Once upon a time, the part of Bollywood heroine could be written by the scriptwriter with his/her eyes closed - she waited in the wings till the hero met her, they sang a couple of songs, then something bad happened and she was seen crying while the hero went about overcoming odds and doing things. At times, she was captured by the bad guy and the hero had to go and rescue her.
Her job was to look fetching, sing songs with the hero and mouth that ghastly trope to the villain - 'Bhagwan ke liye mujhe chhod do'.
There were a few exceptions where female actors performed author-backed roles. But then, exceptions do prove the rule.
The last few years have been emancipating for the women in Bollywood. Amidst all the singing-and-dancing, they actually got to act and had films written for them. If last year's Queen changed the way female actors are perceived in the industry, the last few weeks have been a revelation.
We look at three films since May which prove that the audience is ready to accept films were the heroine is the real hero. And what's more, her job is not to sing and dance but hold the film together on her acting prowess. The directors and producers have also read audience's mind and are ready to take the gamble. It helps that these films are paying off at the box office. Tanu Weds Manu Returns and Piku have already entered the hallowed Rs 100-crore club and Dil Dhadakne Do is going strong too.
But you know what is most heartening? That when you look around, you can actually meet these women in real life unlike the greasepaint-covered mannequins of the past…
Piku: A fiercely independent architect who can find her own way, Deepika Padukone's Piku is a woman of today. She calls her body her own and makes her own decisions. Dealing with a curmudgeonly old parent who is obsessed with bowel movements - his and everybody else's - she has her plate full. She deals with him and everyday problems that come with living in a big city with a strange mix of patience and exasperation that we all know and use ourselves. Patriarchy gets rear-ended as her father (Amitabh's Bhashkor Banerjee) holds forth on how a woman has an existence beyond marriage and cannot be a virgin, gasp, before marriage.
Datto, Tanu Weds Manu Returns: This college student from Haryana backwaters is surprisingly the most independent of all the women we have met recently on screen. With none of the privileges of, say, an Ayesha or Piku, she still has enough fire in her to get herself an education, make an athletic career, find a groom even at the cost of raising the ire of her clan. What's more, she proudly declares that whatever the circumstances, she can take care of herself and her family.
Mrs Mehra, Dil Dhadakne Do: The film aims to function as a complex metaphor for today's India and its privileged upper middle class, or noveau riche if you please. Mrs Mehra (Shefali Shah) does nothing but has the lifestyle of the rich. Beneath the veneer lies a lonely woman who binge eats to hide the sorrow of a philandering husband. However, she will go to any length to save her lifestyle, including pimping out her son to a prospective rich bride. When asked why she put up with the husband for all these years, she says, "Because I had nowhere else to go." When faced by her daughter's marriage unravelling, her advice is to make it work because "log kya kahenge".
Ayesha Mehra, Dil Dhadakne Do: A successful businesswoman, Ayesha is bogged down by a loveless marriage and parental pressure. Her parents would like her to give them a grandson, she would rather focus on work. She hides her ambition behind a secret - she is on the pill to avoid pregnancy. Fighting hypocrisy and parental inflexibility, Ayesha finds her voice eventually but not before Indian parents and their expectations from their children's marriages are laid bare.