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The Indian cinema has undergone massive transformation since it was born more than 100 years ago. A flashback to the childhood of cinema reveals an evolution not only in the Indian cinema, but also in the mindset of viewers and makers alike. From a time when women who worked in the industry were looked down upon, to a time when women-centric films like Mary Kom are giving other films a run for money, Bollywood has certainly come a long way.
The most prominent change that has occurred over the century is in the complex relationship that Bollywood shares with women. Dating back to early 1900s, men were forced to wear female attire because it was socially unacceptable for women to work in the glamorous world. Cut to 1950s, the only roles women were offered were either of a seductress vamp clad in an eye-pinching
Cut to 1950s, the only roles women were offered were either of a seductress vamp clad in an eye-pinching chamkeeli dhamkeeli chiffon saree, or that of a shy girl whose only job was to show her sharm-o-haya by blinking her eyes at a speed faster than light, and making constipated expressions. After all, sharm was aurat’s only zevar.
The world kept changing, but Bollywood refused to become a chameleon. The only other role women were seen in was that of an andhi maa who gave birth to kids only so that they could avenge the death of their father.
1970s marked the puberty of Bollywood as it did not shut its eyes to the boldness of Zeenat Aman. 70 years have passed since Bollywood got introduced to the ‘bikini babe’ and then there wasn’t any looking back. The ‘multitude’ of roles essayed by women has sadly stagnated over the years.
A substantial proportion of films has such small roles for women that their presence or absence would not even make any significant difference. Take the example of the film Student of the Year. While the boys were competing against each other for the coveted trophy, the girls Shanaya and Tanya seemed to be competing only for the “kukkad kamal da” boys. By the end of the film, the trophy had established more importance than Shanaya Singhania.
Women’s roles have been reduced to that of an eye-candy and are being used to cater to the lecherous audience. Objectification of women, today, is very much evident with sex comedies like Masti leading to Grand Masti, and proving their self-proven lecherousness with Great Grand Masti.
In the darkness of movies that do not care about women, some female characters were so strong that they came as a tight slap on the faces of male chauvinist makers and viewers. Real women like Neerja, Mary Kom and Dalbir Kaur are some really ‘mardaani’ women (Take note of the level to which society has been blatantly conditioned into accepting the superiority of men — even a woman-centric film had to have a male-centric name). Some ‘reel’ women also have been so strong that we wish we could meet them in real. So here’s presenting our top 6 ‘reel’ women who never fail to inspire today’s ‘real’ women.
Radha (Mother India)
Think of inspiring women of the reel world and you would find Nargis singing Duniya me ab aaye hain to jeena he padega. This 1957 iconic film was probably the first in Indian ‘CineMA’ to reflect the ordeals women are subjected to, and how they fight back with immense fortitude. It was shuddering to see how Nargis had to toil to repay the loan, while protecting herself from the lecherous Sukhilala. Our heart went out to Mother India when she had to kill her own son for righteousness.
Priya Bakshi (Kya Kehna)
This movie tackled the taboo associated with pre-marital pregnancy. Priya falls into the ‘love trap’ of a rich brat, Rahul (Saif Ali Khan) and eventually gets pregnant. Rahul refuses to accept the child and asks Priya to abort the child, which she refuses. The film traces the journey of Priya and how she faces the wrath of family and society, yet remains strong mentally to face all that life had to offer. This film is symbolic of the self-dependence and courage in women.
Komal Chautala & Preeti Sabharwal (Chak De! India)
These two girls of Chak De! India came from entirely different backgrounds. While Komal dared to break the shackles of a conservative family back home, Preeti was determined to make an identity for herself since she did not want to be known just as the wife of the Vice Captain of the Indian Cricket Team. Stiff competitors on the field, these two girls forgot all rivalry when it came to working together to get the trophy to their homeland.
Shashi Godbole (English Vinglish)
One could find at least one Shashi Maasi after watching this directorial debut of Gauri Shinde in 2012. It reflected the grim reality that a home-maker is never appreciated for her work and is rather subjected to mockery. She overcame her inability to speak and comprehend English with utmost sincerity and determination, without failing to succeed at the family front, which helped her strike a chord with the average Indian home-maker.
Chanda (Nil Battey Sannata)
Swara Bhaskar’s daughter refuses to go to school because for her “Maths me dabba gul”. This movie takes us through the hardships a mother endures as Chanda decides to go to school to make her daughter come out of the “A maid’s daughter is destined to be a maid” zone. It is an excellent portrayal of the extent to which a mother can go to see her child excel.
This 1993 film was a perfect example of how women should stand up for each other. Newly wed into an affluent family, one day Damini finds her brother-in-law raping the maid-servant. While the entire family tries to cover up the incident in court, Damini stands for what is right. A saga of unparalleled courage, this character from this movie is among my favourite Indian women inspirational stories.
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