their sexual orientation and connections.
I would like to end by stating a very famous dialogue by a woman which clearly shows that women characters are no more to been taken just for mere objectification- “Having a girl is a plus and not minus”
About the Author: I am Srijani and currently studying MBA in Dublin Business School, Ireland. My association with Hyderabad is forever. I worked in Hyderabad for 3 years and came across the very friendly people of “BIH” and eventually started watching movies showcased by HBFF as I am a big movie buff. I don’t miss any chance to watch any good movie irrespective of any language. Writing is my second vocation after reading. I am also fond of music and dance.
*Perspective expressed in this article is completely author’s views. HBFF does not take any responsibility in case of any violation of copyright.*