However, the industry has undergone a sea change since. Whether it was a result of the study or Bollywood coming of age, in 2021, not only are we celebrating strong women in cinema, but we are also giving them careers and ambitions instead of relegating them to mere eye-candy roles. Filmmakers are no longer shying away from trusting their heroines to lead them to box-office glory as long as they are saying stories that matter. And actresses, too, are ditching vanity for real, meaty roles that let their acting prowess shine.
Richa Chadha, who held her own in multi-starrers like ‘Fukrey’ and ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ and also made a mark with projects like ‘Masaan’, ‘Shakeela’, and more recently, ‘Madam Chief Minister’, agrees that things are getting better. “While we continue to have multi-starrers, blockbuster-kind of films, which are commercial and where women are props more or less, these films aren’t doing the business they used to,” Richa rightly points out.
The actress then goes on to list down the films that did their women justice while still being commercial. “Positive portrayals of women in commercial films–like ‘Gully Boy’, where the girl nurses the ambition of becoming a surgeon someday and not just a trophy wife, or ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’, where beauty standards don’t hold the woman back, or ‘Mardaani’, where the cop nabs perverse criminals herself–go a long way in changing societal attitudes, because they’re more accessible. Parallel cinema has been doing this for a while,” she asserts.
Meanwhile, Janhvi Kapoor, who is only starting out, could have gone down the usual path, playing it safe with song-and-dance routines but instead she is choosing films that require her to go beyond being just a pretty face. Insisting she is still “dying” to run around trees in an out-and-out romance, the ‘Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl’ actress says, “It excites me to do something that liberates me from being preoccupied with my vanity. It gives me more security and comfort, as an actor, to know that my role is well-written on the script level. Right now this is happening organically and I am happy to get roles that challenge me”.
Ask her about women being objectified and she retorts, “Objectification is a conditioning thing. There is nothing wrong with an actress wearing something sexy. If her character feels good doing so and if the actress doesn’t have a problem with it, it is not objectification. To judge a woman for dressing a certain way is anti-feminist. Of course, films should not judge their women through dialogues such as ‘Yeh aise kapde pehenti hai, toh yeh aisi hogi (She might be a certain way because of the way she dresses)’”.
Ask her if she notices a change in the perspective now, and the two-film old actress admits she does, adding, “But I have grown up seeing women presented so beautifully in our industry. Films like ‘Sadma’, ‘Chalbaaz’, ‘Seeta Aur Geeta’, ‘Mother India’, ‘Guide’, ‘Amrapali’, ‘Saheb, Biwi Aur Ghulam’, ‘Bandini’, ‘Sujata’, are based solely on women but not called women-oriented films. I find the labeling to be so stupid; a film is about the character, not the gender. I hope such labels are done away with for good. Watch films for what they are”.
However, with more women filmmakers, writers, and cinematographers now, the storytelling has indeed become more inclusive and there have been several reviews raving about how the female perspective has brought about a refreshing change to the industry. Richa agrees, saying, “When I watch ‘Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare’, directed by Alankrita Srivastava, I feel the treatment of female sexuality is more tender. There’s something lived-in about women telling women’s stories that’s amazing”.
But Janhvi feels that a really empathic writer or director can look beyond their gender and write characters from the perspective of the character. “It is a joint effort, the audience, directors, writers, and actors have to all collaborate towards making it happen,” she concludes.