Are we finally ready for tough girls on the screen?

S aand Ki Aankh, debutant director Tushar Hiranandani’s women centric Diwali release has been receiving rave reviews for its story, content and lead performances — from the industry folk and the critics alike.

Industry bigwigs who have had the privilege of watching the film in hush-hush private screenings have already taken to Twitter to express their awe about the great performances and unique subject.

The publicity favouring critics are also in line, talking in superlatives about the central characters convincingly essayed by Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu.

Though that may not be a rarity in an industry that is of late, increasingly leaning towards marketing gimmicks to lure the gullible public, the universal praise does give the film a much needed boost at the box-office — especially when far more audience friendly entertainers like Made In China with rising star Rajkummar Rao and Mouni Roy and Housefull 4, a multi-starrer comedy with the ever bankable Akshay Kumar and several others, are spear-heading the grab for a Diwali Dhamaka at the BO. The marketing team for Saand Ki Aankh may have devised a unique publicity campaign for the film by having preview shows as early as a week in advance and following that, going to town publicising the industry and critics reactions all over the media — but will it benefit the film which in marketing terms is tagged as a multiplex film and given the female centred subject, may not have universal appeal all across India? Let’s go back a little in time and examine the trends that govern the audience receptiveness to films that highlight women centred stories.

Gone are the days when actresses like Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Deepti Naval shouldered the entire burden for the success of middle-of-the-road cinema — albeit with superb support from actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Farouque Shaikh and their ilk.

While the films garnered critical acclaim, won awards and were feted at international film festivals and broke even by recovering their cost eventually, they never really ruled the box office.

Actresses in mainstream Hindi films have always had to rely on a saleable hero to make a dent on the box office receipts and we have seen that happen in so many films over the years.

So even if they had spunky, feisty characters to portray there was always a hero in the background being supportive or taking over the onus of giving paisa-vasool moments in order to lure the audience to watch the film in the theatres.

Changing demographics, and economic variances may have had a key role to play in defining audience tastes. Genre films may have an established fan base, but films dominated by story and craft are seen to be catching up, of late.

Deepika Padukone in Piku had Irrfan Khan and Amitabh Bachchan to shoulder the responsibility of making the film a success and Andhadhun had Ayushmann Khurrana, Alia Bhatt had Shah Rukh Khan in Dear Zindagi, Ranveer Singh in Gully Boy and Shahid Kapoor in Udta Punjab, Deepika Padukone had Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor in Padmaavat, Pink had a host of women including Taapsee Pannu, but Amitabh Bachchan’s presence and box office clout loomed large and helped earn big bucks.

The box office receipts of such films are decidedly several notches higher than exclusively female powered films. But that’s not to say that the box office has not thrown a few surprise winners over the years. Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi with Alia Bhatt commanding complete attention, was amongst the biggest hits among women oriented films ever.

Tabu did it with Chandni Bar, the inimitable Sridevi had many career defining films throughout her illustrious sojourn in Hindi cinema but she only saw worldwide success with Gauri Shinde’s path-breaking (in marketing terms) English Vinglish... but her subsequent solo effort thereafter, Mom was no big hit. Vidya Balan hit bulls-eye with The Dirty Picture and Kahaani.

Her more recent outings like Bobby Jasoos, Begum Jaan and Tumhari Sulu fared poorly and she had to resort to a multi star cast film Mission Mangal, with Akshay Kumar top-lining, to get her career back on track. Rani Mukherji did it with No One Killed Jessica, Mardaani and Hichki of which the latter was the least successful.

Swara Bhaskar may have tasted success with Nil Battey Sannata and Veere Di Wedding (in the company of Kareena Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor) but a film like Avinash Das’ Anarkali of Ara in which she gave a career defining performance, unfortunately tanked at the BO.

Sonam’s biggest successes were Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Sanju, PadMan and Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo in which she had big heroes like Ranbir Kapoor, Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan for company and was essentially relegated to secondary status in those films.

Raanjhanaa was a surprise winner for her while Ram Madhavan’s Neerja lent her ‘solo’ box office clout which was eventually frittered away by her other clunkers Khoobsorat, Aisha and The Zoya Factor. Anushka Sharma tasted middling success with NH10 but her Pari, another film which she produced and had the solo lead role, was a commission earner at best.

Priyanka Chopra tasted a fair bit of success with Fashion and Mary Kom, but her more recent The Sky is Pink with an equally saleable Farhan Akhtar fared miserable at the box office. Female-centred films like Angry Indian Goddesses and Lipstick Under My Burkha, with a bunch of women breaking out from rigid patriarchal mind sets, did fairly well at the box office.

Kangana Ranaut’s Revolver Rani may have bled at the box office but Queen and Manikarnika steadied her career and re-established her as a saleable ‘solo’ heroine.

Despite the middling and sometimes, bigger box office gains from female centred films, filmmakers are still not willing to put their careers on the line unless they are backed by well-known credit worthy producers and presenters.

Except for Manikarnika, which was a historical and produced by Kangana herself, you wouldn’t see a big-budget heroine oriented subject being made. Most women centred films have boutique budgets and are targeted at a particular demographic by their marketing team. Saand Ki Aankh, which tells the inspiring story of Chandro and Prakashi Tomar, is produced by Reliance Entertainment, Anurag Kashyap and Nidhi Parmar.

These are well known names that are associated with quality cinema, a qualitative backing that gives this inspirational film a boost strong enough to get the crowd interested.

But will the interest last long enough to take this film to sterling box office heights? That’s anybody’s guess.