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Woman, uninterrupted: Female roles have gained in substance in popular culture

Mumbai-based script writer Pubali Chaudhuri feels that the #metoo movement in the US has found echoes in India too and feminist themes in films are now easier to market.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Mar 03, 2018, 11.40 PM IST
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The regressive stereotypes of women in Hindi and regional primetime television shows often camouflage the rebellious streak of bold, independent women in popular culture that has finally found its voice. Back in 2010, a TV show called Powder, produced by Yash Raj Films, was telecast on Sony TV. It didn’t get the required TRPs and was dropped after a season.

“One of the main characters was an amazing narcotics control bureau officer called Brinda Sawhney played by Geetika Tyagi. I’m excited that the show is getting a second lease on Netflix. And I have hopes that we’ll see more exciting stuff in the form of web series,” says Mumbai based film and TV editor Irene Dhar Malik, who edited Powder. She adds that content like Ladies Room, a popular web series by Y-Films, a Yash Raj subsidiary, would have been unimaginable some years back.

Alankrita Shrivastava, director of Lipstick Under My Burkha, an internationally acclaimed film that won many awards, feels things are changing and each year there are some films focussed on women protagonists which are doing well, even in the popular realm.

“There are films like Tumhari Sulu, Secret Superstar and Anaarkali of Aarah being made where the conversation is around strong women characters. But it’s also time to stop putting films with women-centric themes in one box and having strong women protagonists in all films including thrillers and dramas,” she says.

For Shrivastava, the digital platform is exciting where gender stereotypes are being dumped and quality content is made. Her own film, Lipstick Under My Burkha, has four strong women characters and was initially denied a release in India in January 2017 by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) because of “contagious [sic] sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society”.

For prominent film director Madhur Bhandarkar, Bollywood is changing for the better when it comes to portrayal of women. “Now we have extremely powerful women centric films like Pink, Mom and Indu Sarkar. In the earlier days, film industry would shy away from strong women-centric themes,” feels Bhandarkar whose films Chandni Bar, Fashion and Page 3 have portrayed various facets of a woman’s personality.

“A woman’s life in bar, a corporate set up, a Page 3 setting, fashion world and politics, my films have covered it all and I am happy to have contributed in my small way to this trend... to see the love people have showered on my films that have been critically acclaimed, box office hits and have made it to the national awards,” Bhandarkar told ET Magazine. For him, the new trend is that films are being made in Bollywood without a big male star or actor and audiences are accepting women as heroes. “And these films are making money, that is a landmark. The change is commendable.”

Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, director of the 2016 courtroom drama Pink, which received a lot of critical acclaim and awards, believes real change is the fact that there are stories of empowerment of women from small towns and villages of India which are finally being told.

“It’s not only about raising voices on women’s issues and creating a separate genre of women centric films. Increasingly, there are stories being told of ordinary women and they are emerging as central characters in mainstream Indian films, not just in Bollywood but also in regional cinema by young and new age film-makers,” feels Roy Chowdhury.

Film director Onir, whose recent film Kuch Bheege Alfaaz has a strong motherdaughter relationship at its hub, feels mainstream Bollywood films still have a long way to go despite some outliers. “There are still the problematic issues of women being objectified in films. Some of the popular dance sequences are examples. In fact, it is important that women in popular entertainment in India emerge as independent characters rather than supporting the men. And that’s how it is in my films,” he says.

Mumbai-based script writer Pubali Chaudhuri feels that the #metoo movement in the US has found echoes in India too and feminist themes in films are now easier to market.

“But this is more market-driven and doesn’t really reflect any intrinsic cultural or sociological change in the minds of Indian audiences,” she says.
For Chaudhuri, films with strong women protagonists and women-centric themes have been made in India even decades back and continue to inspire directors, producers and actors. “And while it is good to see traditional roles and gender equations changing in India, which in turn is driving a different level of gender awareness in Bollywood, it would be very unfair to forget films such as Mandi, Bhumika and Umrao Jaan which were made decades ago.”

2017
* Juice is a 15-minute film released on YouTube; directed by Neeraj Ghaywan and stars Shefali Shah

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* Tumhari Sulu: Comedy-drama directed by Suresh Triveni and stars Vidya Balan in the lead role
* Lipstick Under My Burkha is a black comedy written and directed by Alankrita Shrivastava and produced by Prakash Jha. It was a critical and commercial hit

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2016
* Pink, a courtroom drama directed by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury. It received widespread acclaim

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* Dangal is a biographical sports drama, directed by Nitesh Tiwari. It is loosely based on the story of Mahavir Singh Phogat who trains his daughters to become wrestlers

2015
* Piku is a comedy drama directed by Shoojit Sircar and stars Deepika Padukone as the protagonist. It was critically & commercially successful

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2014
* Queen, a comedydrama directed by Vikas Bahl, the film has Kangana Ranaut in the lead role. It won positive reviews
* Mary Kom is a biographical sports film on boxer Mary Kom; directed by Omung Kumar. It stars Priyanka Chopra

2012
* Kahaani is a mystery thriller co-written, co-produced and directed by Sujoy Ghosh, stars Vidya Balan

1987
* Mirch Masala has a historic and feminist theme and is directed by Ketan Mehta. It stars Smita Patil and Deepti Naval

1983
* Mandi is a satirical comedy directed by Shyam Benegal and starring Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil. The film narrates the story of a brothel and was shown at international festivals

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1981
* Umrao Jaan: Directed by Muzaffar Ali and based on the story of a Lucknow courtesan. Rekha was praised for her performance; box office returns were average

1977
* Bhumika: Memoir of Marathi actress Hansa Wadkar; directed by Shyam Benegal and starring Smita Patil, who received accolades for her performance

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