Evolution of the Bollywood Heroine – From Darling to Daring

A week ago, I had the absolute pleasure of watching a Bollywood film, Raazi, one based on Harinder’s Sikka‘s book Calling Sehmat. I term the experience a pleasure because it had all the elements of what great cinema should comprise of – a crisp storyline put into place with splendid direction, stellar performances by the cast and finally, that feeling that lingers on after you’ve left the movie theatre. One that starts as a lump in your throat, and stays on as that tug in your heart.

For me, that feeling entailed, a sense of unadulterated admiration for Sehmat, the protagonist. At the tigress esque spirit of a patriotic 20 year old woman, who decided without a slight inch of hesitation, to become a spy, cross borders and carry an entire mission on her shoulders. An female character which completly comflicted with my internal image of the quinesstinal Bollywood heroine. Remember, I was the 90s kid growing up in India, who was fed on a staple of Bollywood films which followed a cookie cutter plot. Girl and Boy fall in love. Girl gets kidnapped by villains. Boy recuses her and wins her heart. In a nutshell, it was the always the male version that was doing everything, while the female revelled in blushing, dancing and flaunting her designer wardrobe. No wonder we called him the hero.

Yet, over the last decade or so, the trend has reversed. Films aren’t just being made with women, rather, about them, with an entire list of exemplary films and characters who we’re not forgetting anytime soon. Jab We Met, where Geet a bubble, feisty woman decides to take her destiny in her own hands, and even bear single handedly, the consequences of  her actions. Or Rani from Queen, the jilted bride-to-be, who instead of shedding tears at being left at the altar, decides to fulfill a dream of a European honeymoon, sans her husband. Or Veera from Highway, who confides in her kidnapper about her childhood trauma. Or a daredevil Kaira from Love You Zindagi, who’s not afraid to confront a therapist about her dejection that stems from life’s many setbacks. Or even Shashi from English Vinglish, who takes on a seemingly mammoth of a challenge, one of learning a foreign language, within the realms of a city that’s alien to her, and waking up to a confident, capable version of herself in the process.

And the list can go on. In my opinion, what makes these films winners is that they don’t necessarily focus on feminism, girl power, or even on making a statement of sorts. The protagonists aren’t exactly superwomen, rather refreshingly relatable. Real women living in real times. Ones in whose stories, we often end up finding our own.

The female protagonist has evolved, and how. She no longer is the Damsel-in-distress, who waits for her Prince Charming to rescue her from a bunch of villains. She fights her own battles, her own demons, sometimes even entire social institutions that dictate what she should do, wear and behave. Neither is she Miss Goody-Two-Shoes. She flaunts skin, drinks, goes on solo trips, even loses her virginity without being apologetic for any of it. And finally, she is an individualistic woman of substance. One who is comfortable with creating and living her own sense of identity, claiming her own sexuality,  and pursuing her individual dreams and aspirations. None of whom are dependent on labels, stereotypes, or man. She isn’t just part of the tale anymore, she is the tale. One she’s not afraid to write, rewrite and live. Herself. In her own words. On her own terms.

 

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