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From Yash Chopra's Chandni to Kiran Rao's Laapataa Ladies: the changing face of feminism in Bollywood | Hindi Cinema News

From Yash Chopra's Chandni to Kiran Rao's Laapataa Ladies: the changing face of feminism in Bollywood |  Hindi Cinema News
From Yash Chopra's Chandni to Kiran Rao's Laapataa Ladies: the changing face of feminism in Bollywood |  Hindi Cinema News


In Kiran Rao's Laapataa Ladies (2023), Yashoda (played by Geeta Agrawal Sharma), Jaya's (Pratibha Rana) otherwise silent (fake) mother-in-law, tells her and her own mother-in-law, that growing up, she really liked a particular dish, which her mother prepared, with a generous portion of lehsun (garlic). She then lightly laments that after her marriage, she stopped doing it because her husband doesn't love her.When the feisty and feminist Jaya asks her why can't she cook the dish just for herself, she innocently pushes her away saying, “Aurton ki pasand ka khaana kabse banne laga?” (since when are a woman's likes and dislikes taken into account?) and added that after so many years she doesn't even know what she likes and doesn't like . Even though Yashoda comes from a rural background, her dilemma is shared by thousands of women in the country, both urban and rural. And Bollywood is no different (or rather was). Let's delve deeper into the changing face of feminism in Bollywood….


How it started
Over the course of over a century of Bollywood history, the femme fatale has assumed various rules – the widowed mother, the pretty damsel in distress, the one waiting for her true love or, (rarely) the woman who takes charge of her own destiny. Oddly (and ironically), the 1950s and 1960s were marked by rare flashes of genius when it came to female-centric characters, with Nargis Dutt's Mother India topping the roost (1957); the heartbreaking story of a mother who kills her own son when he goes rogue and brings shame to the village. Guide (1965) is another example: the fiery Rosie, caught in an unhappy marriage, decides to follow her passion with a man she loves. Revolutionary, for the time.
However, these roles became widespread, and over the next decades, actresses were relegated to the roles of devoted mother, wife, or girlfriend. Some films like Sadma (directed by a brilliant Sridevi in ​​1983) managed to skim the surface from time to time, but found little to no support in the decades that followed.


The stereotypical woman
Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji, an Indian film scholar and author, sheds some light on this subject and says, “Until the 1990s, mainstream Bollywood continued to focus on the facial beauty of the leading lady. lady and emphasized on her romance with the hero, which could also mean her voluntary inclusion in the extended Indian joint family, as witnessed in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun or perhaps in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge where love was the main emotion, either seconded or equal to conventional family values. Beauty of the face and silhouette, lots of singing and dancing. sequences formed the majority of women. Dil To Pagal Hai is another example. In all of these films, a woman's main goal was to find a man, fall in love and settle down, all while dreaming of a Prince Charming arriving on a white horse, literally speaking! The wave of Yash Chopra's universe, filled with chiffon saris, snow-capped mountains and love ballads, no matter how easy on the eyes, has done little to improve the representation of women in cinema. Even author-backed roles like Chandni (1989), focused solely on a woman's journey to find love, putting aside all her other achievements. One of the rare exceptions is Lamhe (1991 – by the way from the Chopra camp) where a young woman brazenly falls in love with an older man, who incidentally was in love with his mother, who was older than him. Vastly ahead of its time, the film did lukewarm business due to audiences' inability to digest subject matter like this.


When did the change start to happen?
The scenario has changed steadily and very powerfully with the advent of the 21st century. Talking about it, Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji said, “Kahaani 2 (2016) and Mom (2017) are two new films that shake up the on-screen mother by offering a glimpse of two mothers whose daughters are not their biological offspring but they are. no less caring or stressed by the fact that they are not the biological mother. The scintillating performances of Vidya Balan and Sridevi respectively, highlight how two powerful actors spanning two generations can rise to the challenge of turning the tables on screen for good. “. New age filmmakers like Zoya Akhtar, Meghna Gulzar and Gauri Shinde joined the party to produce women-centric gems like Dil Dhadakne Do (2015), Raazi (2018) and English Vinglish (2012).
Embrace their true selves
In Shoojit Sircar's Piku (2015), Baskhor Banerjee, played by Amitabh Bachchan, who lives with his unmarried daughter Piku (Deepika Padukone) tells a potential suitor at a party that she is not a virgin. Piku, slightly embarrassed, walks away angrily, but Baskhor, otherwise eccentric and paranoid, firmly believes that Piku should marry for the right reasons, not to be someone's “wife”. While there may have been a tinge of selfishness in this attitude as a ploy to keep Piku all to himself, his reasons were not without logic. Finding a man and getting married shouldn't be a woman's only duty, both on and off screen. Cut to Anurag Kashyap's Thappad (2020), where a simple middle-class Amrita (Taapsee Pannu) marries into the well-to-do Sabharwals and happily pursues the role of a housewife (which is fortunately the buzzword here ), until a drunken brawl at a party saw her husband slap her in the face in front of a sea of ​​people. Part shocked, part numb, Amrita is shaken to realize that she has always lived in her husband's shadow, and in doing so, she has lost a part of herself, not even remembering that her favorite color is yellow and not blue (as many people like). the husband).


Do we still judge our female protagonists?
Even though more and more characters are written for women, they cannot escape the prying eyes of the public and are constantly judged. Unfortunately, this issue transcends generations and still confounds Bollywood, which equates vices like smoking, drinking and being open about one's sexuality with a “loose” moral foundation. Veronica from Cocktail, played by Deepika Padukone (2012), is a good example. The affable Veronica befriends a docile Meera (Diana Penty) and they both end up falling in love with the same man, Gautam (Saif Ali Khan). Although he always had a casual relationship with Veronica, Gautam eventually falls in love with Miss 'sanskari' Meera, whom his loud Punjabi mother loves, unlike Veronica, who wears skimpy clothes and is therefore not “qualified” as woman material. Similarly, in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Rahul ignores his platonic tomboy best friend, Anjali, and falls head over heels in love with college heartthrob Tina. Years later, Tina dies and Rahul reconnects with Anjali, only to fall in love with her (female) makeover post!


Why demonize “strong” characters?
Writer Siddharth of Siddharth-Garima, who has written films like Ram Leela, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, etc., tells us, “We have always judged strong female characters because it is a patriarchal society, and any change is often subject to judgment. » In Bollywood in particular, if a woman comes across as strong, she is either a negative character or a “gray” character. In Laadla (1994), the headstrong businesswoman Sheetal (Sridevi) is juxtaposed with the shy and simple Kajal (Raveena Tandon). While she marries Raju (Anil Kapoor) out of sheer wickedness, she eventually realizes her “mistakes”, and in the end, abandons her job, dons a saree, and prepares a “dabba” so that Raju will be qualified of a “perfect” wife! Of course, it's not all doom and gloom. The groundbreaking Astitva (2000), directed by Mahesh Manjrekar, is the story of a woman Aditi (Tabu) who finds love outside of marriage, while trapped in an unhappy marriage. Not only is the protagonist shown unapologetic, but she also proudly chooses to get away with it, when her husband and son morally shame her for having a relationship outside of marriage.


Welcome to change now?
The late, brutally honest Rishi Kapoor once told me in a 2009 interview, “Um, ultimately, Mr. Love Stories, hi banate hai.” While it's unfortunate that he's no longer around, what he said held a lot of water, at least at the time. Now, self-love remains the cornerstone of all (or most) female characters, and they are not necessarily motivated by the love of a man. In Queen (2013), while Kangana's character Rani begins as a shy and docile Punjabi girl from west Delhi, desperate to be accepted by the fiancé who abandoned her, she slowly transforms into a strong, almost new person in a solo. trip to Europe, which needs no man for validation. On the contrary, at the end, she gives her fiancé a little hug, thanking him, telling him that if he had not “dumped” her, she would never have found herself again. Similarly, in English Vinglish, the simple Maharashtrian housewife Shashi (Sridevi) knows that her otherwise lovely husband is ashamed of her since she cannot speak English. Initially seeking validation, Shashi becomes her own person when she learns English and realizes that the only validation she needed was from herself.


Lead a change
Talking about how films can lead to a change in society, Garima (Siddharth-Garima) said, “After the release of Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017), a panchayat in Haryana made a rule according to which a bride has the right to leave her. the husband's house, if there are no toilets. When asked if times have changed, Garima said that today, more and more stories are being written about women, and it is a welcome change. She added, “When we were writing Leela, we knew she had to be feisty, unapologetic and strong, so much so that she could stand up to Ram (Ranveer Singh) and was in no way inferior to him, if not more.” On a parting note, Siddharth leaves us with hope, “Things have now changed, as the definition of a strong woman has also changed for the better.”




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