Based on a short story by Chunilal Madia, Mirch Masala is a telling story about oppression — the subedar, who holds ultimate authority over the village, views its women only as his property. Sonbai, meanwhile, refuses the subedar’s advances, both wounding his male pride and ego, and leaving a lasting impact on the audience.
Bollywood’s go-to leading lady for women-centric films, Vidya Balan, plays a pregnant woman in search of her missing husband in 2012’s Kahaani. As Vidya Venkatesan Bagchi, the vulnerable yet resilient lead of the film, Balan breaks the stereotype in which the hypermasculine hero is expected to be the one saving the damsel in distress. Inspired by some real-life experiences of novelist and screenwriter, Advaita Kala, Kahaani’s Vidya doesn't lose her zest for life, or her ability see the silver-lining, even though she lives in a male-dominated world that tries to hold her back.
The Hindi movie industry has been a key player in defining women, who for ages, have been seen as mere props.
Sita Sings the Blues
An animated (and technically, not a Bollywood) film, Sita Sings the Blues, is a musical retelling of the Ramayana by American artist Nina Paley. This witty re-interpretation of the epic focuses on Sita, a woman who is betrayed and heartbroken by the one she loves the most. Set to the 1920s jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw, Sita’s plight runs parallel to Paley’s own struggles — her partner ended their relationship over a surprise email, with no further explanation provided. The film focuses on the sisterhood that brings women who have experienced similar heartbreak together.
Sridevi breathes life into English Vinglish — a tale of women empowerment and growth — with her contagious positivity. Shashi Godbole is your average, upper-middle-class mother of two, a small-time entrepreneur. But despite being a skilled and self-sufficient woman, Shashi is also shown to suffer from a tiny, but also a glaringly unmissable “handicap” — not being able to speak fluent English. Shashi represents every Indian mother who has dedicated her life to her family, but is constantly looked down upon for not being perfect. When she eventually enrolls for an English crash course (behind her dismissive family’s back) she takes control of her own life, unlearning the docility that allowed her daughter to disrespect her, and identifying the complacency that had slipped into her marriage.
Izzatnagari Ki Asabhya Betiyan
A 93-minute-long documentary directed by FTII graduate Nakul Singh Sawhney, Izzatnagari Ki Asabhya Betiyan deals with honour killing and the khap panchayat system in Haryana. The bold documentary exposes the hypocrisy of the patriarchal modern India and its intolerance towards women who “cross the line”. Mapping the lives of five women who have nothing in common except for the fact that they must deal with these stifling traditions, Izzatnagari Ki Asabhya Betiyan is an honest wake-up call.
While ChaalBaaz’s storyline reads like that of any rom-com, Sridevi’s unwavering charisma as she takes on a double role, is a joy to watch. Her flamboyance as “Manju” and sheepishness as “Anju” lend ChaalBaaz a distinctive individuality. The loud and untameable Manju is unapologetic, while the timid and quiet Anju only wants to please — and in just two characters, Sridevi plays hundreds of women. While the plot isn’t without its loopholes and skittish caricatures, ChaalBaaz allows the women to shine and co-exist.
So this year, as we continue to figure out ways to — as the International Women’s Day website says — "forge a gender equal world”, let’s start small, by surrounding ourselves with the stories of strong, independent women.