Women-centric ventures in Hindi cinema aren’t new by themselves, but the interesting development is that such films have been coming thick and fast in recent years. They’re all headlined by female stars who carry a film on their own shoulders.
Over the next several Fridays, a number of films fronted by women, with the female protagonist taking the centrestage, will be released. The list includes: Anushka Sharma in Phillauri; Taapsee Pannu in Naam Shabana; Swara Bhaskar in Anaarkali of Aarah; Sonakshi Sinha in Noor; Vidya Balan in Begum Jaan; Shraddha Kapoor in Haseena: The Queen of Mumbai; and Kangana Ranaut in Simran.
With so many powerful roles being written all at the same time, strong female stars and characters are the new normal. The film fraternity is happy with this and many have vocally embraced it.
Recently, actors Sushmita Sen and Sonakshi Sinha said that this was a great time for female actors in the industry, because of the substantial roles offered to them and the increasing exploration of women-centric movies. Filmmaker Vikram Bhatt was also quoted as saying that Bollywood was opening up to strong female leads.
From the start of this decade, there have been films fronted by women that swept everyone off their feet – there was the explosive fictionalised biopic The Dirty Picture (2011); the out-of-the-box thriller Kahaani (2012); and the deeply touching self-discovery story of Queen (2014). Extraordinary as they were, that’s precisely the point: they were exceptions, not the norm. This year changes all that.
“The quantum and the quality of the films and scripts have certainly improved. With more women-centric films coming up, we definitely have a new Bollywood to look forward to.”
Proud to be a part of this change, Taapsee Pannu of Pink (2016) fame says, “The quantum and the quality of the films and scripts have certainly improved. With more women-centric films coming up, we definitely have a new Bollywood to look forward to. Audiences who’re going to see such films are growing year on year.”
Critically acclaimed for her performance in Fukrey (2013) and Gangs of Wasseypur (2013), actor Richa Chadha says, “There have always been films with female protagonists, but today, even mainstream actors are opting for scripts that are challenging… and proving themselves at the box office. I do hope this trend continues, and we break this myth that movies with female protagonists don’t earn well.”
Even when a woman-centric film does only modest business, as did Sonakshi Sinha’s Akira (2016), the fact that it got made and was released big is noteworthy.
Lauding this shift, actor Yami Gautam of Kaabil (2017) says, “Films today are breaking that gender stereotype and showing women in much stronger light.”
Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, who helmed the award-winning film Nil Battey Sannata (2016), feels that Mother India (1957) is a classic example of how our culture always had films with women as the hero. “Audiences see what we as writers and directors offer,” she says. “If we encourage more stories where the woman is celebrated, then more such films will be made, and more female actors will get to fulfil their true potential.”
“Smaller films with better stories and characters are doing well and finding financiers, too. [But] there’s no respect for writers, as most of them are poorly paid.”
However, budgets for women-centric films still aren’t comparable with those for films with a big male lead. Actor Sayani Gupta, who portrayed Kalki Koechlin’s female lover in Margarita with a Straw (2014), says, “Smaller films with better stories and characters are doing well and finding financiers, too. [But] there’s no respect for writers, as most of them are poorly paid. Women characters are getting highlighted, but it’s still insignificant compared to the West. A handful of scripts get made into films, and the budgets are probably one-tenth of the films with a male star. That’s the reality, though it’s changing.”
Actor Swara Bhaskar of Tanu Weds Manu (2011) and Nil Battey Sannata (2016) fame asserts, “This new trend of female lead films doing well at the box office is picking up, but we’re still very far from pay and budget parity. There has to be more focus on encouraging such meaningful cinema.”
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