Bring On The Heroines

Never mind the box-office fate of No One Killed Jessica. From preliminary reports, it has opened well. But it is an important film for another reason. It is a rare film out of Bollywood, that has female protagonists, and is proud to market itself as a film about strong women. When most leading ladies are merely props and item girls in films, and there is this fuzzy notion that films with women in leading roles do not sell, this film stands out.

As it is, except Madhur Bhandarkar, how many filmmakers make movies about with female leads? In fact, how many films are there about the contemporary woman—the kind of women we see all around us, living rich and fulfilling lives, having successful careers and handling families. Even a women director like Farah Khan, reduces the heroine in her Tees Maar Khan to a bimbette, and then stands on her shoulders to promote the film with the raunchy Sheila Ki Jawani song.

In Raj Kumar Gupta’s film, a female reporter played by Rani Mukerji and Sabrina Lall played by Vidya Balan, fight to get the killer of Jessica Lall to book. In real life, when the men chickened out, women fought for justice. Why should such interesting stories not be told, and one should thank producers UTV Spotboy for backing it. Interestingly, the other film released alongside is the small budget Vikalp, also has a female protagonist, going by the face of Deepal Shaw on the posters.

Another film, whose promos have triggered off a lot of interest is Vishal Bhardwaj’s Saat Khoon Maaf, with Priyanka Chopra as the main selling point, with the seven men in the shadows. It maybe too early to herald a revolution (a re-revolution rather, because before the seventies, women were given their due in films), but there is definitely a change taking place, and it is a welcome one. If our female stars are as talented as the males, then why should they be treated as lesser beings. If audiences have not patronized women-oriented subjects, it is because the films have been bad, and the writers/directors have to be blamed rather than the actresses. It’s time audiences changes their perceptions too—if No One Killed Jessica and Saat Khoon Maaf succeed commercially, it might just give women more power in the all-male pecking order.

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  1. To be honest even after Saat Khoon Maaf things unfortunately will not really change. The male domination of the film industry is too deep rooted for the ‘re-revolution’ you talk about but yeah, sensible films of any type, male or female oriented should be welcomed as they are such a rarity in our film industry. Talking of Farah Khan if she’s more successful than other women directors it’s because she has made ‘guy’ films rather than women-centric ones. And let’s face it – tomorrow even if Reema Kagti’s film succeeds, it’s Aamir who is going to walk off with the credit. As it is all media news so far on the film is only about Aamir, Aamir and Aamir…

  2. I agree with Karan (am assuming he’s The ThirdMan!). Don’t think the odd success is going to make an overall difference to the Bollywood scheme. What was actually heartening about 2010 though was that several small films did reasonably well, whereas most big-budget ventures bombed. And that in turn may herald better scripts, better actors and eventually a better crop of modestly priced films. In the process, women characters too may get their due.

  3. You have hit the nail right on the head Deepa. Most women-centric films are very badly made such as PAISA VASOOL and in a manner of speaking, FIRE. Sometimes, a film like GIRLFRIENDS is made to titillate and attract the box office but do not bring in the audience at all. I have this uncomfortable feeling at the back of my mind that much like in real life, men, and society in general, feel somewhat threatened by images of strong women maybe because a strong woman is stronger than a strong man. I know most readers will not agree but this is true. This takes me back to films like KUMKUM and AADMI where the image of Shanta Apte and other actresses like her, not beautiful, not glamorous either, defined strength just by portraying the characters they were given to portray. It reminds me of Smita Patil’s SUBAH and Shabana Azmi’s earlier films. It is difficult to say whether these actresses were strong in real life and ths strength and confidence spilled over into their potrayals, or, whether their powerful portrayals rubbed off onto their real life perosnas.

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