As much as we shout Happy Women’s Day and talk about the importance of women in our lives, the truth is that we need to do so much better for women all over the world in every sphere that exists. Back home, the closest that comes to our mind is the Hindi film industry. There’s no denying that Hindi films, most of the time, refused to see a woman beyond her body. Female actors have usually been considered nothing more than beautiful beings needed to make the male actors look good on screen; or to tell everyone that while the man is performing some chest thumping action, he has a woman cheering for him and hugging him after he has successfully killed the evil villains (who probably dared to molest ‘his’ girl in the previous sequence).
Fortunately, we have had a few films in which female actors were given better roles. Thanks to the minds behind these films that we could actually have characters that were not just a flower on the wall. Even when they were playing a wife, mother, daughter or just a lover, women appeared in their entirety – as the ones who endured maximum pain and yet came out as a winner in every battle they fought. Take a look:
Sharmila Tagore-Aradhana (1969)
Sharmila Tagore in a still from Aradhna
Vandana Tripathi marries her lover secretly but her marriage isn’t considered valid by the society after her lover dies. Already mourning the loss of her lover, she is forced to give up her child at an orphanage. Determined to be around her child, she decides to take care of him as his nanny at his new parents’ house. For years, Vandana remains silent until one day, his son, who’s grown to be a pilot now, finds her diary and gets to know that she’s his real mother. The character is a brief reminder to everyone that the kind of emotional strength a woman can embrace is beyond any judgement. She bears pain like a badge of honour and is capable of absorbing all that hurt her loved ones.
Madhuri Dixit-Lajja (2001)
Janki, a theatre actress, is rebuked by the crowd when she questions the famous decision of Goddess Sita to walk the fire and prove herself pious-pure, upon her husband Lord Rama’s demand. The audience who’s angry over their worshipped idol being questioned throw stones at Janki, causing her a miscarriage. Later, she is deemed as the characterless woman who had the guts to raise fingers at their God. She suffers but doesn’t move away from her stance. She tells the fuming crowd that had their beloved Goddess refused to fulfill the demand of her husband, women today would not have been judged on the societal standards of morality.
Vidya Balan-The Dirty Picture (2011)
Vidya Balan in a still from The Dirty Picture
Silk Smitha is a woman who takes pride in her sexuality. She is not afraid of the men lusting after her. She is bold, confident, strong and she knows all of this. Silk takes control of everything that happens in her life to the extent that she dies on her own will. She doesn’t escape. Every time a man tries to patronise her by telling her the ‘right’ way of being a woman, she tells him why she can’t be put in a box. Silk is one true example of how a woman should just let herself be. She should not try to do the right thing, she should just do whatever her heart desires – to fight or to leave, to explain or to be silent.
Sridevi – English Vinglish (2012)
Sridevi in a still from English Vinglish
Shashi is a woman who has been taught, like most Indian women, that her family is her life and that’s where her entire focus should remain. However, a desire to learn the English language changes everything for her. Once she decides that she will try to fulfill that desire, there’s a spark in her life. Just by taking charge of her wish, she becomes more confident, much happier and more fulfilled. She knows she deserves to be respected and there’s nothing she can’t achieve because she’s a woman. Shashi’s character is so beautifully fearless that it ignites a ‘stand-up-do-it-now’ feeling. It shows us a side of a woman who very well knows how to nurture her family and raise her kids but not by sacrificing her wishes.
Deepika Padukone-Bajirao Mastani (2015)
Mastani is quite a layered character. She is a warrior but doesn’t believe in being the sole sailor of her ship. She understands that there’s no fault is asking for help when there’s a need. Once she has fallen in love, she is ready to take every fight head-on. She doesn’t shy away from telling the world that she is in love, even when she knows her feelings might not be reciprocated or she will not be accepted lovingly by society. How important is being headstrong in life if you are a woman, Mastani teaches you well!
Neena Gupta-Badhaai Ho (2018)
Neena Gupta in a still from Badhaai Ho
Priyamvada Kaushik is a middle-aged woman living in Delhi with her husband, mother-in-law and two grown-up sons. She finds out she’s pregnant with her third child and her heart starts trembling. After all, how will she be accepted in society after people get to know she is pregnant with her husband’s child, and her 20-something son is ready to get married soon! However, Priyamvada doesn’t let society take decisions of her life. She decides to embrace motherhood once again with or without the support of her family and friends. She says it’s her body and she wants to access rights over it. She tells herself that she’s strong enough to bear a child against everyone’s will. The character highlights feminism and women empowerment without actually shouting the word ‘feminism’. A woman always has a right to choose for herself. Priyamvada does just that.
So, which one is your favourite?