More than 100 years ago when Dada Saheb Phalke was making India’s first talkie movie, he had a hard time casting a woman as his heroine. Finally, he had to settle with a man as his leading lady. Times changed when Devika Rani and Zubeida entered film industry. Nutan, Nargis and Meena Kumari stood tall, and apart, in the male-centric industry and gathered not only appreciation but also money for their producers. With the success of Highway and Dedh Ishqiya not meeting expectations, once again the question of woman-centric movies, and how commercially viable they’re in this `100-crore chasing dream, has cropped up. However, the tides seem to be changing. And while it is only March, many movies where actresses play the lead have either been released or are ready to test the box-office.
The response to the recently released movies shows the changing mindset. “I am so proud, excited and optimistic about how we are looking at our women in film! #Queen,” tweeted actress Dia Mirza, who is producing Bobby Jasoos which has Vidya Balan as the protagonist. “Watch the roles women are essaying in films: Gulaab Gang, Highway, Queen and soon Bobby Jasoos. Exciting times for women in Indian cinema,” she added. But Kangana Ranaut who has been receiving rave reviews for her performance in Queen doesn’t believe in woman-centric movies. “I want people to make high-concept movies where even a machine can be a lead. Why can’t we do away with male or female-centric stories?” she asks. The actress is optimistic that a new phase where filmmakers are not shying away from taking up a variety of refreshing issues has arrived.
Making a space
In terms of women entering films, the number has gone up manifold, but when we look at the screen space, their roles have shrunk. Director Tanuja Chandra (Dushman, 1998, Sangharsh 1999) accepts that though the number of films is less, even a small step is good enough. “As long as films are being made with central female characters, it’s a good thing,” she says adding that “These are all unusual stories, with formidable actresses, they should keep increasing in number. Some will be better then others, but they all contribute in finding an audience for women-centric films. And there are many more stories out there.”
But not many take the risk of working on these stories. The list of women-driven films that wrote a success story at the box-office is not very long. Madhur Bhandarkar’s Page 3 and Fashion not only got rave reviews, but also helped the female leads — Konkana Sen Sharma, Priyanka Chopra and Kangana Ranaut — win their first National Award. The director says, “Women are taking centre-stage in Hindi cinema with many actresses leading the way. This is a male-dominated society and industry, and female-oriented films are often shunned for the fear of them bombing at the box-office. I am happy that the new age of filmmakers are making good cinema and are enthusiastic about women-centric films, they are writing scripts for our female actors too. We can look forward for good opportunities and a better platform to show their talent which will lead to a good future for women in films.”
However, filmmakers are more optimistic today about the future of the role of heroines in the Indian cinema. Reema Kagti (Talaash, 2012) says “Films like Kahaani, Queen and Gulab Gang definitely are huge steps in the right direction. With them, overall the representation can be much better.” And the year has only started. A slew of movies which will see heroines in the lead are in the offing including Priyanka Chopra’s Mary Kom, Anushka Sharma’s NH10, Deepika Padukone’s Finding Fanny Fernandes and Vidya Balan’s Bobby Jasoos among others. “I honestly feel that the barriers of yesterday have been pulled down to make way for a much more level playing field today. Now we are looking forward to Queen and Gulab Gang. It’s all good!” says former actress Soni Razdan.
(with inputs from Subhash K Jha)