From Queen to Pink, looking at how Bollywood has actively sought to change its narrative around women
 
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From Queen to Pink, looking at how Bollywood has actively sought to change its narrative around women
Arpan Ghosh
Oct 11, 2021
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Through the years, women in Hindi films have mostly been portrayed as an ideal mother, wife or daughter; rarely as as an individual aside from her family relations. But in recent years, Bollywood has witnessed a welcome change in that narrative. In the last decade alone, there have been quite a number of films that have consciously sought to change this trend.

In 2014, Vikas Bahl’s Queen, starring Kangana Ranaut in the lead, was released to much accolades from the public and critics alike. Whereas Queen was mostly concerned with an individual’s experience, later films such as Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016), Thappad (2020), Sherni (2021) and Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar (2021) go far beyond that to delineate our deep-rooted patriarchy and lay bare the hollowness of masculinity.

Films, like any other art form, are a potent medium to hold a mirror against the collective conscience of a society. We can only hope this will embolden more directors to make films that challenge and even disrupt the accepted societal norms and forms of behaviours.

Here is a list of seven films in recent times that centre around women and offer a fresh look at old problems.

1
Lipstick Under My Burkha
6.9OTTplay Rating
Four young women live a dual life carefully hidden from their families. On the surface, all of them are traditional Muslim women doing their duties. Behind the curtains, they defy societal norms and religious conventions. Although the film verges on falling down the rabbit hole of flashy commentary at times, Alankrita Srivastava never lets her characters trip over. The narrative thread of pulp novels serves both as a link between characters and as a realm of fantasy, free from the shackles of patriarchy and societal norms.
2
Thappad
6.4OTTplay Rating
Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad is a brilliant dissection of the insidious nature of patriarchy and male chauvinism latent within the veneer of a normal family life. Amrita, a happily married housewife (Tapsee Pannu) was taught to be subservient by her mother, who was taught the same by her mother- a cycle of self-repression in perpetuity. But she undergoes an epiphanic moment when her husband slaps her in front of the guests at a party. Her change is gradual and transformative; never too feisty or hasty, but intrinsic and profound all the while. To his credit, Anubhav Sinha did not stop at showing one woman’s journey from a compromising housewife to an independent woman. He posits the central story within a larger framework of a patriarchal society where men are willing accomplices or unwilling participants, and women’s concerns are nonchalantly ignored.
3
Sandeep aur Pinky Faraar
6.1OTTplay Rating
Dibakar Banerjee’s Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar is a film that seeks to subvert the nature of the man-woman relationship from the beginning. Although a chase film on the surface, Dibakar and screenwriter Varun Grover permeate the film with potent metaphors and rich symbols highlighting the subtext. The title itself, referring to the names of the protagonists, alters our gendered perception of naming people. Sandeep (Sandy), a purportedly male name, is the name of Parineeti Chopra’s character, while Pinky is Arjun Kapoor’s name in the movie. The power dynamics between Sandy and Pinky is uneven from the beginning, but is tilted in favour of the female character. Sandy, a banker who has already penetrated the highest echelons of financial institutions, generally gets the upper hand over Pinky. But, that’s up to the point they reach Pithoragarh and rent a room in an aged couple’s house. Soon, she finds herself confined in the kitchen, playing the role of a good housewife. Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar questions Bollywood’s defining principles of manliness, which more often than not borders on outright sexism. Arjun Kapoor donning a female attire and shedding his masculine grandeur to enter Nepal, is perhaps the metaphorical border that mainstream Bollywood never dared to cross.
4
Sherni
7.3OTTplay Rating
A tigress (named ‘Sherni’ by the forest department) is running loose in the forest and a few villagers have already fallen prey to her. A female forest officer is charged to tackle the mess which was, ironically, created by one of her former batchmates. The very title of the film is a potent metaphor for a female forest officer navigating her way through a system dominated by male officers, inspectors, seniors and of course, hunters. Amit, like in his previous film, Newton, makes a socially conscious movie that seeks to address issues that need not have easy solutions. Sherni, the tigress, is in the end illegally killed by a hunter with active support from Vidya’s seniors. She herself is transferred to a natural history museum, where she looks over stuffed predatory animals. This final shot provides a parallel or a contrast, (depending on how you interpret) to the opening shot of the film.
5
PINK
8.4OTTplay Rating
Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink made a powerful statement against a society that is quick to blame women for heinous crimes committed against them. Rather than arresting the perpetrators, three young women are put on trial to prove their innocence when they file a case against the molesters. Pink’s charm lies in its directness, it's in-your-face approach. It does not shy away from addressing (and asking) uncomfortable questions to a society that is blissfully oblivious of its drawbacks.

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