Lights, Camera, Power: 10 Bollywood Female Characters That Inspired Us This Past Decade

Debolina Biswas
·7-min read

The Hindi film industry has often been under the scanner for inappropriate representation of women in its films. Yes, there have been great roles, but they have been very far and few. However, many successful and strong actresses have come out to talk about the changing phase of Hindi cinema where more and more women are not only essaying great roles but are also supporting stories they believe in, by becoming producers.

The past decade saw many fearless and fabulous women characters. Though there isn’t any doubt that we still have miles to go, MAKERS India takes a look back to remember the strong female characters from Bollywood that have inspired us and made us celebrate womanhood on the silver screen!

Deepika Padukone in Piku

How many times did we get to see a normal father-daughter story without the overtly emotional tunes or burden of the social chatter wherein ‘marrying the daughter’ is the sole objective of each and every person in the film. ‘Piku’ was refreshing in more ways than one and Deepika Padukone gave a career best performance in the film.

Piku and her father have different ideologies. They fight, argue, discuss but none of that takes away the love they have for each other. Often frustrated and exhausted, but always determined and unshakable Piku is brave, fiercely independent and knows exactly what she wants from life. She unclogs the kitchen sink, does the dusting, is religious and an architect. Finding the right partner is not the ultimate goal of her life.

She is raw and an everyday woman who knows how to fight her own battles.

Alia Bhatt in Raazi

Another heart-warming father-daughter equation came along in ‘Raazi’. Here the daughter chooses to follow in her father’s footsteps by becoming a spy for her country. In Sehmat (Alia Bhatt’s character in Raazi), we found a hardcore, headstrong, patriotic and sharp female spy that we’ve hardly seen in our movies so far.

Giving one of her best performances, Alia Bhatt swept not only all the major awards of the year, her restrained and composed act of a true patriot was a welcome sight in the times of the dramatic, chest-thumping desh bhakti.

Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture

Vidya Balan has challenged many stereotypes, both on-screen and off it. In ‘The Dirty Picture’, Vidya played Silk Smitha with an unabashed abundance! Vidya’s Silk is complex, flawed and unapologetically ambitious. She has dreams, talent and is willing to make hard choices to get what she wants, without the fear of being judged!

Vidya’s performance in ‘The Dirty Picture’ was hard-hitting, emotional and yet very entertaining. Vidya Balan received the National Film Award for Best Actress, for The Dirty Picture.

Kangana Ranaut in Queen

Kangana Ranaut has played numerous strong characters but her role in ‘Queen’ is truly special. Winning her second National Award for the film, Kangana brought to life a girl who is sweet, naïve, brave and curious to learn new things. Rani is a single woman who goes to her honeymoon alone. And in the journey, she discovers herself and learns to be comfortable in her own company.

Rani tells her audience that there is always someone out there for you. And if that ‘someone’ doesn’t turn up, you have yourself! The character teaches you self-love and the fact that you are the master of your own happiness. Kangana’s Rani starts with being a timid girl but ends on a high and bright note of being the ‘Queen’ of her life with no rules clipping her down.

Ratna Pathak Shah in Lipstick Under My Burkha

Usha Parmar or Buaji (played by Ratna Pathak Shah) in ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ refuses to be told what to say and what to do. Her character breaks all the stereotypes around a woman’s sexuality. A woman’s sexual life does not end with giving birth to a child, or with the death of her husband. Sexual desires know no age.

We see 55-year old Buaji shed her burkha, symbolic of letting go of her ‘aunty-hood,’ and donning a swim-suit, embracing her woman-hood. Through the erotica novel ‘Lipstick Dreams,’ Buaji sets her desires free. Ratna Pathak Shah gave an enthralling and memorable performance of an aged woman who is sexually aware and is unapologetic about it.

Surekha Sikri in Badhai Ho

Surekha Sikri received a standing ovation when she arrived at the recent National Award ceremony, on a wheel-chair to receive her third National Award in a supporting role. In ‘Badhaai Ho’, Surekha Sikri played the matriarch of the family, who is constantly nagging her family, especially her daughter in law. But as the film develops, we see that Surekha’s dadi is old in her appearance but not in her thoughts. She is fierce and wastes no time in shutting up people who have uncalled for opinions about her daughter in law.

Radhika Apte for Phobia

Unlike the others on our list, ‘Phobia’ is a break to Bollywood’s embrace of female characters bursting out of their cages. After a sexual assault by a cab driver, Mehak, played brilliantly by Radhika Apte suffers from agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder. She is scared of unfamiliar spaces and scared to even leave her own house.

Radhika is the film. She is on a journey to break free from her own mind. Mehak’s character portrays what it takes to fight your own demons.

Taapsee Pannu in Pink

Taapsee Pannu plays the role of a sexual assault survivor Meenal Arora, who is fighting a legal battle to punish her perpetrators. Meenal is courageous and is undeterred by the numerous threats and blackmailing by her assaulter. She continues seeking justice along her friends even without the support of her family.

Through her character, Taapsee was seen fighting with the stereotypes people tend to attach to single, successful women living away from her family. ‘Pink’ also became the loud scream that says “No” is a no.

Priyanka Chopra in Barfi!

Jhilmil Chatterjiee in ‘Barfi’ is an autistic girl who develops a life-long bond with a deaf-mute boy. Despite being differently abled, Jhilmil is never a ‘bechari’ who needs anyone’s pity. She wants to live life and enjoy it. She is also fiercely protective of her love and chooses to move away when she feels side-lined.

Priyanka Chopra played the character with absolute perfection, minus the over-the-top dramatics, expressions or actions to depict the character’s disability. She makes us see and feel Jhilmil’s emotions and reminds us about the beauty of life and love.

Tabu in Haider

Ghazala Meer is certainly one of the most powerful roles essayed by Tabu. Playing the role of Gertrude in the Indian adaptation of ‘Hamlet’, Tabu’s sad-eyed performance bewitched the audience. Ghazala wants love and she wants a home of her own. She refuses to be the woman whose ultimate motive is to wait for her loved ones to return. She does not agree with the high-minded idealism of her husband, and is okay to move on from her husband’s death and seeking love again.

Tabu played Ghazala with a sense of mystery that keeps you wondering about her motives and intentions. She is never the quintessential mother whose whole life revolves around her kids and family. She is willing to make the tough choices and be in-charge of her life.