In a recent interview, Vidya Balan, who in her career has shouldered multiple female-centric movies like Parineeta, Ishqiya, No One Killed Jessica, The Dirty Picture, Kahaani, Bobby Jasoos and Kahaani 2, typically went the sensible way to state, unlike the hardcore feminist brigade of colleagues and media persons, that she had no objection to the term “heroine-oriented cinema” and did not find it regressive or condescending at all.
Her reason was completely logical: while she agreed that such films were happily on the rise, their ratio was nowhere on par with movies with male protagonists. “Only when the ratios are similar can we call any movie just a movie. That time will take a while to come. Today, in Hollywood, no one calls Gravity a heroine-dominated film!” she opined.
Vidya Balan’s optimism is not unfounded: This year, we have had 12 A-grade movies in 2016 that have been essentially female-centric, with a lot of variety therein. This is an unprecedentedly high average of one such film every month! And there are two more films—the year’s biggest hit to date, Sultan, and the forthcoming Dangal, which though male-oriented, primarily fiercely espouse gender equality.
In the climax of Sultan, where the hero is inspired by a woman wrestler to have a goal in life, the lead pair encourages their daughter to take up wrestling. Dangal is the bio-pic of wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, who moved heaven, hell and earth to make his two daughters Geeta and Babita world-class wrestlers despite being girls raised in his village.
Here’s a check-list of how Hindi movies are veering towards pink.
Saala Khadoos: This sports-based film mixed elements of a female boxing champ from nowhere (Mary Kom) being groomed by a dedicated but disgraced coach (Chak De! India). The film was directed by Sudha Kongara Prasad, a woman director whose tenacity inspired Rajkumar Hirani and R. Madhavan to co-produce the film. Ritika Singh, a real boxer, was terrific in the lead, but the film bombed—for several cogent reasons.
Neerja: The female-oriented masterpiece of the year, and 2016’s first of very few super-hits, this Ram Madhvani story as much explored the real and super-brave airhostess Neerja Bhanot’s final heroism against terrorists as the mother-daughter relationship that was the emotional pivot of the film. Sonam Kapoor lived Neerja. And so did Shabana Azmi as her mother.
Jai Gangaajal: Director Prakash Jha’s stubborn adherence to political dramas saw Priyanka Chopra stepping into Ajay Devgn terrain. The film was disappointing, Priyanka was not. She straddled the film like a seasoned trouper so that no one missed a hero.
Nil Battey Sannata: Directed by Ashwni Iyer Tiwari, wife of Dangal director Nitesh Tiwari, this ‘small wonder’ revolved around a single mother, a maid, who wants her teenage daughter to educate herself to have a bright future, and the lengths she goes to make it happen. While Swara Bhaskar and Riya Shukla were superb as mom and daughter, the third angle was their motivator: the maid’s doctor employer played wonderfully by Ratna Pathak Shah.
Sarbjit: Omung Kumar followed Mary Kom with another bio-pic, that of Sarbjit Kaur, who went through hell and fury to get her wrongly imprisoned brother out of a Pakistani jail. The film was possibly too dark, too real and the story too recent, which is why the box-office suffered. But Aishwarya Rai Bachchan brought the feisty woman to life. And Richa Chadda was outstanding as the wife of a man who rotted in jail.
Phobia: Radhika Apte dazzled in this psycho-thriller about a woman suffering from the after-effects of molestation by a cabbie. A brilliant suspense drama, it had the actress bring out the angst of a victim and the suffering she goes through after the incident. Radhika’s doctor parents, she revealed, contributed in making her understand what such a victim could go through psychologically and how she would come across.
Happy Bhag Jayegi: The cleanest, warmest comedy of the year, it had Diana Penty (Cocktail) play an aggressive enigma of a girl who always lives life on her own terms. The trouble is that she’s a woman whom three suitors find it impossible not to love! Happy did not dominate the film’s footage, but she was the spirited reason why everything happened in the film!
Akira: A semblance of logic, coherence and intensity could have made this one a masterpiece instead of a mess. Still, misguided as the script was, it had a bravura performance from Sonakshi Sinha, who carried the film amidst so many liabilities—though, sadly, not to success.
Pink: Some films are destined to be like missions—remember Taare Zameen Par or 3 Idiots? They jolt society out of complacence, and give them lots to think about, and wherever possible, act. Though it was a male lawyer (Amitabh Bachchan) who bails them out, it was the three very human and vulnerable yet courageous modern women (Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tailang) who fought relentlessly for their honour and happiness against a rich villain, finally motivating their lawyer’s now-cult line, “When a woman says ‘No’, it means ‘No!’”
Parched: Bold and progressive for all its eroticism, this film won accolades abroad and from lovers of such personal cinema in India. Director Leena Yadav’s story espoused sexual emancipation in repressed and suppressed women in rural India. Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla, Sayani Gupta and Lehar Khan played the very real protagonists.
Dear Zindagi: Yes, she was a confused brat, though a successful professional, but the film revolved around a character that Alia Bhatt played with commendable finesse. Gauri Shinde’s second film was not a patch in every way on her stunning debut English Vinglish that made a solid case for its harassed housewife protagonist, but a small section of the audience has found empathy for Alia’s character.
Kahaani 2: The film revolves around the two avatars played by Vidya Balan, of a mother and a possible kidnapper and murderer. In any case, Vidya is the star of this thriller. The hero, for what he is worth, is Arjun Rampal.