Vidya has defied all the odds and formulas of Bollywood in this smash hit film
While many actresses often suffer the typical ‘side piece’ role as the pretty lady on the arm of a hero, it’s always refreshing to see gutsy females taking stronger roles in films.
Once in a while and now increasing in frequency, we as the audience are given strong female empowering roles and female-centric Bollywood films to enjoy.
Defying the norms of the damsel in distress, some feisty and strong actresses have attained stardom and recognition as actors who can draw an audience themselves.
We take a look at some of the most influential female empowering films and female-centric plots that have marvelled on screen.
Mother India (1957)
Possibly one of the most iconic female-centric films is Nargis’s role in this classic tale.
This particular film is special as in a time period where women in society were struggling to be seen as equal to men, it was very brave to make such a film in Bollywood.
Highlighting the trials and tribulations of a mother, but further emphasising her strength and resilience to raise her sons bucked the trend of the time.
The character of Radha played by Nargis is an unforgettable performance. Being the first ever Indian film to be a submission for an Academy Award is an incredible achievement for a female-centric film.
Vidya Balan is now regarded as one of Bollywood’s finest female actresses.
More importantly, she is respected as an actress who does not need and an A-List male star to draw in audiences for her films and she proved this with Kahaani.
This intense and gripping thriller takes the audience on an incredible journey with a fierce woman who will do anything to seek justice.
Vidya’s character played on the stereotype of women being seen as ‘weak’ and not a ‘threat’ to her advantage in the film.
Portraying herself as a pregnant woman, she battles sexism and more importantly achieves what the men around her couldn’t achieve themselves.
Mirch Masala (1987)
Smita Patel makes this list due to her impeccable performance in this classic. This epic story documents the strength of the female protagonist.
Ketan Mehta’s classic is a star-studded film with the likes of Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and Suresh Oberoi in leading roles. Despite these men, it’s Smita Patel’s character ‘Sonbai’ that steals the show.
The iconic scene of the women throwing spices on Naseeruddin Shah is unforgettable. This film has rightfully been regarded as one of Hindi Cinema’s best creations.
Not only starring as the protagonist in this film, but also as the producer of this hit film, Anushka Sharma certainly deserves praise for her accomplishments.
Taking the plunge as a producer, Anushka has openly spoken about the struggle to support a small movie like NH10 to get running.
However, it was all worthwhile as her performance in the film was mesmerising. Placing the conventional gender stereotypes on their head, where the female is often emotionally weak, Anushka’s character is the voice of reason and makes rational decisions.
Not only is her character emotionally stronger than her husbands, she goes on to be a physically and mentally strong woman to survive the manhunt which is orchestrated against her and her partner.
Suchitra Sen’s poignant performance in this film which was allegedly based on former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi drew lots of attention.
As India’s only female Prime Minster, this film is undoubtedly female-centric. Despite being banned under Indira Gandhi’s administration, once released on television it received huge appreciation.
With seasoned actors Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen playing lead roles, the film was a sensitive and minimalist portrayal of the incidents.
Young and fresh-faced, it seems as though this role was made for Alia. Whilst she begins this role as a captive, as the journey progresses we see this young girl get liberation on the Highway.
Raising taboo issues such as child sexual assault and the lack of support female victims receive, the film touches on how Alia’s strength relieves her from the constraints of society.
Choosing to leave her family home, her character shows defiance against oppression in all forms from anyone.
The Dirty Picture (2011)
Vidya makes this list once again due to her bold and unforgettable performance as Silk. Owning her sexuality and loving her curves, Vidya has defied all the odds and formulas of Bollywood in this smash hit film.
Carrying the film on her own shoulders, this role was a high risk for her career, but it surely paid off.
As a woman who is objectified, Vidya’s character uses her sexuality to her advantage and goes from an unknown village girl to one of the most sought after item girls in the film industry.
Though Silk’s decline is a bitter tale, the depiction of the character and the success of the film was a gem for Vidya’s film career.
Shabana Azmi is widely recognised as one of the most successful actresses in parallel cinema. As an individual who highlights social injustice through her films. Arth is a gem in her career.
Directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, this film was alleged to be based on his extra-marital affair with Parveen Babi. Highlighting the struggles of a housewife whilst also touching on the issue of domestic violence.
The difficult situations which the women suffer reinforced the injustice in a patriarchal society. Also starring the immensely talented Smita Patel, this is a powerhouse film of female performances.
This refreshing and heart-warming story is an uplifting tale for all women. When the young and naïve Rani is besotted with her Fiancé, his abrupt decision to call off the wedding breaks her heart.
Despite being heartbroken, Rani still decides to go on her honeymoon – alone.
On her travels we witness this shy girl learn cultural lessons and make great international friends.
Realising her potential, she no longer weeps over her former boyfriends and knows that she can do what she wants alone. Sending a positive message to all girls, that marriage is not the only route to happiness!
This film boasts a cast of incredibly talented women. From the likes of Rekha to Madhuri Dixit and Manisha Koraila, this films tackles all issues related to women in India.
Whether it’s the struggle to fulfil the greedy dowry demands made by grooms and their families, to the hypocritical judgement women face for pre-marital relationships, this film is all about women.
Questioning the injustice in society and provoking the thought for a need for change in society, this is a hard-hitting female-centric masterpiece.
English Vinglish (2012)
The comeback movie of yesteryear superstar Sri Devi was highly anticipated. English Vinglish, directed by Gauri Shinde did not disappoint! Packed full of laughter, love and sadness the film is an emotional rollercoaster.
This uplifting story takes the audience on a journey with Shashi played by Sri Devi, who is regarded by her family as just a housewife who cannot speak English.
When visiting the US for her niece’s wedding, she enrols herself in an English class. On her journey, she gains independence, self-assurance and respect from her family who once underestimated her abilities.
The outstanding films and performances are just a few of a list of many. These women who are actors, directors and producers have all come together to put women as the focal point in these films.
Whether the stories touch on oppression, empowerment or liberation, these films have proven that women and female orientated films can make money at the box office.
In a male dominated industry where women are given a short shelf life, these refreshing films are an inspiration to all those watching, and we salute these talented women!