2016 was an ordinary year when it came to female-centric films doing well commercially as well as critically. Neerja was on the top while Pink and Dear Zindagi followed, and these were the only three exceptions in addition to moderately successful Happy Bhag Jayegi. However, Kahaani 2, Sarbjit and Akira couldn’t do much while One Night Stand, Phobia and Parched didn’t find any audience whatsoever.
But on the contrary, 2017 can be easily remembered as the year of ‘women-centric’ films for Indian Cinema. This has been a year of movies that dared to venture into stories with empowered (and empowering!) women and show female characters with a genuine voice, an unabashed character and a power to influence. This is evident in the various film award functions, where there is a hard-fought battle in the best actress category, with a wealth of meaty, female-driven stories. Some even had big stars such as Aamir Khan in Secret Superstar, Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan in Rangoon, Irrfan Khan in Qarib Qarib Singlle and Akshay Kumar in Naam Shabana and Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, going to the sidelines. It’s a telling indicator of a star-driven industry’s changing attitudes about women.
After critically and commercially celebrated ‘Queen’, Kangana Ranaut was back as Praful Patel in director Hansal Mehta’s ‘Simran’, where she was an Indian immigrant in the United States, a divorcee and a housekeeper in a hotel – more than enough reasons for her desi family to taunt her to death. But Praful tends to retain her bubbly self with her comical daily chores, her decision “not to have sex without protection”, failed bank robberies, and her undying faith in herself.
Anushka Sharma’s ‘Phillauri’ revolved around a female ghost seeking redemption and answer to her one unanswered question. This movie remains one of the most underrated stories of romance in 2017. Again it was a woman who wowed us with some content.
Talking about engaging content, director Alankrita Srivastava’s ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ highlighted stories of four different women, at different phase of lives, dealing with different women-centric issues. The movie uncovers the secrets, the fantasies and realities of four women living in a small town. The very honest and relatable dialogues by Gazal Dhaliwal makes this honest ‘lady oriented’ film riveting and very relevant for the masses. Lipstick Under My Burkha does what its intends to: encourages women to dream more and not give up on their dreams at whatever age, whatever circumstances they’re at and whatever religion they follow.
Srijit Mukherji’s period drama ‘Begum Jaan’ showcased the struggle of prostitutes, female sexuality and soon takes a turn into vengeance and triumph against patriarchy. Vidya Balan as the sour-tongued woman of power and purpose sets the movie apart, as she delivers one strong dialogue after the other. Remember ‘Entertainment, entertainment, entertainment!’?
Talking about Vidya Balan, year 2017 also gave us one of her bests – ‘Tumhari Sulu’, where a school drop-out, sister of two very well to do bankers, housewife ‘Sulu’ lands herself a job as a Radio Jockey and rediscovers herself in the process, finding solace in smallest of things in life. Needless to say, Vidya Balan as the enthusiastic housewife is a treat to watch.
After her superb performance in ‘English Vinglish’, Sridevi was back at her impactful best in debutant director Ravi Udyawar’s brutal yet riveting revenge drama, ‘Mom’. The film touches upon a very serious topic that we deal with almost every day – rape, and how a mother can go all out to bring in justice to her victim daughter. Because Bhagwan har jagah nahi hota… Issi liye toh usne maa banayi hai!
This one is a must watch, obviously for Sridevi’s one of the best performances, but also because this is a proof how both Indian audiences and Indian Cinema are evolving.
Talking about superb portrayal of Mother-Daughter relation, we had young actress Zaira Wasim playing ‘Secret Superstar’, who went against the otherwise patriarchal society, with the help of her mother, to live her dream.
The Irrfan Khan and Parvathy starrer ‘Qarib Qarib Singlle’ was a rom-com with the much-needed modern-day twists and refreshing characters. Director Anuja Chandra, in a very subtly yet humorous way highlighted the struggle of a 30+ widow, who is in no need of any rescuing by a man. Jaya who meets Yogi through a dating app, falls in love for herself and for the society.
2017 also gave us a very unique love story, Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, starring Bhumi Pednekar and Akshay Kumar. The film urged women to not settle in for the ‘uncomfortable’ traditions and just speak up, like the superbly talented Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar).
I’m glad that these weren’t the usual Bollywood escapist films, but touched upon real, everyday life issues, that we could relate to. We’ve already started 2018 with a bang. It’s just February and one can just hope that the results are much better in months to come. With films like ‘Padmavat’ & ‘Pad Man’ already a rocking the box office, we can be rest assured that Indian Film-makers are believing in this success formula!
If you enjoyed reading this post, please like, comment and subscribe to the blog. You’ll also enjoy reading – The veiled effects of patriarchy, my column in DNA newspaper.