On the eve of yet another Woman’s Day celebrated with alarming alacrity on 8 March every year, it was amusing to see social media trolling and tabloids trashing Hollywood star Emma Watson for wearing a see-through top and exposing her breasts. The Sun carried a story titled ‘Beauty & the Breasts,’ while website, Pret-a-Reporter, stated: “Is Actress and Feminist Emma Watson a Hypocrite for Going Topless in Vanity Fair?”
Befittingly, Emma retorted with the very well-worded statement to Reuters in which she opined: “It just always reveals to me how many misconceptions and what a misunderstanding there is about what feminism is. Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing.”
Truly, it is indeed confusing as to what feminism is all about going by how society, particularly the Indian patriarchal society judges women and the male gaze is always looking down upon the female anatomy and sartorial choices.
But what is heartening to note is the fact that currently, women or actresses in Bollywood are thriving and perhaps getting the best choice of roles that they could have ever envisaged. Right from the Vidya Balan’s portrayal of south Indian siren Silk Smitha in the bold and beautiful The Dirty Picture to a feisty woman protagonist in Kahaani 1 and 2; from Aalia Bhatt’s sexually abused little girl act as Veera in Imtiaz Ali’s much-acclaimed Highway to a state-level hockey player who gets embroiled amidst drug peddlers in Abhishek Chaubey’s heart-wrenching Udta Punjab; from Sonam Kapoor’s south Delhi miss hoity toity act in Aisha to the brave airhostess who saved so many lives whilst sacrificing her own in Ram Madhvani’s Neerja; Deepika Padukone as the quintessential Bengali professional and doting daughter in Shoojit Sarkar’s Piku to her powerful Mastaani portrayal in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastaani; and from a woman jilted by her fiancé on the eve of her wedding portrayed oh-so-effectively by the effervescent Kangana Ranaut in Vikas Bahl’s Queen to the female stuntwoman in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon, current Bollywood actresses are literally spoilt for choice when it comes to playing meaningful and powerful characters.
Not too long ago, all a Hindi film heroine was required to do was two or three romantic numbers and five scenes to support the “hero” in the film but refreshingly, all that has changed. In fact, even when Madhuri and Sridevi ruled the roost in the 1990s, films like Beta, Tezaab and Ram Lakhan of the former, and Chandni, Chaalbaaz and Lamhe stood out as shining examples of how women centric subjects and powerful heroines were adding much value to the male-dominated industry. But these were few and far in between until very recently, when the above listed women actors started not just getting accolades and recognition for their roles, but movies even got a good opening by virtue of their leading lady. Case in point being Tanu Weds Manu 2 and Ram Leela.
And the best part was that more and more women centric films were doing very good business be it Kahaani 1 and 2, The Angry Indian Goddesses winning much critical acclaim, Dear Zindagi, or Sridevi’s comeback vehicle, the Gauri Shinde directed superhit, English Vinglish or even Aishwarya Rai’s impactful lawyer’s portrayal in Jazbaa or the Omung Kumar directed Sarbjit in which she plays the wronged man’s sister, women oriented subjects have found a breath of fresh air in the contemporary scenario.
When Rani Mukherji left her husband portrayed by Abhishek Bachchan for lack of passion in a lackluster marriage in Karan Johar’s multi-starrer Kabhi Alvida na Kehna, the film drew gasps and groans from traditional Indian audiences back in 2006 as no one was willing to accept that she made love to the man she was attracted to, played by Shah Rukh Khan. The film generated a lot of mixed reactions and debate but cut to 2017, audience tastes have matured and they are all-embracing and all-encompassing to women’s issues such as attempt to rape in Pink; female infanticide in Matrubhoomi; extra marital affairs as in Tabu’s Astitva; child abuse as in Aalia’s Highway; casting couch in Kareena Kapoor’s Heroine; and above all the dignity of a wronged woman in Queen, English Vinglish and Gulabi Gang, all prove that women roles in Bollywood are undergoing a heartwarming transition and people are accepting flawed, real and very down to earth women in movie parts.
As the Greek philosopher Marcus Aurelius stated: “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” That is my ode to womanhood on this Woman’s Day! More power to the women stars…Shine and sparkle and bedazzle with your sheen…