The Modern Bollywood Film Heroine

It is common knowledge that the Hindi film industry, or Bollywood as it is commonly known, has been a major influence on contemporary Indian culture in the past and will most likely continue to be in the future. To a very large extent, Bollywood has shaped the way in which people see and understand Indian culture. It also reflects India’s events, traditions, values and customs because of the simple reason that it is a pervasive and inescapable force in Indian society. While the influence of Bollywood is immense and films are seen as a reflection of the society, it is unfortunate that women in films have been and to an extent, still are, represented as appendages or just beautifying wallpaper in Bollywood. Issues pertaining to gender violence, rights of women, femninity and sexuality are often overlooked and in most cases, weakened.

In the last few of years, Bollywood has churned out some really refreshing films. Refreshing and interesting primarily because in each of them, the character of the female protagonist has been miles away from the teary-eyed or babe-in-the-woods kind of stereotypical portrayals. A handful of films may not be proof of the fact that stereotypical portrayal of women has changed by leaps and bounds, but at least a definitive start has been made.

For instance, in the film ‘Tanu Weds Manu’, Tanu (Kangna) belongs to a small town but is quite adept at mouthing abuses aimed at her prospective groom, smoking cigarettes secretly with her best friend in the middle of the night, or doing the ultimate boy thing – riding a bike with self confidence! Imagine a girl writing these things about herself on an Indian matrimonial site! This would be blasphemous! Or imagine having to write this about a girl on any matrimony site – ‘the girl in question resembles Susan from 7 Khoon Maaf’! Priyanka Chopra, the hapless Susan in ‘7 Khoon Maaf’, initially tries her best to be a docile and demure wife, but eventually becomes the ‘i-give-you-a-taste-of-your-own-medicine’ girl, who methodically kills all her husbands when they begin to torment her.

Times have changed from when girls from small towns were the typical ‘demure and homely’ types, who would bow down to the wishes of the males in the family and marry someone of their parent’s choice or let their profiles be designed by possessive, protective, rule-driven brothers or fathers on matrimonial sites. Indian films were dominated by a very hackneyed and stereotypical portrayal of women, a trend which has been, finally, witnessing a remarkable change.

Be it the crazed-by-revenge Priyanka from ‘7 Khoon Maaf’, or no-nonsense and spitfire journalist played by Rani Mukherjee in ‘No One Killed Jessica’ or Kangna in ‘Tanu Weds Manu’, each woman has played a strong character who will not easily supplicate before a dominating male. The characters portrayed by these heroines and leading ladies are fine with living life unconventionally also, as long as they are doing it on their own terms.

As Meera, the motor mouth journalist who uses cuss words like punctuation, Rani played the role of a woman who is more focused on her work rather than having a man in her life. A case in point is the scene where she is getting cozy with her guy but leaves in a hurry when work beckons her. The workaholic Meera is like any other woman walking on the streets, who probably gives work more priority than her relationships and is unapologetic about it. It would be a drastic change if one were to come across a matrimonial site that says, ‘career-oriented wife preferred.’

We do come across similar profiles or stories in our daily life as well, don’t we? We all know of friends who are trying to establish or explore or assert their identity and individuality – to make a mark on their own. We also know of friends who may be confused or non-committal in love or give work more priority than men – just the way Rani Mukherjee’s character Meera does in ‘No One Killed Jessica’.

The portrayal of women in cinema is slowly becoming believable and more in touch with reality. When one sees these characters on screen, one can easily identify with the characters and empathize with them as well as get convinced by their actions and responses to situations and stimuli.

The biggest change is that these women are no longer tied down to fulfill male fantasies, draconian dogmas or trite feminist prejudices. They are here to live their own life. They are not morally squeamish and are ready to take a definite stand and are not content at being poster girls or ideal marriage material at matrimonial sites.