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International Women’s Day 2023: Changing role of women in Hindi films

International Women’s Day is celebrated all over the world on March 8th. While this day celebrates the identity of one half of the world’s population, it would be worth a thought; has the position of women really changed or this is another symbolic measure to be forgotten after the pink balloons are removed the next day? It is not an easy change; moving from a patriarchal stereotypical mindset that perpetuates traditional gender roles in every field. The change is ever evolving and dynamic.

Even more so, in a country like India, that embraces different narratives of life in every corner of the country. One of the obvious yardsticks to evaluate this dynamism would have to be the visual medium; the popular movie culture that the country loves – Hindi movies.

Indian movies in general have had a set number of stereotypical roles through the years. One of the most popular, classic ‘female-oriented movie’ was ‘Mother India; the main protagonist being Nargis. The mother was emphasised as the sacrificial mother, the righteous mother who killed her wayward son. Since then, the mother or all pervasive ‘Maa’ has taken on different hues; all conforming to certain idealistic notions of how a mother should be.

Quickly spanning years of Hindi movies, ‘Khoon Bhari Maaang’ ( enacted by Rekha) brought out the revengeful mother. ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’ (Reema Lagoo) brought to the fore the ‘friendly’ mother, with whom one can chat about girlfriends. Yet, all these characters though enjoyable, bracketed women in a traditional role of looking after a family and children. Recently, ‘Gulmohar’ a new release on Hotstar, has a refreshing narrative, the matriarch (Sharmila Tagore) chooses to live alone, much to the chagrin of her loving family. She states she has fulfilled her responsibilities, and would like to live her life for herself! Heroine Kaun hai? The quintessential Hindi film heroine who can dance well, emotes beautifully and looks stunning.

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Even today, there are movies where the heroine is a character that brings in the light, romantic moments before the male hurtles into the actual plot of the story. This category is changing. Recently in the blockbuster ‘Pathaan’, the audience saw an action heroine, played by Deepika Padukone. Without classifying these movies, as ‘female oriented’ there are now movies where the female characters are the pivot point; the themes explore professions, metamorphosis – Vidya Balan in ‘Dirty Picture’, Kangana Ranaut in ‘Queen’, Alia Bhatt in ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’. The OTT platform has given impetus to a whole genre of movies where the heroine makes the story; ‘Delhi Crime’ (Shefali Shah), ‘Aarya’ (Sushmita Sen) and many more. All these women have families that are important but the viewpoint of the story is from a different aspect of their lives, their challenges and their victory.

Movies are getting interesting now with equal importance to the development of a female character that drives the plot ahead. And increasingly, there is a great deal of interest from the audiences as well. It takes all types of women to make a society complete. And Indian films are rising to the challenge of presenting movies that steer away from the story telling from the viewpoint of the male gaze only. Happy Women’s Day! To more movies that talk to women and speak of women!


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