What kind of an effect do women oriented films have on female viewers? Do we re-visit our own failures and end up agonized or we come out with jubilation? Are we able to celebrate womanhood through cinema today?
As a viewer, after witnessing the changing role of women in Movies in India, I attempt to create a list of all women oriented films which have left a mark on my memory [positive & negative]. The elevation of my own feelings as a movie lover is evident today as I fondly glance at my “She-roes”.
As a child, way back in 70s & 80s, the Epitome of womanhood in cinema was “Nargis” as Mother India. When I saw the movie, it left me in anguish. Radha faced all atrocities from society and stood true to her cause of justice. My heart cried for her. I felt sad after watching Anarkali chained & humiliated at the hands of the Emperor, though Madhubala’s brilliant portrayal of true love left me in admiration. The feeling was similar when Raj Kumar Santoshi presented the story of Damini [Meenakshi Seshadri] – a staunch, middle class woman who faces the dilemma of standing against her influential in-laws to provide justice to her maid servant. Her journey made my heart heavier. He attempted Lajja to show 4 women, Vaidehi [Manisha Koirala], Janaki [Madhuri Dixit], Maithili [Mahima Chaudhary] & Ramdulaari [Rekha] who are targets of male chauvinism. To have these actors together on screen was a landmark indeed but this movie could not uplift me from the tragic mood. In between we had Shekhar Kapoor’s “Bandit Queen” where Seema Biswas showed the brutal torture inflicted upon her. It was simply a horrifying Biopic. Though she was presented as a deaf & mute mother[Khamoshi] subtly by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
It was only Yash Chopra’s Chaandni & Pooja [Lamhe] who could cheer me up after Manju [Khoobsurat]. Manju [Rekha] was playful, naughty, independent & headstrong. Chaandni & Pooja [Sridevi] were emotional, vulnerable, courageous yet extremely “Romantic”. They fought for love but never fell low in self-esteem. They didn’t revolt against the society and carried the female audience along with them [and lightened the minds]. A lot of women were able to identify with them. This era of Sridevi & Madhuri Dixit was Bright & Lovely. Karisma Kapoor stepped in their shoes later. Shyam Benegal’s Zubeida was an inspiring Muslim Actress; Khaled Mohammad’s Fiza was a brave girl searching for her missing brother amidst communal Riots. She was marvellous in these characters and started a trend for commercial actresses being accepted in less “Glamorous” roles. Earlier only the big names from parallel cinema were considered apt for such stories. Her simplicity and earthy performances left me awestruck. I related with her so well in Dil Toh Pagal Hai! Nisha was able to gather adoration in-spite of the role being a supporting one.
Madhur Bhandarkar began his Series based on Women from all sections of Society. In Chaandni Bar, Tabu depicted the gritty life of a Bar Dancer. Her survival in the upheaval of social traumas was inspiring but her eventual loss in the end was disheartening. As an actor, Tabu undoubtedly raised the standards of acting in Bollywood but the effect of the movie was rather depressing. In-fact Fashion presented a contrast of mixed feelings. Meghana & Shonali were two strong individuals; while the former rises from a disastrous relationship and the dark secrets behind the glamorous career, the latter succumbs to it. Priyanka Chopra & Kangana Ranaut fetched their National awards for this movie and proved that sheer Female talent could successfully carry an entire movie on its shoulders.
Vidya Balan arrived as a lady in armor on screen with “The Dirty Picture”. A Side Actress’ struggle to rise from her slot to the top was portrayed brilliantly. Her achievements and eventual failures were depicted so well that it was hard to imagine anyone else as “Silk”. In “Kahani” she searches for her husband’s murderer and kills him disguised under pregnancy. Finally, a trend of movies with strong Female Protagonists began [thanks to her immaculate talent & ability to provide “spine” to such scripts].
But for me, the beginning of “The Queen Era” is what I would name as the “Revolution” for female viewers as it has not only changed the perspective for entertainment, it showcases those little facets of our own lives lying deep [hidden] within us. Vikas Behl did not falter in providing Entertainment, boasted less of Feminism while displaying a woman’s struggle to live a dream minus the man she dreamt of accompanying her. Rani did not provide us with solutions – she simply showed us how women fare when they have understanding/supporting parents. Anand L. Rai’s Datto is my personal favourite. She brought me closer to the women born in my native region; girls/women who aren’t conditionally pretty and have a natural inclination towards sports; who are nick-named “Tom-Boys” but in reality are stronger than many men. Their simplicity is their Man-Force. Datto does not have any complexes when she faces Tanu, who is prettier; she considers true love & affection higher than age-bar & status; yet she refuses to be a part of a married life full of confusions. Imtiaz Ali’s Veera [Highway] was an un-glamourized portrayal of a caged childhood- A girl who gathers the courage to leave the fake support system of her parents. Her love for her abductor gives her a voice to scream out her pains and begin a fresh life. Alia Bhatt’s role helped me revise the lessons of Motherhood for I have a daughter of my own. Veera alerted me. I raise a toast for Juhi Chaturvedi who could weave a story around “Piku”– a Modern Contemporary woman who tolerates her father’s tantrums besides sharing an amazing rapport with him [full of conflicts]- a daughter who doesn’t hesitate in demanding her own space while informing him of her own personal needs. Piku reminded me that I should continue bearing my Father’s Moods for he is equally adorable.
Datto, Rani, Veera & Piku are cheerful, alive, brave & educated women whom I look up-to with affection. Hats-off to SLB as well for presenting Kashibai as the dignified wife of Bajirao; a Royal Lady who doesn’t waste her self-esteem in melodrama and stands tall with pride & dignity to retain her title. Her character doesn’t lose its shine amidst the love-story of Bajirao-Mastani.
The “Pre-Queen” Era had Writers and Directors who showcased Women amidst social traumas, personal conflicts and turbulent relationships. They definitely stood out but achieved lesser in presenting glitters of hope & offering sweetness to the feeling of being a Woman. This “Queen” Era offers me Jubilation. I gleam with Pride [after I have shed numerous tears] while watching “Shashi” [English Vinglish] complete her course in English language. She is a timid house-wife who overcomes a complex instead of fighting her husband & child, without revolting or creating unnecessary Drama. She rises in her own eyes. She stirs me with her Triumph.
I thank the artists behind this change. Gauri Shinde, SLB, Vikas Behl, Anand L. Rai, Juhi Chaturvedi & R. Balki [who proved earlier that 40 is no less an age to fall in love with a 60 year old man] for beginning this Joyful Era of Positive & Hopeful cinema, which gives a woman seated in a cinema hall, radiance of Happiness. They don’t remind us of the century old norms through their work – they simply give us a glimpse into another woman’s life which seems realistic & inspiring. They don’t leave us engulfed in pathos & sorrow – they show us how wonderful a woman’s Tale can be.
Looking forward to Rekha, Rani, Madhuri, Kajol & Karisma stepping alongside the “Queens” of Today.