In India during the 1920s and 1930s, you wouldn’t find Hindu or Muslim women acting in films. It was considered taboo and disreputable for women to show their bodies for strangers to watch on-screen. Male actors would largely take the role of women. The silent films in the early 20th-century featured all-male productions, with men wearing saris and playing women’s roles.
Dadasaheb Phalke, known as the Father of Indian cinema who made the first Indian film Raja Harishchandra, would even visit the red light district to scout for women to act in his films – but even women who would perform privately refused to do so in public.
It was all thanks to four Indian Jewish women, who were more liberal and open-minded, that stepped in to take on the female lead roles in the industry which they dominated for decades, pushing the boundaries and filling in the demand the Indian Film Industry had long desired for – and undoubtedly the audience. Indian Jewish actresses were recently given a spotlight in the 2017 feature-length documentary Shalom Bollywood where they explored the long-forgotten history of the Indian Jewish community’s impact in India and its influence on Bollywood.
As it stands, Jewish people make up a very small population across India with current estimates of 5,000 Jewish people living in the country today. But back in the 1940s, there were over 30,000 Jews in Mumbai alone. The Jewish communities of Bene Israelis and Baghdadi Jews from Iraq were more progressive and Anglicized, leading Jewish women to work outside the home. With fewer restrictions placed on Jewish women compared to their counterparts, four Indian Jewish actresses eventually filled the gap in Indian cinema, arising to become Bollywood’s first eminent stars in the industry.
They were known by their stage names – Sulochana, Miss Rose, Pramila, and Nadira.
The first actress that arrived on the scene was Ruby Myers, known by her screen name, Sulochana – Indian cinema’s first female superstar. Born in 1907 in Calcutta, she started out in silent-era films back in the 1920s. Sulochana’s stardom reached unparalleled heights with many of her popular 1920s silent era films remade as talkies in the 1930s and 1940s in which she also starred. One of her more notable roles was when she played eight characters in one film in the 1927 release “Wildcat of Bombay”. She was reported to have the first Rolls Royce in India and won the attention of Gandhi who used her images as part of his political campaigns. In 1973 Sulochana was conferred with India’s highest cinema award, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for contribution to cinema. After her death in 1983, the Indian Government issued a stamp in her honor.
Following Sulochana’s footsteps was Rama Katroum Rose Musleah, popularly known as Miss Rose. Born in 1911 in Calcutta, Miss Rose was a dance teacher in her home city. It was after her divorce in the early 1930s that she decided to move to Mumbai to try her luck in acting. Rose quickly came to prominence in acting and social circles, performing the leading lady in many Hindi films where she largely played modern Indian women. In the late 1940s, Rose suffered a back injury that prevented her from acting for several months. It was during this time that Hindu and Muslim women were taking up significant acting roles that were no longer viewed as frowned upon. This led to Rose struggling to regain her place at the top of the billing. After an American airman proposed, she moved to America to settle with her husband in Los Angeles.
Next came Esther Victoria Abraham, known as Pramila. Born in Calcutta in 1916, Pramila was a teacher at a local Jewish school. Everything changed for her when she went to Mumbai to visit her cousin, Miss Rose herself who was already a budding star, on a movie set. The director was bemoaning that none of the actresses were tall enough – until he saw Pramila. Soon enough Pramila started acting, often playing the vamp in films, and became the first Miss India in 1947. She acted until her final year, at the age of 90 in 2006. Pramila married the Muslim actor Kumar, having starred together in several films, living in Jewish and Islamic coexistence.
Born Farhat Ezekiel in 1932, the actress adopted her stage name Nadira at the age of 12 for her Hindi film début in 1943 with a small role in Mauj. But her career sky-rocketed in 1952 when she played the Princess Rajshree opposite Dilip Kumar in the box office hit Aan. Nadira’s best-remembered role was when she played the villainous Maya in the 1955 classic Shree 420. With her fiery looks, distinctive chiseled features, and admonishing style, Nadira set the benchmark for being a vamp in Indian cinema. Nadira was the last of the Indian Jewish cinema, who died in 2006.
These four actresses were pioneers in the industry and laid the foundations for Hindu and Muslim women to act in Bollywood – the roles once filled by Jewish women were no longer there. You can find out more about them in the feature-length documentary Shalom Bollywood, where they delve into the lives of the actresses and explore the theme of interfaith relations between Jewish stars and Muslims and Hindus, putting religious differences aside. You can also listen to The Jewish Queens of Bollywood podcast on BBC Sounds, where host Noreen Khan interviews people involved in the production of Shalom Bollywood, revealing why Jewish women were so uniquely placed to take Bollywood by storm, and why their influence has nearly been forgotten.
If you follow the Indian comedy scene you might have noticed a hashtag called #BringBackBLF popping up last week. For those wondering what it means, BLF stands for the ‘Better Life Foundation’, an Indian mockumentary web series released on YouTube in 2016. Following the lives of employees at the Better Life Foundation NGO, the series featured lead and cameo appearances from the biggest names in Indian comedy today, including Naveen Richard, Sumukhi Suresh, Kanan Gill, and Kenny Sebastian, among others.
Upon release, the five-episode show was met with positive reviews from critics and audiences alike, resulting in an equally acclaimed second season picked up by the streaming service now known as DisneyPlus Hotstar.
Clearly inspired by iconic workplace mockumentary shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation, BLF was praised for its subtle and self-aware tackling of a myriad of issues in Indian society – like the language gulf between those who do and do not know Hindi, mentalities towards the differently-abled and the infamous world of Indian bureaucracy. I could go on and on about the Michael Scott-esque lead character Neil Menon or his far more competent program head Sumukhi Chawla (think Leslie Knope with Rosa Diaz’s sunshiney attitude), but let’s get to the point.
In 2018, a short time after BLF’s season 2 was released, Hotstar took it off of its platform. The move was seen by many as a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the news that one of the actors, Utsav Chakraborty, was accused of sexual misconduct. That was the year that the #MeToo movement swept through India, bringing many such instances to light and empowering survivors to tell their stories. However, Hotstar’s action also called into question its authenticity and whether it was just ‘hollow appeasement’ to appear part of the movement. #BringBackBLF was trending on Twitter, and the show creators spoke up about their opinions as well.
Why bring this up two years later, you may ask? Thanks to the efforts of college student Nishant Manoj, #BringBackBLF has caught the attention of the show creators a second time, and better late than never – we need to discuss the implications of Hotstar’s decision to take it down.
Objectively, it does seem as if the removal aimed to display solidarity to the victims of criminal behavior from the stars of their content. However, Vikas Bahl’s Masaan remains up on Hotstar, and Mukesh Chhabra’s Dil Bechara(understandably) received 95 million views in the first 24 hours on the same platform, despite both directors being accused in the #MeToo movement as well.
Yes,Kevin Spacey was rightly fired from House of Cards, but they were allowed to finish without him. What is more, none of the previous seasons got wantonly removed from their platform. Neither did the numerous films associated with Harvey Weinstein. Production simply went on without their accused members, and that is a choice that the BLF team was robbed of.
The show also featured a large number of women in the crew, including the director Debbie Rao, executive producer, and female leads. What is more, because of their contract, the creators do not own rights to the show that they built. This means they do not have permission to re-upload their hard work on any other platform either.
I don’t know about you, but I was reminded about a similar spat that Taylor Swift had with Big Machine Records about owning her own content. Taylor came out on top eventually (as queens do), but what happens when you aren’t worth upwards of 300 million dollars?
Ultimately, I don’t know if DisneyPlus Hotstar will ever acknowledge or make amends for their actions. They’re a multimillion-dollar company with bigger fish to fry, so they’ll probably stop at blocking the person who restarted the hashtag (they did) and leave it at that.
Whatever happens though, hopefully, #BringBackBLF serves as a reminder about the danger of knee jerk reactions – however well-intentioned – and the importance of support for creators who have poured their hearts into their work.
I, like many other South Asians belonging to the Indian subcontinent, always floated on the periphery of Bollywood. I never understood the point of the huge musical numbers; that is until I heard Noah Centineo talk about them.
As someone who doesn’t speak or understand the language, I rely solely on subtitles. Even subtitles fail me, however, when it comes to Bollywood dance numbers. Bollywood famously breaks into song quite often and gives you full value for money every single time. Everything is big, bright, and a feast for the eyes. But it doesn’t always make a lot of sense.
Some of this is because the lyrics translated verbatim don’t actually convey the same meaning that the song intends. A lot of it, however, is because it doesn’t seem like the movie progresses during the song or that it signifies anything for the characters.
Thed most elaborate musical numbers have one purpose: introducing the Love Interest.
I had long since dismissed these sequences as entirely cheesy plot interrupters that don’t drive the already criminally lengthy movie forward. Naturally, the aforementioned translation of the lyrics didn’t help me make any more sense of it. So that was that. I would have to be in the mood for something ridiculous to be able to pay attention the next time The Love Interest dance number unfolded.
This all changed one night in the not too distant past.
While inanely scrolling through YouTube, I came across a video of Noah Centineo and Lana Condor reacting to Bollywood romance scenes. I started to tune out, scrolling through my phone, wondering when dinner would be, would curfew ever end, when suddenly I heard it.
Out of nowhere a flash of perspective knocked me over and questioned everything I thought I knew about my own opinions.
At one point during the video, Noah Centineo says: “It literally feels like they’re displaying how each of these people feels on the inside”. Lana Condor then clarifies: “so you’re saying that they all feel something on the inside,” to which Centineo responds “but they actually show like a representation of it for the viewer to look at as opposed to like a subtle thing on” and he gestures at his own face.
My mind was blown, my worldview was shaken. This simple observation that a white boy made casually had never crossed my mind in many years of watching Bollywood movies with passion and interest.
“They’re displaying how they feel on the inside” he said.
This was the perfect and simplest explanation: an external performance of a person’s innermost feelings. It suddenly made it all make sense to me. The illogical costume changes, orchestral performances, and the slo-mo. All this time I had seen it as a performance of an instant love connection playing out in a heightened reality. Instead, Centineo saw it as an effort to portray an inexplicable rush of internal human emotions on the external world.
That, friends, is how Noah Centineo, an American actor best known for his roles in Netflix films, changed how I thought about Bollywood. His perception has given me a new appreciation for these scenes and an entirely different understanding of them.
It’s strange to think that my opinion of Bollywood movies, a genre I have been exposed to far more than Noah Centineo, could shift with just one passing comment. For me, this foray into YouTube has reinforced the value of having an open mind and being exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking. In my particular case, this perspective may only be of superficial value and applicable to very niche moments in my life, but I’m still glad it happened.
While I’m not sure I’ll ever look at Bollywood movies the pinnacle of romantic portrayals and I might still find some humor in the spectacle of it all, I’m more open to the idea that the elaborate musical numbers are not about the spectacle, but the portrayal of feelings that maybe can’t be expressed any other way.
Where words fail, music speaks. And in this case, where words fail choreography, lip syncs, slo-mo, costumes, backup dancers, whole bands, and elaborate location changes speak.
Bulbbul is the tale of a child-bride during the Bengal presidency in India, who is a victim to patriarchy, domestic abuse, and rape, subsequently dying of trauma. She eventually turns into a demon (but is deemed as a Devi or a Goddess) and slashes men who do women wrong. The entire movie with the red and pink overtones, the late 19th-century British regality and Bulbbul’s jewels and sarees is a feast for the eyes. The domestic abuse that is portrayed is triggering and heart-wrenching, but true in this modern society nonetheless. However, my article is not a review of the movie but a link to the relevance with modern Bengali society in current times.
I am sure Sushant Singh Rajput’s case is currently famous, not just because of the significance because of his mental health struggles but because it has become an entire conspiracy theory. I am not commenting on either the justification of making it into a conspiracy or even trying to argue about whether it is a murder case or not. I am simply going to direct the relevance of the case with the movie that is Bulbbul.
Rhea Chakraborty, who came forward as Sushant’s girlfriend right after his death in June, has been accused of aiding and abetting into the murder of Sushant, and consequently allegedly accused of money laundering and shifting his assets. Rhea is an actress who was found with huge lumpsum amount of money transferred from Sushant’s bank accounts. Sushant was believed to have been murdered for money. This whole conspiracy aside, I bring her name into this article for a legitimate reason. No, I am not going into the conspiracy takes, but talking solely about Rhea Chakraborty here. Rhea is a Bengali woman, who has been accused of witchcraft and dark arts solely because she is Bengali and an independent woman.
The sheer mass of comments against Bengali women in India (I am a proud Bengali) has left my mind numb. Bengali women are headstrong, opinionated, and independent and have been fighting patriarchy for the longest time. We women are raised in a familial household where we are taught to rebel. Since Raja Rammohan Roy helped abolish Sati (the burning of live women along with their dead husbands on the funeral pyre), Bengali women have come forward and advocated for women. Our community has managed to help and break through the patriarchal sociological roots, with the help of men and women alike. We are taught to embrace our sexuality, and encouraged to be whoever we want to be.
Characters in Bengali works created by women such as Mahasweta Devi, Ashapurna Devi, Leela Majumdar, etc are feminists and have been breaking patriarchal barriers for a long time. To accuse us of witchcraft and black magic because we happen to be strong is literally equivalent to witches being burnt alive in Salem.
This is why I decided to pen my incoherent thoughts into an article, because what else can a writer do?
Netflix’s Bulbbul depicts a child bride’s transformation into a young woman who gets brutally beaten up and raped and eventually transforms into a demon during a blood moon. Bulbbul and her brother-in-law Satya share romantic intimacy because they are closer in age, and frequently share stories about witchcraft and demons amongst themselves. Bulbbul who gets married to the very old Indranil at the tender age of five finds comfort in Satya who is almost a friend from the beginning of the movie. Their relationship, however, drives Indranil, Bulbbul’s husband, into a jealous, angry rage. He beats her mercilessly, mutilating her legs. While recovering from her grievous injuries, she also ends up raped by her other brother-in-law, Mahendra, and thus she ultimately dies.
So, we as viewers can equally predict that it is Bulbbul who has turned into a witch, Daayan, and is killing men around in the Bengali city. This prediction might be unsurprising but doesn’t fail to make our hearts ache.
The witch Bulbbul, who has imbibed within herself the fearlessness and blood-lust of Kali, is killing men to save the women, because that is what she has become reduced to. Her death brings her the solace that she never received in her otherwise destructive marriage filled with marital abuse. She kills her rapist and to see a woman get justice brings us unequivocal happiness because we can’t stand torturous depictions of patriarchy even in movies. It is satisfying to see the men get what they deserve.
Why Bulbbul stands true in modern times, despite being set 200 years ago is because patriarchy hasn’t faded, even though centuries have passed. Women who can think and fend for themselves are still called a “fucking bitch”. Bengali women are still being termed as witches. I can’t deny Rhea’s involvement in Sushant’s case, and I won’t comment about the entire murder/suicide spin. But you can’t take this situation to paint an entire community of women in a disgusting light.
Unlike the movie’s portrayal of Bengali women, not all Bengali women are witches. Yes, we are independent and strong, vocal and determined. And, we want to destroy rape culture, and protect women. However, we don’t use our dark magic powers to dominate males. Like Lady Lazarus, “…we eat men like air.” And, if all of us had the power to manipulate magic, we would have ended misogyny, sexism, and solved problems of climate change long ago.
Our community boasts of unapologetic women, witches even, like the ever-powerful Ipsita Roy Chakraverti. We are not ashamed of what we are and who we are. Perpetuating misogynistic stereotypes and enforcing the idea that Bengali women are witches is disgusting. Again, little else can be expected from the rape culture normalized society like ours. However, like Bulbbul, our pain as women living under misogynistic shrouds rings through and every day we try to be better feminists.
Watch it on Netflix because it will move you to tears by the end of it, and make you want to believe in magic so you can destroy the evils of patriarchy. So you can stop womankind from being called “witches” in a derogatory way.
I first watchedParchedright after my mid-terms upon the insistence of a friend of mine. There was controversy lingering with the movie (well, in India there is controversy about everything). This particular love-making scene in the movie had caused a lot of stirrup with the Censorship Board in India.
I have watched the movie seven times since then. It is a movie that hits too close to home, which is why I watch it at least once every six months to smile and shed a few cathartic drops of tears. Written and directed by Leena Yadav, Parched is the movie with the strongest performances by strong women.
Parched is one of those Bollywood movies that you should watch. Either you love Bollywood or don’t, just watch the movie because it will haunt you with its relevance. Parched is a movie about four women in an obscure village in Rajasthan India, a deserted area (indeed, a desert). It portrays the real evils of misogyny, marital abuse and rape, child marriage and dowry, patriarchy, sexism and bigotry and hits too close to home.
Playing on words, Parched stands not only to attribute to the arid conditions of the village the movie is set in, but also refers to the thirst and quest of these women who are victims to misogyny.
The movie is wonderfully real showing three women we might not be but can relate to way more than anything. There’s the character of Lajjo (played by the artistic Radhika Apte), a woman who’s abused every day in her marriage because she can’t bear children. There’s Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a young widowed mother who is trying to do her son right by engaging in misogynistic practices and looking for a child bride for her son, Janki (Lehar Khan). And, finally there’s Bijli (Suvreen Chawla), a seductive dancer and sex worker from a troupe who dances for male village elders.
In the first few minutes into the movie, you can find the Sarpanch (elected village elders) discussing the fate of a woman who runs away after being repeatedly raped by various members of her in-law’s family. She is forced to return to her household. This throws light on the disgusting reality of marital rape not being criminalized in India. Such incidences follow suit.
An amalgamation of stories, the movie throws light on the patriarchy existing in each and every part of the Indian society. However, the movie doesn’t highlight Indian rural women as prudes and conservatives. These women have sexual desires (and in the course of the movie gain sexual gratification) who engage in dialogues relating to sex. Bijli is proud of her sexual prowess and proud of her ability to satisfy men “like an earthquake”. You empathize with the carnal desires of the women that aren’t getting gratified.
The most beautiful aspect of the movie is the delicate friendship between these three women. Lajjo, Bijli and Rani know that they are victims to the Indian patriarchal set-up and thus keep finding hope and happiness in each other. They are women who want to pull each other up, crack sexual innuendos, explore each other, and believe in each other. Their friendship is the most superior aspect of the movie.
Leena Yadav’s direction is miraculous. Apte, Chatterjee and Chawla make their respective characters come alive. With brilliant accent delivery, and pure innocence and joy in their faces, these women try to overthrow the misogynistic village by empowering themselves. There are hints of intimacy between Rani and Lajjo who share wonderful chemistry. Their fight and eventual struggle against their respective households and situations bring all four of them together. They mesh well and it is heartbreaking to watch their struggles.
I would not sell Janki short as well. Janki, Rani’s daughter-in-law is a child bride, forced to engage in sex with her husband. She has a childhood sweetheart but money fails them to get married to one another. Janki’s perseverance in the movie is heartbreaking but nonetheless important.
There is a wonderful sex scene in the movie with Adil Hussain, but I wouldn’t reveal much because I don’t want to spoil the movie. But this scene is more spiritual and divine, than anything normal. Adil’s character kisses the feet of the woman to show her respect and I shed drops of tears upon realizing how sex can be respectful along with being carnal.
With heart-wrenching and stellar performances, and wonderful cinematography of Oscar winner Russell Carpenter, you will be moved by every aspect of the movie. It will leave you thirsting for more.
So go and give Parched a watch and get yourself another favorite.
The world was left breathless when this news came out yesterday. You’re so used to seeing some people—even if from far away, even if from behind a screen—that they become a part of your life. Actors are such people. When we lose them, it feels like a personal loss.
My mind is in a whirlwind because this sudden, and completely heartbreaking news is too much to take in. I’m devastated because we lost another life that we could’ve saved. I’m crestfallen because we keep failing people who need us.
The world was left breathless when this news came out yesterday.
I wish I could say sorry to Sushant—I’m sorry that you were a part of this cruel, heartless world. I’m sorry that you had to lose your life this way. I’m sorry that your pain was bigger than life itself. But there’s no point anymore because it’s too late—he has already left the world.
Mental health is stigmatized almost everywhere in the world. People feel ashamed to disclose their diagnosis because of the way people around them react. And even when they do come out by saying they’re mentally ill, they’re not taken seriously. We can’t see mental illness, so we don’t believe that it exists. But it is real.
I was scanning my social media newsfeeds following Sushant’s death and happened to read some despicable comments about suicide.
“He had a perfect life, but then why did he do this?”
How do we know that he had a perfect life? Since when have wealth, fame and, looks become measures of a happy and content life?
We can’t see mental illness, so we don’t believe that it exists. But it is real.
We didn’t know him personally.
We saw him as a star enacting fiction on the screen. We only knew what his life looked like on the outside—we didn’t know him closely. We didn’t know how much was wrong in his apparently perfect life. We’re not in the position to make assumptions about somebody’s life when all we know is what movies they did.
We didn’t live Sushant’s life. We can’t make judgments about what pushed him over to the edge.
When people resort to suicide, we should be careful with our words because we don’t know the truth about their precarious life. We only ever find out when it’s too late.
Fame, wealth, and high movie ratings are not a precondition to life—they do not necessarily mean a happily ever after. We need to stop assuming that they do. We need to stop reducing someone’s life to what it looks like on the outside. And we need to stop believing that we know everything.
“He should’ve reached out, asked for help.”
When I was depressed, I asked for help. In fact, I verbally asked for it but I never got it. So before you say this again, think twice. You and I both know that mental health is hardly ever taken seriously.
Depressed people do reach out for help but in different ways. Sometimes they ask for it directly, but other times, it’s more subtle. They lose interest in the things that they love, they become distant, their physical health deteriorates, they seek therapy, they feel tired all the time, they lose sleep—all of this and more.
You and I both know that mental health is hardly ever taken seriously.
They’re asking for help. They’re reaching out. We can’t blame them for giving up. It’s not their fault that we are deaf to their pleas for help.
“Suicide is never the answer.”
This statement particularly makes me ripple with pain, anger, and heartbreak.
At times, and I hate to say this, for some people, suicide can feel like the answer. I’m saying this because I’ve had a close experience, and I know what a person feels in that fleeting moment when they take their own life.
You’re falling apart. You’re too broken to scoop up pieces of yourself and make yourself whole again. The voices in your head get louder, telling you that this pain will last forever. You need somebody to help, and when nobody shows up—you falter.
And at that moment—it’s not pain, it’s relief. It’s the thought of floating away into the unknown—of your pain finally dissolving to nothing.
There’s nothing in the world that can stop you then, because, in that moment, you feel you’re already dead.
I don’t know why Sushant took his life. Even though I can easily say that I wish he hadn’t done what he did, I can also imagine how great must his pain be that he chose to end his life.
With that, it’s important as ever to realize that depression is real. People do lose their life when their mental health hits its lowest—so many people have taken their lives in the past, and many more people will follow the same course in the future if we don’t act now.
Reach out to the people you love. Tell them that you’re here for them. Show them that you care. Everyone needs to know that they’re important.
Everyone wants to preserve whatever life they have left in the time of COVID-19. Nobody wants to lose more. Human life is precious. We need to protect each other.
Sushant’s loss feels immense. I’m not sure how long will it take for us to recover from it. But I also hope that we’ve learned this time that mental illnesses are real.
If you or someone you know needs support for issues about emotional distress, these resources might be able to help.
The past decade has seen the release of a number of path-breaking, unconventional Bollywood movies. The Bollywood industry brought us new talents like Vicky Kaushal and Ayushmann Khurrana who showcased extraordinary promise. Actors like Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, and Ranbir Kapoor, on the other hand, continued to rock the Box Office. Meanwhile, legends like Amitabh Bachchan, Irrfan Khan, and Tabu are still solid with their script selection and continue to show their mettle.
Here’s our list of some of the best Bollywood movies of the decade. Catch up on the ones you haven’t watched and revisit the ones you really enjoyed:
This Bollywood movie takes the unconventional route about teenage angst. Vikramaditya Motwane’s directorial debut, this film is moody, introspective, and captivating as it shows a young teenager breaking away from his abusive father and leading his own life.
The lives of four people intersect in the backdrop of Mumbai, India. The movie received critical acclaim for the brilliantly written plot, cinematography, and the nuances of each character that unfolds in every scene. The movie revolves around four characters – an artist who moves into a new apartment, where he finds video recordings, the previous tenant who leaves these video recordings about her life, an investment banker, and a dhobiwala (washerman) who aspires to become an actor.
Bollywood has truly come a long way by taking this plunge into the psychological thrillers’ genre such as Farhan Akhtar’s rendition of Karthik. This is a guy who, feeling trapped in an endless circle of loneliness, finds himself on the brink of suicide. However, just as he is about to, he is ‘saved by the bell’ by a caller who claims to be ‘Karthik’ as well.
The protagonists of this movie are the hidden cameras and handheld recorders that expose Bollywood’s fanaticism, the reality of the society, and the cut-throat dark side of the media. Three stories interlink at a single point and leave you with an after-thought; a newer perspective of things around us. Split into three parts, the stories explore three different aspects of a relationship.
Starring Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma as the unstoppable duo, you shall become hooked as they step into their roles of heading a wedding planning agency. Together they build this business in hopes of attaining their respective needs, all the while falling prey to each others’ charms.
If you are up for some real talk, while absorbing the glorious sun as you cruise through the sights Spain offers, this rendition starring Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar, and Abhay Deol is perfect for the occasion. Following the reunion of three childhood friends, this journey grants them the opportunity to not just bond but grow as people.
A hilarious romantic comedy where two best friends find themselves caught up in an unwavering tide of recession. Unable to land work, the duo finds itself with an alluring, albeit indecent, offer to work as strippers. The journey inevitably tests the strength of their friendship.
This is a romantic drama film starring Ranbir Kapoor and Nargis Fakhri where he plays the role of JJ, a rising artist who is hell-bent on reaching fame and glory. He reaches his goal… at the cost of something much bigger.
The film walks you through the life of Shashi, played by the beloved late Sridevi, who is a homemaker tired of being endlessly teased for falling short on her ‘English’ skills. An honest portrayal of the struggles faced by a domesticated woman who is hindered from being deemed ‘respectable’ for not being able to communicate.
This two-part movie is a gangster crime drama set in the backdrop of Dhanbad, Jharkhand. Hunger for power, overpowering the rich and affluent, the corruption in the system, and objectifying women – these are just some of the issues addressed in the movie.
There’s more to this film than meets the eye in the overly-glammed wedding festivities. Kabir and Naina get to know each other during a trekking trip but different priorities take them down different paths. Several years pass before they meet again.
A romance about an unusual friendship that develops because of an unlikely mistake made by a tiffin carrier service. Ila’s tiffin, which was made for her husband, gets delivered to Saajan, which starts an exchange of letters that blossoms into something more.
This emotional drama revolves around the journey of track and field sprinter, Milkha Singh. It also portrays the emotional distress he goes through because of the India-Pakistan partition. The movie bagged several awards that year for this Bollywood sports drama.
A romantic comedy, starring Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor, affectionately paints the couple’s love story against the broader strokes of cultural disparity and prejudices. The film beautifully sheds light on India’s regional spectrum where pragmatic issues emanate from striving to marry your “across-the-state” love interest.
Aamir Khan plays as an alien in this comedy-drama. Having lost his transmitter device at the hands of a thief, he embarks upon this journey with Anushka Sharma and together, they find answers to not just his personal quandary, but to religious and superstitious dogmas prevalent in Indian society.
The three stories intertwine with one another in this movie based on real events that took place in Bangladesh in 1971. Coiled in controversy, this movie speaks about how rape and religion were used as war weaponry.
Despite the problematic overtones, the movie takes you on a girl’s journey to finding inner peace and newfound liberation amid the chaotic setting of being plucked from the ‘comfort’ she is accustomed to.
A black comedy that can easily be Bollywood’s benchmark for future directors and movie lovers, Ishqiya is about Khalujan and Babban – two rogues who fall for Krishna, their friend’s widow – but Krishna manipulates them into for her own selfish needs.
Another magnum opus by Vishal Bhardwaj, the plot revolves around Shahid Kapoor who returns to Kashmir after the disappearance of his father. He arrives at a time when the state is undergoing violent insurgency. He confronts his uncle who he thinks is involved in his father’s fate.
The story follows the journey of fun-loving Ved who meets Tara while holidaying, only to part ways until their adult lives begin. This film authentically depicts the stark comparison between our visionary carefree side that, in time, slowly gets molded into society’s predictable robotic existence.
The story of four women in a desert village of Rajasthan has the viewer rooting for their freedom till the end of the movie as they face mental and sexual abuse. The movie questions age-old traditions such as dowry and marital rape and takes one through disturbing and thought-provoking territory.
Based on a real-life murder case in India, Talvar is the story around a teenage girl, her family, and their servant. Hard-hitting facts, emotional turmoil, courtroom drama, and a lot of investigation – that’s this movie in a crux. But it is Irrfan Khan’s performance that takes away everything. The attention to detail and his portrayal of a world-weary detective is top-notch.
This tragic drama is set in the ancient town of Varanasi. The movie is based on four people who face prejudice, are pulled down by the caste system, and have no choice but to abide by the moral code of conduct. The movie gives the viewers a little tour of the burial ghats in Varanasi.
Aligarh opens up a debate about LGBTQ+ issues in the country. After a sting operation, the entire nation gets to know about a gay, linguistic professor living in a small orthodox city. How he deals with this situation and his relationship with the journalist who comes to interview him is the story of this Bollywood drama.
Piku is a Bengali architect residing in Delhi with her aging father, who is obsessed with his bowel moments and his eccentricities drive everyone around him nuts. This quirky comedy takes them from Delhi to Kolkata via taxi. Amidst all the drama is the taxi driver. The off-beat comedy is delightful, cinematic, and leaves you with a joyful heart.
Feeling lost and no longer in control? This is the state Kaira finds herself in when everything she cared for or aspired to be is suddenly beyond her reach. She comes to interact with a “dimaag ka doctor” (therapist) played by Shah Rukh Khan who helps her find her way back to normalcy. In contrast to the glamor usually sported by Bollywood, this manages to shed much-needed light on the relevance of seeking therapy.
The story unfolds the dynamics between two estranged brothers where Rahul is the ‘perfect’ older child in juxtaposition to Arjun being the spoiled baby of the family. Together, they find themselves back in their troubled household amid their parents suffering through an abusive marriage. A powerful tale that explores the struggle of coming out in adulthood.
Three young women are framed and caught in a crime, only to get saved when a retired lawyer steps in. This one portrays the perception of Indian society towards women who don’t fit into a box and don’t oblige to societal standards of culture and morality.
A biological thriller starring Sonam Kapoor is based on a real-life event of 1986 where the Abu Nidal’s Organization’s hijacked Pan Am flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan as witnessed by the head purser, Neerja Bhanot. The story takes you through the horrors of being aboard a flight with non-negotiable terrorists and the bravery exhibited by Sonam’s character in the face of deathly apprehension.
Amongst several patriotic films is this film that also encapsulates the relationship between a father and her daughters. How an ambitious father trains his girls from a young age into wrestling forms the crux of the story.
This bilingual movie is about a lower strata fisher girl who is trained to become a national champion by a boxing coach who is looking for redemption himself. The heartfelt sports drama leaves you rooting for the main characters despite the loopholes in the Indian system. Outstanding performances and a catchy background score give this Bollywood sports film a five star.
A black comedy-drama, this political satire is about a bureaucrat whose mission is to conduct free and fair elections in a tribal area in India. This riveting, poignant, and hilarious movie will also leave you with some food for thought.
Set in 1979, A Death in the Gunj is a coming-of-age story about a shy student Shutu who uses a family trip to hide about his results in his exam. Shutu is constantly ignored by his family members and things soon reach a boiling point.
We are immediately introduced to the protagonist, played by Akshay Kumar, who is being married in the conventional setting of a bordering impoverished village to his love. At the outset, the restrictive mindset and unwarranted taboo revolving around feminine hygiene become apparent. In his sympathetic attempt to provide comfort to his wife’s monthly discomfort, he is detested and forced to be separated from her.
This comedy-thriller explores the story of Akash, a blind pianist who, unwillingly becomes mired in the murder of a famous actor. A chilling tale that makes you whip up of ways to help the lead come out of the jarring situation alive while also bringing the guilty to justice somehow.
A young boy is affected by a personal tragedy and he sets out on a mission to find a buried treasure out of pure greed. He grows up to explore the local legend of a monster named Hastar and his gold medallions. This psychological horror film is the kind that plays with your mind.
A topic never touched upon by Bollywood before, this comedy follows Nakul, a 25-year-old who finds out one fine day about his mother’s pregnancy. How he deals with the news, his changing relationship with his girlfriend, and supporting his parents form the gist of the story. If you need something powerful to push you onto the next level of Bollywood, this is the perfect introduction to do so.
What extent would you go to for your country? Sehmat Khan, an Indian, undercover RAW agent marries into a Pakistani family to spy on the enemy and gain valuable intel. Based on true events, the movie directed by Meghna Gulzar flies high on emotional tension.
This musical enterprise, starring Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, explores the downtrodden themes of underprivileged slums of Mumbai where our male protagonist resides and combats an abusive- and poverty-riddled life on a daily basis. The film takes you through his journey to discover his natural knack for artistry.
A romance spanning 25 years with a twist where the self-proclaimed antagonist is none other than their sickly daughter. A beautiful heart-wrenching account of a family’s struggle to cling to hope in perhaps the darkest of times.
The tale follows Major Vihaan Singh Shergill of the Indian Army as he leads a covert operation against a group of militants who attacked a base in Uri, Kashmir, in 2016 and killed many soldiers. The movie was rated as one of the top patriotic movies in recent times.
These iconic words, spoken at the climax of the 1995 Bollywood classic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), never failed to make me tear up as a teenager.
DDLJ is the story of Raj Malhotra (Shah Rukh Khan/SRK) and Simran Singh (Kajol) who both reside in the UK and fall in love on a trip across Europe.
They cannot marry, however, because Simran’s father has already decided she will marry Kuljeet Singh (Parmeet Sethi), his friend’s son, whom she has never met. Rahul then pretends to be Kuljeet’s friend and crashes Simran’s wedding preparations to try and win her family over.
I fell in love with DDLJ as a child.
I adored Raj and Simran. I admired Kajol’s unibrow. I recited the dialogues alongside the characters. Most importantly, I treasured the romance. Nothing could be purer than Raj’s love for Simran and what he was willing to do to win her father over.
On the face of it, DDLJ is the perfect rom-com. It presents an unlikely pair – opposites who attract and fall deeply in love – only for a parent to tear them apart. It makes you root for them and cheer out loud when they finally do unite at the end. Like millions of other girls, I also wanted a Raj who would be willing to fight the world to be with me.
Nothing could be purer than Raj’s love for Simran and what he was willing to do to win her father over.
However, as I grew older, rewatching it made me uncomfortable, and it took me some time to realize why.
Raj, it turns out, is the flag-bearer of the creepy guys you see at a store whom you avoid eye contact with because you know they’ll start following you around. He dangled Simran’s bra in her face five seconds after meeting her, and then kept pestering her even when she clearly told him, multiple times, she was not interested in talking to him.
Raj also lied to her about them sleeping together. After all, what girl doesn’t find it hilarious when she wakes up, disoriented, next to a stranger who jokes about sleeping together when she was too inebriated to remember anything?
Worse, when Simran starts to cry upon hearing this, he goes on a rant about how he couldn’t even imagine doing that to her because he knows that honor (chastity) means everything to a Hindustani girl.
What I despise more than Raj’s behavior is that like most Bollywood movies, DDLJ places Simran entirely at the mercy of the men in her life. Her father decided she is to marry a stranger, and before this happens she has to beg him to let her travel across Europe for one last hurrah.
Then, when she returns from a trip equivalent to the last meal, she is punished for doing something deeply unforgivable in her culture – falling in love.
Simran’s own fight and refusal do not produce any results.
As punishment, her wedding is moved up and she is taken to a village in India where her future husband lives. This is a man neither she nor her father has ever met. This is also a man shown to be an alpha male with no intention of staying loyal to Simran. Yet, the preparations continue.
Her future became dependent on Raj and his decision on whether she’s worth fighting for. Simran’s own fight and refusal do not produce any results.
The other women in the film also exist along the periphery. Simran’s mother supports her but is helpless because the only will that matters is that of her father. Simran’s sister teases her about Raj and helps facilitate their forbidden romance.
Simran’s aunt is there only for comic relief due to a potential romance with Raj’s single father. Worst of all, Kuljeet’s sister Preeti exists only as the punchline to a joke that is not funny. She falls in love with Raj who happily leads her along to hide his relationship with Simran.
Meanwhile, the decision to fight for Simran, our signature damsel in distress, is what makes Raj the hero. Thus, DDLJ takes a movie designed for female audiences, as rom coms are famous for, and makes it entirely about a man and his fight while the women are shown holding no agency over their lives. This only reinforces how marginalized brown women are in our real lives.
The movie is yet another reminder that the men in our life, be it our boyfriends or our fathers, are our priority.
The entire movie is a battle between the egos of two men. And like most Bollywood movies, the romance here would not be complete without the man literally fighting for love. Ironically, this aggression plays a role in convincing Simran’s father of Raj’s undying love.
What made me uncomfortable with DDLJ’s “romance” was, ultimately, that Simran had no choice. The grand gesture at the end of DDLJ is Simran’s father letting her hand go, telling her to live her life, only for her to immediately clasp onto the hand of another man.
DDLJ is not a bad movie. I would go to the extent of calling it a pretty good movie. It’s funny, emotional, and really panders to the Indian diaspora at the expense of the British (something the anti-colonialist in me appreciates).
The movie is yet another reminder that the men in our life, be it our boyfriends or our fathers, are our priority.
However, I don’t rewatch it for the romance because it reminds me of something deeply abhorrent in our culture; that we as women hold no agency over our lives, but especially over our love lives.
We are all Simran, begging our fathers to let us be free once before they marry us off to whoever they decide is suitable. We are all Simran as she pleads with her father to let her go; to let go of our hands and our lives. We are all Simran, now tied to another man, as our ambitions and dreams remain nameless and unimportant, all secondary to the concept of marriage and men.
I used to wish for a Raj. After rewatching the movie, I now only wish to be Raj, if only to have the agency of going wherever I want and marrying whoever I want (if I want), the way I know I could never do as Simran.
Bollywood movies are not the prime example of an industry known for its strong female characters. In fact, they are often criticized – especially South Indian movies – for the lack of female characters with substance.
Aruvi is the personification of female rage, a character that symbolizes how a woman could be as gentle as a stream, but could easily turn into a destructive force of nature too. She is an everyday woman whose life is changed when she is diagnosed with AIDS. Her story sheds light on the hypocrisy of the patriarchy, the ignorance and lack of humanity in the conservative South Asian society, and the power of women.
2. Tara from Oh Kadhal Kanmani (Oh love, apple of my eye)
The character of Tara steals the show in this beautifully-modern, realistic, classy and cute love story between two ambitious individuals who won’t put their career on stake for a relationship.
Tara is uncompromising, confident, bold and someone you’ll easily fall in love with. The best part is that she could easily be the girl who lives next door, and there’s a beautiful realism about her that makes her story so meaningful and close to your heart.
3. Nirupama from How Old Are You?
Nirupama is an ordinary woman – a wife and mother with a routine and unexciting life. Her story is a reflection of the average life of middle-aged women in India.
At 36 years old, she wonders whether she has passed her prime, the age where she can do something new, follow her dreams, and become someone special. As she finds the answer to the question, that it’s never late for a woman to follow her dreams, she inspires all of us with her uplifting story.
4. Ponni from Iraivi (Goddess)
Iraivi is a movie full of brilliant female characters, each portraying women who exist in a man’s world. Ponni’s story is undoubtedly the most beautiful – the moving tale of a young bride whose illusions of marriage shatters gradually.
However, Ponni doesn’t mope or let her husband walk all over her, transforming into a woman of quiet strength and resolve, and we know for sure that she will bring up her daughter as another strong female.
5. Laila from Margarita with a Straw
Laila’s story will make you laugh, cry, feel, and break your heart. It’s the story of a girl with cerebral palsy, who doesn’t let her disability define her.
We follow Laila as she travels from India to New York, experiences a whole new side of life, finds love, explores her sexuality, deals with heartbreak and struggles to break the news of her bisexuality to her mother. There are times you’ll even dislike Laila, but that’s what makes her character so human and real.
6. Tessa from 22 Female Kottayam
Life seems great for Tessa as her career is off to the right start, and her love life is wonderful. But it all comes crashing down when Tessa is raped, framed and betrayed by the very man she loved and trusted.
22 Female Kottayam is all about an angry female and the lengths she goes for her revenge. Tessa becomes the embodiment of femme fatale, and she’s ruthless in her journey for justice, keeping you rooting for her and her cause.
7. Subbu from Aaranya Kaandam (Anima and Persona)
Never underestimate a woman – this should be the moral of this movie. In a gangster flick full of violence and tense moments, a character like Subbu – the innocent mistress of an aged gangster – could’ve been completely overlooked but the seemingly hapless female ultimately becomes the game-changer.
A character who at first induces pity for her situation, then affection towards her innocence, will leave you stunned at the end.
8. Geet from Jab We Met (When We Met)
Geet’s iconic dialogue, “Mein apni favorite hoon” (I am my favorite person), defines her as a character. She is talkative, happy, optimistic, unapologetic, adventurous and so full of life.
And even after 12 years, she’s still one of the favorites of Bollywood rom-com heroines. She teaches us that it’s okay to be self-obsessed, urges us to take risks, encourages us to talk our hearts out and inspires us to always do things that will make us – not the world – happy.
9. Sivagami from Bahubali (One with strong arms)
The foster mother of the titular character, Sivagami is a fearless, brave yet vulnerable woman of gray shades. She rules a vast kingdom with ease despite being surrounded by deceit and evil.
The scene where she sits on the throne with so much arrogance, just after killing a traitor – with his blood still splattered on her face – while breastfeeding both her kids, her eyes daring anyone to cross her, gives me goosebumps every time.
10. Roja from Roja (Rose)
Roja is a simple village girl who is married off to a man – an absolute stranger – in the city. Everything about her married life is a revelation, and just as she slowly falls for her husband, he is kidnapped and she is stranded in an unknown city.
The way she struggles to get her husband back, in an alien location, negotiating in a language she doesn’t speak with no resources whatsoever, only backed by determination is simply inspiring to watch.
11. Sandhya from Dum Laga Ke Haisha (Give in All Your Energy)
This underrated love story is full of heart, and Sandhya is a character with so much strength and optimism. Plus-sized and comfortable with it, she tries to live with a mistreating husband who doesn’t believe he’s attracted to her.
Then she leaves him, not tolerating his nonsense. And even as she gives him a second chance, she makes sure it’s on her own terms, and the best part is that she doesn’t try to become someone else to get love.
12. Devi from Masaan (Crematorium)
Blackmailed by a police officer when she’s caught having sex with her boyfriend, Devi doesn’t crumble under the pressure, rather remains firm on the fact that there’s no shame in her actions.
She is a woman of steel, and throughout the movie, her stiff spine and unapologetic gaze serve as a slap in the face to the patriarchy that tries to victimize her.
13. Shilpa from Super Deluxe
This is a controversial pick as Shilpa is a trans woman played by a male actor. However, she is also probably the first trans-leading character in a mainstream Tamil movie.
Shilpa is flawed and selfish, but she rises through all the insults, humiliation and prejudice she faces through the immense love she has for her son, and it is truly inspiring. Super Deluxe also features three more unconventional and strong female characters who all deserve a nod too.
These characters all have different stories, with totally different lives, yet all of them stand out because of the way they look at life, and the impact they leave on an audience. As we celebrate these characters, it’s important to remember that we still have a long way to go, especially in terms of intersectional female characters who belong to different minorities, as well as the casting of the right actors to bring in more authenticity to their portrayals.
On the surface level, “Made in Heaven” looks like just another take on the drama behind the deceptively perfect big fat Indian wedding. So many Indian shows and movies have worked their stories around the backdrop of weddings that wedding fiction should be its own genre in Bollywood and Indian TV.
The cynical tone of Made in Heaven‘s trailer mocked me to dare assume that this web series is going to be yet another story of wedding planners falling in love. And yet here I am, after a whole day of binge-watching nine episodes, awed by Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti and Alankrita Shrivastava’s masterful writing, and haunted by their characters.
Made in Heaven follows the stories of wedding planners and business partners Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan Mehra (Arjun Mathur). While each episode tracks a different wedding, the crux of the show are the leads and their employees. Some weddings come with a story to root for, whether it is the bride who courageously walks away from her own wedding as she discovers that her fiancè has demanded dowry, or the heartwarming story of an elderly couple who fell in love in their sixties.
The show sheds light on the sexual assault that occurs in these wealthy weddings, the virginity tests, the deception and the hypocrisies. But as the show progresses, the weddings take a backseat, and we start to fall for the unlikeable leads, while the beautiful and bittersweet friendship between Tara and Karan ultimately becomes the heart and soul of the show.
Made in Heaven is conceived, written and directed by women, and it is easy to see how the show has managed to portray the moral ambivalence of a woman perfectly. There are unlikeable female characters, and then there’s Tara. Her character questions and shatters the stereotypes of the other woman, the gold digger and female ambition. Tara is relentless in her pursuits, unapologetic about her choices and knows when and how to play her cards. She’s gray, selfish, arrogant and manipulative, but she’s also insecure, kind, smart and passionate. It wouldn’t be a lie if I professed her as one of the most well-rounded and complex female characters I have ever seen on screen. At times I was in awe at her strength and smartness, then she transfixed me with her sinister and diabolical side. Tara is the kind of female character that is never written into stories, but in Made in Heaven she’s the protagonist, and she owns that space.
As much as I adored Tara, my favorite character was Karan, who is as imperfect and selfish as Tara. When the show begins, he had figured out a formula for his life. As a gay man, he is out to the most important people in his life. He doesn’t consider himself an activist of any means, he enjoys a string of one night stands, chooses to bribe a police officer when he catches him making out with a man in his car, rather than speaking up or calling any attention to himself, and is comfortable with his sexuality and the society’s perception of him. But he is not let to live in his safety bubble for long, and the show is blunt and real about gay rights in India. In one heartbreaking episode, his dignity, privacy, and rights are all stripped away, and even as he moves on, he loses the sense of normalcy he has been craving since the beginning.
Each supporting character is fleshed out and flawed, yet it’s impossible to hate any one of them. Tara’s husband Adil is a smooth-talking asshole who is given more depth due to the charm Jim Sarbh oozes into his character. Anyone other than Kalki Koechlin would have made Tara’s best friend Faiza into the stereotypical ‘other woman’, but she manages to shatter all the traditional labels bestowed upon similar characters. There’s Jazz, who has the ambition and aspiration of Tara and is as practical as she is idealistic. Kabir, with his philosophical narration, knowing eyes and understanding heart. Shibani, the single mother who takes no excuses for not being paid enough. And special mention to Vikrant Massey whose short cameo is the most heartbreaking moment in the entire show.
Made in Heaven is aesthetically stunning, visually brilliant and presents a clever take on non-linear narration. But what triumphs is the boldness of its subject matters, authenticity in its writing and masterful crafting of characters. This is a show that questions multiple age-old stereotypes that exist in Bollywood and Indian media, and paves the way for positive change, especially in the portrayal of women and sexuality. It is undoubtedly a must watch, hats off to creators Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti who have taken this year by storm once again.
Some trailers pique my interest, some manage to get me hooked into the storyline, and some get me genuinely excited.
However, some special trailers make me simultaneously weep and grin, as the weight of the importance of that movie and what it stands for sink in. The latter happened to me when I watched the trailer for The Hate U Give some months ago.
And I had the same reaction as I watched – and then replayed and watched again for thousand times – the trailer of the upcoming Hindi movie, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (How I felt when I saw that girl).
So far, Bollywood’s representation of the LGBTQIA+ community has been tumultuous, to say the least.
While some movies along the way helped make some progress, a large number of movies erase the existence of the community or are highly homophobic and problematic. Queer characters are used as comic relief, homophobic jokes are littered around in conversations, and intersectionality is almost a foreign concept. But out of the blue, some movies act as a ray of sunshine in the midst of such massive heteronormativity and homophobia, and this particular movie might be a game changer.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga stars Sonam Kapoor as the protagonist, who seems to be hiding a secret from her family. Her family tries to get her married to a man, but her heart is elsewhere. Rajkummar Rao, who narrates the trailer in the beginning, starts off as a potential love interest, then evidently becomes her closest confidante, as the trailer slowly reaches its climax of revealing why Sonam’s character is not interested in any guys – she is attracted to a girl instead. That moment you realize that the ladki (girl) that the title and the song is gushing about is not Sonam herself, rather the girl she is in love with is beautiful. The trailer gave me all the feels, and you need to witness the awesomeness.
Aren’t you excited for some well-deserved representation?
If the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole is underrepresented and misrepresented in Bollywood, lesbians and queer female characters have been the most unfortunate. While there are some stand-out characters and stories of gay male characters in mainstream Bollywood movies, the same fate hasn’t extended to lesbians. With the exception of Deepa Mehta’s controversial, powerful and far ahead of its time Fire (1996) which featured a romance between two sisters-in-law who are neglected by their husbands, progressive lesbian romances haven’t graced Hindi movies in a long time.
2014 saw a big step in the right direction with Margarita with a Straw, the story of a bisexual girl with cerebral palsy. As amazing as these movies were, they remained distinctly arthouse films, with festival openings and foreign affiliations, and was directed more towards an elite audience than the mainstream moviegoer.
On the flip side, there have been numerous problematic depictions. Bollywood movies have used lesbian characters as a means of titillation and sensationalization, rather than treating their sexuality with accuracy and respect.
Worse, lesbian characters have been catered to the male gaze, and have been created to gratify the heterosexual male viewer’s sexual fantasy, rather being portrayed as fleshed out characters with feelings, emotions, and desires. Movies like the disastrous Girlfriend (2014), which presents the lesbian as possessive, jealous and obsessed, only play on the stereotype that queer females are seductive and villainous characters who are hyper-sexualized and made into antagonists.
This is why a movie like Ek Ladki has the potential to be revolutionary. Here’s a romantic comedy with a light, quirky tone and full of relatable characters. There’s the funny characters, dance numbers, colorful celebrations that mark the identity of every Bollywood rom-com.
More than everything, this movie could be immensely popular due to the brilliant casting choices which makes sure that the movie will be taken to more households and will reach more people than the previous arthouse attempts have.
Even though I’ve only seen a trailer of few minutes so far, the potential this movie holds is immense.
Directed by Shelly Chopra Dhar, and co-written by Gazal Dhaliwal – known for her take on female sexuality in the feminist Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016) – this romantic comedy carrying all the markings of a mainstream Bollywood movie, with the “most unexpected romance of the year” is going to be path-breaking.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Bollywood with all my heart, I do.
What I don’t love about Bollywood though is it’s excessive need to justify and glorify stalking. Stalking isn’t funny or amusing, and it’s definitely not romantic – but Bollywood has been profiting off of this problematic behavior for so long.
If only Bollywood stuck to its actual peculiarities, such as intricate storylines, romantic songs, elaborate choreographies, and gorgeous costumes – instead of normalizing stalking and harassment.
The most recent example of this is the song “Has Mat Pagli” from the 2017 Bollywood film, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. The song depicts a man twice the age of the woman, following her (in jest), trying to take pictures of her (without her consent), and the lyrics literally translate to “don’t laugh or you’ll fall in love”.
What must be noted here, however, is that the woman is clearly uncomfortable with the entire ordeal. Not once is she shown to even smile about the fact that this man is casually obsessed with her.
Oh, and get this: “Has Mat Pagli” is a romantic song.
If that doesn’t give you a crystal clear picture of the extent to which Bollywood glorifies stalkers, then I don’t know what will.
Another case in point is the 2013 film, Raanjhanaa (the title translates to “beloved one”), which was a romantic movie. Once again, it centered around the hero of the film stalking the heroine to get her attention and fall in love with him.
If I started listing out the examples, I’d never stop. But a few more would be films like Darr, Anjaam, Tere Naam, R Rajkumar, and of course, the cult classic – Sholay.
There is a scene in Sholay where Hema Malini (the actress) pushes Dharmendra (the actor) off her horse carriage and he sings the following lines for her, “Koi hasina jab rooth jati hai to, aur bhi hasin ho jati hai.”
This line literally translates to, “When a beautiful woman gets angry, she gets even more beautiful.”
Consent is not even a concept for Bollywood, or so it seems, as every hero is out to stalk his way into the heroine’s heart, no matter what she might actually want.
Now, here’s the deal – this is dangerous and has real-world consequences.
In 2016, a Snapdeal employee Dipti Saran was kidnapped by her stalker who stalked her 150 times and apparently studied her for a year before kidnapping her. He claimed that he did this, after being inspired by Shah Rukh Khan’s character in the 1993 Bollywood film, Darr. This is the implication of romanticizing stalkers in movies.
The fear of harassment for women in today’s world is constant and real anyway. It really doesn’t help that mainstream media, instead of aiding and providing solutions, help perpetuate such behavior.
I’ve had boys coming up to me, defending catcalling, stalker behavior, and telling me to “chill it.”
Apparently, I’m being too much of a feminist when I say I don’t like this aspect about Bollywood and that I genuinely don’t enjoy movies that romanticize stalking.
I’d rather be a bitter feminist than a submissive and ignorant human being who enjoys something just because it’s made to be laughed at, or whatever.
I will not supportanything that attempts to harm my own safety and the safety of women worldwide.
Such filmsare the reason why young boys (and even older men) think it’s okay to get after a girl till she says yes, these films are the reason why consent is yet to be an internalized part of sex education, and these films contribute to keeping rape culture alive and well in today’s society.
Bollywood filmmakers need to realize the influence their stories have on young minds – it is vital for them to take responsibility and see to it that they don’t encourage problematic behavior like stalking and harassment, and instead portray those in a negative light and discourage it.
We need an immediate end to the glorification of stalkers as “heroes.”
They’re criminals and they don’t deserve love and they definitely don’t deserve the heroine – they deserve to be punished.
We need a shift from this regressive, misogynistic mindset, and we need it now.
Because this shift is what will bring about a real change in the young minds, this change will teach young boys what consent is, and why it’s not okay to force a girl to fall in love with them. Basic socialization these days begins at home and the media plays a massive role in that because everybodyhas access to YouTube and the film industry now.
It’s high time we got films that promote progressive ideals of consensual relationships between mature adults and not the ridiculous glorification we are so used to “laughing” at.