The year that was 2022: What a fabulous year of female leads on the screen of your choice!
Looking back at women in cinema in 2022 (Images via Twitter)
‘We don’t do arm accessories that faint at the sight of blood,’ they’re saying. ‘Neither are we the quintessential damsels in distress who need rescuing by big macho men, or the sweetheart dream girl who wears chiffons in the Alps…’
This is the state of play on every platform you watch. Stories where women seduce men because they can and sashay away because they are fed up with them. Stories about women in uniform who don’t hesitate to beat up baddies and shoot to kill villains and yet worry about their daughters. And yes, they have a dark side too…
Let’s look at why this year is clearly the year of the woman (pardons for using the simplistic pronoun I understand).
‘Do rich people not have clothes?’ Shantabai put down the tray and joined me when Gehraiyaan dropped on Amazon Prime. The tray had my black coffee and her (ugh!) milky ginger tea. I hate ‘single twist in the tale’ type stories, but when you think about it, Alisha followed her passions where they led her. About time we showed women beyond their ‘sati-savitri’ mangalsutra-clutching stereotype we keep regurgitating on the telly.
Shantabai is not convinced about Alisha (mostly hates how gorgeous and leggy Deepika Padukone is) but she loves Gangubai (Alia Bhatt) for her fiery yet delicate character. She imagines herself to be the little patakha Gangubai is. It’s an overly long character sketch, but how beautifully is it done! And Alia Bhatt carries the film on her able shoulders: at once fragile and then displaying inner steel that is brilliant.
What can I say about Shefali Shah but that she’s the best at whatever role she plays. In Delhi Crime as a top boss, who leads an able team to catch the most heinous criminals, her seething anger and frustration and fairness shines through her eyes and her body language. In the same show, her role as a wife and mother… uff! Only rivalled by another Delhi cop film called Soni that released ages ago on Netflix, where relatively unknown female actors (Saloni Batra, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) show us how women in uniform don’t become mindless lathi wielding monsters. Rasika Duggal as Shefali Shah’s team member does a fine job in Delhi Crime blossoming from a cop on traffic duty to a valuable member of the crime team.
When Shantabai and I watched Darlings, Shantabai asked me to pause the film and asked the ladies who worked as domestic help over. They showed up, a little diffident at first then began to enjoy the film. I love how fear pushed the two women to tie him (Vijay Varma) up. Loved how everything escalated, and especially loved the unabashed feminine wiles the mom (Shefali Shah) uses to get the butcher to help and is startled at the young lad’s confession… Pure delight to watch the film with the women who identified with Alia Bhatt’s character.
I wasn’t too impressed with Jalsa, but Shantabai knew of someone who has a ‘wild daughter’ just like in the movies and asked me to watch the movie again and see it from that point of view, but added, ‘Jalsa-bilsa dikhane ka koi jarurat nahi tha. Do aurat kafi hai film ke liye.’
I stumbled upon Maharani because I was to write a review for it. But I hadn’t watched the first season because I am fed up with shows that showcase Wasseypur-type politics of a North Indian ilaka where bloodthirsty, power-hungry men love their guns (and unlimited ‘kartoos’) and will do anything for ‘satta’. Maharani looked like that… So I watched Season 2, because duty, and was pleasantly surprised. Here was a woman character who refuses to be a puppet minister and outsmarts the ghastly politicians. The line of dialogue I still remember resonated with me on so many levels but I paraphrase: Ever since I started sitting on that chair (of the Chief Minister) hum motaa gaye hain.
Huma Qureshi brings that simplicity to the role forced upon her by her husband who is in jail and thinks he can rule through her. But the fire of Maharani is unstoppable and Huma Qureshi is so good, she made me watch season one just to see her transformation. Very well written female protagonist and it brought with it the authentic fragrance of fresh thekuas being deep fried…
Huma is unstoppable, really, choosing characters with care. Playing the title character in Monica O My Darling gave her an edge over all seductresses in the recent past. Who can forget her knowing smile in that film?
I have watched Geetanjali Kulkarni on stage before I watched her in the terrific film Court. But in Gullak, it’s all her. She plays the mother and wife with such terrific ease you want to watch her season after season doing simple things magnificently. Before you smile at her participating in the kitty party (where her husband and sons cook for the women) you want to hug her because she’s used that kitty money to buy herself a food processor. Brilliant.
I knew Shantabai would be scandalised so I made her watch Badhaai Do. But she wasn’t! She loved Rimjhim’s character (played by the lovely Chum Darang) and her fearless equation with Sumi (Bhumi Pednekar). I loved Seema Pahwa in the film as well. She brings such down to Earth reality in every character she plays.
Sheeba Chaddha can give anyone a run for their money and she plays mother to Shardul (Rajkummar Rao) in Badhaai Do. And not just here, she was a hoot in Phone Bhoot too! How I laughed at her alarm after she gets thrown by the lads in the bhoot mobile and they decide they’re going to straighten her ‘ulte paanv’.
Speaking of ghosts, Tabu stepped out of her usual anarkali suit clad avatars and looked like she really enjoyed herself playing the lead ghost in Bhool Bhulaiya 2. She did great in Drishyam 2 as the unforgiving mother and cop.
When it comes to cops, how can we forget Yami Gautam in Dasvi? Although Abhishek Bachchan rules this film, he is flanked by two superb female characters: the cop jailor and his meek wife (played by Nimrat Kaur) who takes no time to turn into a wily politician, PR and photographers in tow…
Sigh, it’s time to admit that Swastika Mukherjee plays the stricken mom/wife very well. She saves her son in Criminal Justice: Adhura Sach and in Qala plays the almost Sunset Boulevard mom and traumatises her daughter Tripti Dimri. The managing mother and the daughter who wants her mother’s approval are very interesting characters indeed. The music in Qala is everything that makes ear worms, but will someone answer my one question: If I’m a mother who hates her daughter (because ‘mere bete to kha gayi’) will I ever teach her music? Should I not just push her into the cinder filled storage room and make her shovel snow in the endless winters of the movie? But that’s a discussion best left for another day. Right now we’re looking at great female characters we met on OTT platforms and films this year.
How can we miss out on a mother like Madhuri Dixit? In The Fame Game, she arrives on the OTT scene in a huge way. She’s gorgeous, vulnerable, sacrificing as well as selfish. She is controlling too and is controlled by her mother played by Suhasini Mulay, and then we see the rise of her daughter who is wilful in her own way. What a show! Sakshi Tanwar too plays a mother who will stop at nothing to find out what happened to her daughter in a deceptively titled Maai.
I loved watching Neetu Singh in Jugjugg Jeeyo as a mom, even though I still remember her as the co-ed in all the musical college romances with Rishi Kapoor. And speaking of seeing someone on the big screen after a long time, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan looks splendid in the period costume drama Ponniyin Selvan part 1. Not to forget a superb performance by Sonali Bendre in The Broken News and the luminous Kareena Kapoor Khan in Laal Singh Chadda.
Shantabai and I both hated the scatological references in the very first episode of Panchayat and no matter how many people told me it was a good show, I have resisted watching the show. Shantabai feels strongly about it too, ‘Tatti kiya udhar chabi gira? Yeh sab kyon dekhneka? Maidum, aap thoda James Bond lagao. Uski body achhi hai na!' But Neena Gupta plays the wife of the village mukhiya and has won accolades for her performance. She plays herself in the reality show Masaba Masaba with her designer daughter Masaba Gupta and we get a glimpse into their life.
I have written about Shabaash Mithu and the ridiculous way women sports stars are portrayed as ‘chidiya’ and ‘gauraiya’ but Tapsee Pannu carries a film on her shoulder. She also runs like Lola in Looop Lapeta and manages to scare us in the recently released Blurr. But I was happily surprised to see Janhvi Kapoor (her accent notwithstanding) do a great job in Good Luck Jerry and Mili.
I’ve barely scratched the surface and even though I have not mentioned Modern Love Mumbai, Mismatched, 4 More Shots Please! Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein, Guilty Minds and even Human that show women as fully fleshed out characters with flaws and darker shades and yes, humanity.
My achievement this year? Teaching Shantabai how to spot the scenes that fail the Bechdel test. She will make me another hazelnut coffee and we will continue to watch movies like Pushpa and Sita Ramam where women need rescuing by men. But I am hopeful that even directors like Rajamouli have realised that he had better give Devasena a bigger role or else we’re just going to look at a different screen and watch Nimisha Sajayan thrown the dishwater and the kitchen sink at these movies just as she did in last year’s brilliant The Great Indian Kitchen.
About the author:
Manisha Lakhe writes on films and TV shows, is a poet, teacher, traveller and mom (and not necessarily in that order). Could sell her soul for Pinot and a good cheesecake.
(Disclaimer: Views expressed in the above article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of OTTplay. The writer is solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.)