Sexuality The Vulvasation Love + Sex Love Advice

Let’s talk about sex baby and South Asia’s problem with it

Vulvasations is a Tempest Love exclusive series dedicated to spreading awareness about the female reproductive system, debunking myths about periods and dissecting everything vajayjay related. Let’s talk about vaginas!

I’m 15 years-old when I realize I can’t identify my body properly, mostly, because I’ve discovered I have clitoris and I don’t know what it is. I will go on to spend the next two years of my life ignoring that particular body part because I think that something’s wrong with me. I would only figure out what it is years later as an adult woman. But the real question is why did no one around me talk about sex?

Before this diatribe starts, I would like to give some context to the South Asian, particularly the Indian problem with sex. I was born to an Indian family from a Southern state called “Tamil Nadu” to two slightly conservative but overall liberal Tamil Christian parents. My upbringing was a weird mismatch of culture, ideas and traditions due to my maternal side being heavily Anglicized. I was expected to be liberal about Indian ideals, after all, my family moved to the desert nation of UAE in the 90s, because they wanted us to have better opportunities.

I grew up enjoying liberties that perhaps weren’t the case with fellow Tamil or Tamil Christian girls. We spoke English at home, played records by Western 70s and 80s musicians, notably ABBA, the Beatles, Elton John et al. But for all the liberties we experienced, there were still some lines we never crossed, my parents would firmly stick to the fact that we were South Indian and there were certain things expected of South Indian women (especially those from Tamil Christian backgrounds).

What further reinforced this notion was my place of residence – I grew up in the UAE which at it’s base, is an Islamic nation. While the country itself was liberal in comparison to all its neighbors in the region, school was a conservative place. I studied with boys till the third grade and after that, we were segregated in true Indian private school tradition, because that’s when we realized that our male classmates are men. And here’s where it begins to get weird.

Sex education in Indian schools, especially private Indian schools are abysmal.

I say this with confidence because I’ve never been taught sex-ed and no, I don’t count that one time my tenth-grade Biology teacher speedily taught a class full of teenage girls the reproduction system. It was an awkward experience, and we all felt like we were breaking some unspoken universal taboo.

Most of my sex education, funnily enough, came from reading the Bible because it detailed laws on what believers should and should not do. It took me a very long time to understand what each law meant because I had no idea how everything worked. I was quite sheltered growing up and under the impression that you only get pregnant if two people of the opposite sex slept in the same bed.

Not my finest moment, but I had no teacher to tell me otherwise.

The only person who gave me “the talk” or a version of it was my elder sister, who fed me second-hand information about sex to me from her friends, while we did our homework and then, never spoke about it. Of course, a lot of the things I was told, were factually incorrect but that’s how limited our resources were. We had blocked websites due to the country’s censorship laws, and if you wanted information, you’d have to read an encyclopedia or just ask someone you know.

We weren’t encouraged to talk about sex or understand how our bodies worked. We never spoke about male and female interactions – at least, we didn’t talk about them in the way we should have because that would have made all the difference.

If I had to go back to all the times I’ve awkwardly looked away from the TV when things get heated between the hero and the heroine in their “love scenes” and when I mean love scenes, I mean those scenes, where the heroine is having her belly caressed sexually or having her neck sniffed by the hero because Indians are really strange about showing two consenting adults touching. It’s easy to see why we’re uncomfortable. We’re conditioned to deny ourselves pleasure.

It’s not that Indians aren’t having sex because they most definitely are. India ranks third worldwide for being porn consumers and now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re consuming porn now more than ever. So why are we so shy talking about it with our young people?

Don’t people think that we would benefit from educating people on consent, sex and how their bodies worked? Don’t people think that our society would be infinitely better if we all had useful sexual education?

Well, I do and in the words of the Salt-N-Pepa, “Let’s talk about sex.”

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Bollywood Movies Pop Culture

You’re not going to believe this, but Noah Centineo changed the way I see Bollywood romance

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.

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Movie Reviews Bollywood Movies Pop Culture

“Parched” represents repressed voices in an Indian village and you should absolutely watch it

I first watched Parched right 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.

The image shows three Indian rural women sitting on the stairs and talking to each other.
[Image description: The image shows three Indian rural women sitting on the stairs and talking to each other.] Via Parched
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 image shows a man and a woman engaged in a sensual pose.
[Image description: A man and a woman engaged in a sensual embrace.] Via Parched
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.

The image shows two women in the nude hugging each other.
[Image description: The image shows two women in the nude hugging each other.] Via Parched
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.

TV Shows LGBTQIA+ Movies Pop Culture

45 best queer movies and TV shows that you should watch right now

Happy Pride Month! To spread some queer cheer, we’re sharing a list of our favorite TV shows and films featuring LGBTQIA+ characters. So call up your friends, your boo, cuddle your plants and pets closer to stream the ultimate Pride watch list!

1. The Half Of It

The Half Of It
[Image description: Ellie Chu watching movies with her dad and best friend] Via The Half Of It

What it’s about: Ellie Chu is a small town loner, helping her father with his station master duties and running a business writing essays for her classmates. She insists on keeping to herself until Paul Munsky, a jock, asks her for help writing a love letter to their classmate Aster Flores. Here is our full review of the film.

Where you can watch it: Netflix

2. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga
[Image description: Soonam Kapoor anxiously gazing at her reflection] Via Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga

What it’s about: The film title translates to “I Saw A Girl And Felt This Way,” and is Bollywood’s first rom-com starring lesbian love interests. Sweety Chaudry must juggle living in conservative Punjab, impending expectations of marriage (to a boy) and a playwright who develops a crush on her (not realizing he’s not Sweet’s type). 

Where you can watch it: Netflix

3. Moonlight

[Image description: Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, teaching Chiron how to swim] Via David Bornfriend/A24

What it’s about: Split up into three parts, this coming of age film follows the main character through different phases of his life in Miami, Florida where he struggles with his sexuality and identity. Moonlight won several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture and stars Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, and Trecante Rhodes. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

4. Love, Simon

love simon
[Image description: Simon leaning in for a kiss underneath the mistletoe] Via Love, Simon

What it’s about: Simon Spier is a closeted 16-year-old, secretly writing letters to an anonymous friend he’s fallen in love with online and carefully hiding his sexuality from everyone. Simon’s carefully crafted life is endangered when a blackmailer threatens to out him to his whole school. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

5. Euphoria 

[Image description: Rue staring at Jules] Via Euphoria

What it’s about: HBO’s Euphoria follows a group of high schoolers. The main story is that of 17-year-old Rue, a drug addict fresh from rehab with no plans to stay clean. Circling in Rue’s orbit are Jules, a transgender girl searching for where she belongs; Nate, a jock whose anger issues mask sexual insecurities; Chris, a football star who finds the adjustment from high school to college harder than expected; Cassie, whose sexual history continues to dog her; and Kat, a body-conscious teen exploring her sexuality. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

6. The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl
[Image description: Lili Elbe, played by Eddie Redmayne staring at her reflection] Via The Danish Girl

What it’s about: Loosely based off of one of the earliest recipients of sex reassignment surgery, this film tells the story of 1920s Danish artist, Lili Elbe, played by Eddie Redmayne. It follows Lili’s transition as husband Einer Wegener to the wife of Gerda Wegener, a tentatively supportive painter.

Where you can watch it: Netflix

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7. Orange Is the New Black

[Image description: The cast of OITNB standing in the prison cafeteria] Via Orange Is The New Black

What it’s about: A dramedy set in a minimum-security federal prison, this series follows various prisoners as they navigate life under lock and key. Piper Chapman is completely unprepared to see her ex-girlfriend locked up with her, as she is responsible for tearing Piper away from freedom and her fiance, Larry.

Where you can watch it: Netflix

8. Killing Eve 

Killing Eve
[Image description: Eve, played by Sandra Oh, a knife pointed at her by rival Villanelle] Via Killing Eve

What it’s about: This UK thriller comedy show tells the story of two female spies and their increasing obsession with each other. Eve, played by Sandra Oh is a bored MI5 agent until she is recruited by MI6 to hunt down international assassin Villanelle. Both women begin to lose focus in their initial assignments and become more interested in learning more about each other. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

9. Sense8

[Image description: The sensates cheering and dancing in victory] Via Sense8

What it’s about: A sci-fi Netflix series, Sense8 tells the story of eight individuals inexplicably connected to each other from birth. Called “sensates” for their extraordinary ability to experience what the others in the group are living through, they must stay alive long enough to find out why a secret government organization wants them dead. Shot on-location in cities like Berlin and Mumbai, Sense8 boasts diversity and an inclusive cast. 

Where you can watch it: Netflix

10. Sex Education

sex education
[Image description: the student body shocked and amused in Sex Education] Via Sex Education

What it’s about: Otis, played by Asa Butterfield, is an insecure virgin and the teenaged son of a sex therapist. After successfully administering sex therapy to a fellow classmate by accident, Otis becomes his school’s most sought after resource as everyone seems to be struggling with “sex problems”. Helping him navigate this new attention is his openly gay best friend Eric and savvy new business partner, Maeve Wiley. 

Where you can watch it: Netflix

11. The Rocky Horror Picture Show 

rocky horror
[Image description: Dr. Frank N Furter and castle servants performing] Via The Rocky Horror Picture Show

What it’s about: A musical comedy production like no other, this film opens on a dark and stormy night when a naive, newly engaged young couple’s car breaks down. They seek help from a nearby castle, whose owner turns out to be Dr. Frank N. Furter, a mad scientist and alien trans woman that has managed to create a muscle man. Dr. Frank N. Furter and the castle servants begin to seduce the innocent couple separately. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

12. High Fidelity

high fidelity
[Image description: Rob, played by Zoe Kravitz] Via High Fidelity

What it’s about: A Hulu original starring Zoe Kravitz, High Fidelity follows the romantic life of Brooklynite and struggling record shop owner Rob. Freshly full of heartbreak, Rob cracks a scheme to come to terms with her love life, determined to track down her Top 5 failed relationships to ask her partners why they left her. 

Where you can watch it: Hulu

13. Queer Eye

Queer Eye
[Image description: The Fab Five of Queer Eye] Via Queer Eye

What it’s about: This Netflix reboot launches a new Fab Five, queer makeover experts that tour the US in search of nominees in need of a confidence boost. Tan France serves as the stylist, Antoni Porowski is the food expert, Karamo Brown is the culture extraordinaire, Bobby Berk is responsible for design and Jonathan Van Ness is the team groomer. 

Where you can watch it: Netflix

14. Modern Family

Modern Family
[Image description: The cast of the mockumentary assembled in the living room] Via Modern Family

What it’s about: A mockumentary following an extended American family, this sitcom is set in suburban Los Angeles. So named “modern”, among the show’s family members are a gay couple on their journey to becoming fathers. Mitchell and Cameron were one of American TV’s earliest depictions of wholesome gay dads. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

15. How Gay Is Pakistan?

how gay is pakistan?
[Image description: host Mawaan Rizwan standing in a crowded street of Pakistan] Via How Gay is Pakistan?

What it’s about: This BBC documentary film investigates gay culture in Pakistan, where the punishment for being openly gay is up to ten years in prison or the death penalty. In spite of the law, this film follows eager and comedic British Pakistani Mawaan Rizan on his quest to find the gay scene in his homeland. Along the way, we learn about Pakistan’s gay dating culture, the large trans community, and meet various gay rights activists. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

16. But I’m A Cheerleader

[Image description: Two young women stare at the camera, shocked.] via Lionsgate Films
[Image description: Two young women stare at the camera, shocked.] via Lionsgate Films

What it’s about: When Megan’s friends and family begin to suspect she’s gay, her parents intervene and enroll her in a weird residential conversion therapy program. It’s a camp ’90s classic of John Waters-like proportions with a message of self-acceptance and community at its heart.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

17. 52 Tuesdays

52 Tuesdays
[Image description: A pair embracing framed in sunlight] Via 52 Tuesdays

What it’s about: This Australian coming-of-age film shares the experience of a teenage girl struggling to deal with her mother transitioning to a male identity. Billie is sent to live with her father, whom her mother Jane divorced for the year that Jane is transitioning to James. The only time Billie gets to see James is on each Tuesday of the week. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

18. Call Me By Your Name 

call me by your name
[Image description: Elio and the graduate student he falls in love with] Via Call Me By Your Name

What it’s about: Starring Timothee Chalamet, this film is set in the summer of 1983 in Northern Italy. 17-year-old Elio becomes involved with his father’s 23-year-old graduate student. As the summer goes on, the two fall in love with each other, remaining closeted and keeping their relationship a secret, despite everyone knowing. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

19. Broad City

broad city
[Image description: Ilana Gazer and Abbi Jacobson] Via Broad City

What it’s about: This television sitcom follows the lives of two twenty-somethings as they try to “make it” in New York. Based on a popular web series and inspired by the leads’ real-life friendship, Broad City explores the bonds and sometimes-cringe humor between the women. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

20. Pose

[Image description: NYC’s ballroom culture in the 90s] Via Pose

What it’s about: Featuring a largely Black and Latino cast, this series focuses on the ballroom culture of New York City in the 80s and 90s. Most notably the show centers the AIDS crisis of the 90s, showing how hard the community was hit by how frequently characters attended funerals. The series also traces the popularity of dance styles and the various contributions of the LGBTQIA+ community to mainstream pop culture. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

21. Gentleman Jack

gentleman jack
[Image description: Anne Lister and Anne Walker] Via Gentleman Jack

What it’s about: Inspired by the real-life diaries of the lesbian landowner and industrialist Anne Lister, this historical drama series is set in Yorkshire in the early 1900s. While restoring her uncle’s estate, Anne Lister meets Ann Walker, an unusual lady landowner with whom she begins a secret and dangerous romantic relationship. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

22. Carol 

[Image description: Carol and Therese in Carol’s living room] Via Carol

What it’s about: Set in 1952 New York City, this romantic drama tells the story of Therese Belivet, an aspiring photographer and the glamorous Carol Aird. Therese and Carol are both struggling with their respective male partners when they meet each other and instantly have a connection. Against the charming backdrop of Christmastime in New York, this film tells the story of a budding romance. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

23. Before Stonewall

before stonewall
[Image description: An LGBTQ+ march for equality] Via Before Stonewall

What it’s about: Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community is a 1984 documentary film about the LGBTQIA+ community before the events of the Stonewall riots. This film outlines the struggles and challenges the lesbian and community faced leading up to Stonewall. 

Where you can watch it: Amazon

24. Portrait of a Lady on Fire 

[Image Description: Two women embrace each other just about to kiss.] via Portrait of a Lady on Fire
[Image Description: Two women embrace each other just about to kiss.] via Portrait of a Lady on Fire

What it’s about: Set on a remote shore in Britain in the 18th century. Marianne, a young painter has been commissioned to paint a portrait of a young woman named Heloise, who will soon marry. The director, Celine Sciamma, doesn’t hold back while she explores the growing passion between Marianne and Heloise.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

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25. Brokeback Mountain

[Image Description: Two cowboys content in each others arms.] via Brokeback Mountain
[Image Description: Two cowboys content in each other’s arms.] via Brokeback Mountain

What it’s about: During the summer of 1963, two cowboys start a sexual relationship after they are both hired to look after sheep in the secluded Wyoming mountains. The movie follows the rest of their lives as they attempt to forget their romantic past and move forward in their respective heterosexual relationships, despite an enduring and intense infatuation with one another.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

26. A Very English Scandal

[Image Description: A man in a suit stands with his hand on his hips worried.] via A Very English Scandal
[Image Description: A man in a suit stands with his hand on his hips worried.] via A Very English Scandal

What it’s about: This incredible TV series is based on the true story of 1970s British politician Jeremy Thorpe. He has a secret: he’s gay. Like many men in his position he solicits sex from naive victims then dumps them when he’s done. However, the mini-series takes a twist when he’s charged with conspiracy to murder.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

27. Pride 

[Image Description: A pride march going through London Bridge. A man in a leather jacket sits in other protestors shoulders with a megaphone.] va Pride
[Image Description: A pride march going through London Bridge. A man in a leather jacket sits on other protesters’ shoulders with a megaphone.] via Pride

What it’s about: After Joe is cast out of his family home, he joins an up-and-coming activist group led by a charismatic gay rights campaigner, Mark. Based on a heartwarming true story, the group correlates their struggle with that of the striking miners and head off to a mining village in Wales to try and establish a political coalition against the Thatcher government with them.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

28. RENT

[Image description: Angry men and women stand together in an array of different clothing colors and identities.] via Sony Pictures Releasing
[Image description: Angry men and women stand together in an array of different clothing colors and identities.] via Sony Pictures Releasing

What it’s about: Loosely based on Puccini’s 1896 opera La Bohème, seven friends living in the East Village of New York City in the ’80s form a group bonded by economic hardship, a love of the arts, and an ongoing battle against the AIDS crisis. It swings from sad to absurd, and has a killer soundtrack full of iconic musical favorites!

Where you can watch it: Amazon

29. Hedwig and the Angry Inch

[Image Description: A transgender woman with long blonde hair and a microphone performs on stage.] via Hedwig and the Angry Inch
[Image Description: A woman with long blonde hair and a microphone performs on stage.] via Hedwig and the Angry Inch

What it’s about: This rock musical explores the life of Hedwig Robinson, a trans East German rock singer, who tours the US with her band while she tells her story. It explores the origins of love, sexuality, and the ever-fluctuating gender of its campy yet endearing title character. Hedwig assists all who watch, in guiding them through what finding that “other half” really means, whether it be love, identity, or a punk persona within all of us.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

30. Dallas Buyers Club 

[Image Description: A man and drag queen sit on bench facing away from each other.] via Dallas Buyers Club
[Image Description: A man and drag queen sit on a bench facing away from each other.] via Dallas Buyers Club

What it’s about: Set in 1985, this film tells the story of Ron Woodroof, a Texas cowboy whose life is turned upside down when he finds out he is HIV-positive. He ends up establishing a way for fellow HIV-positive people to get access to treatments for the disease.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

Try 5 Frames Before You Buy

31. Philadelphia

[Image Description: Courtroom scene. Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington sitting next to each other.] via Philadelphia
[Image Description: Courtroom scene. Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington sitting next to each other.] via Philadelphia

What it’s about: This movie was one of the first Hollywood movies to acknowledge HIV/AIDS, homosexuality, and homophobia. The story is to-the-point yet powerful: fearing it would compromise his career, lawyer Andrew Beckett hides his homosexuality and HIV status at a powerful Philadelphia law firm. But his secret is exposed when a colleague spots the illness’s telltale lesions. Fired shortly afterward, Beckett resolves to sue for discrimination, teaming up with Joe Miller, the only lawyer willing to help. 

Where you can watch it: Netflix

32. The Birdcage

[Image Description: A man with a painted face and red lipstick, clutches his tie in worry.] via The Birdcage
[Image Description: A man with a painted face and red lipstick, clutches his tie in worry.] via The Birdcage

What it’s about: This hilarious, over-the-top comedy centers on a gay cabaret owner and his drag queen partner, who agree to pretend to be straight so that their son can introduce them to his fiancee’s conservative parents. The results of this, as might be expected, is a hilarious disaster.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

33. Boys Don’t Cry

[Image Description: Hilary Swank looks off into the distance, sitting on a bench.] via Boys Don't Cry
[Image Description: Hilary Swank looks off into the distance, sitting on a bench.] via Boys Don’t Cry

What it’s about: This movie is based on the tragic true story of Brandon Teena, a 21-year-old trans man who lost his life after his gender identity was outed by the woman he’d fallen in love with. The story flows in a gritty and hard-hitting style, and makes sure Brandon’s life and impact will never be forgotten.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

34. Mysterious Skin

[Image Description: A transgender woman with long blonde hair and a microphone performs on stage.] via Hedwig and the Angry Inch
[Image Description: A young man looks intensely in the distance.] via Mysterious Skin

What it’s about“The summer I was eight years old, five hours disappeared from my life. Five hours, lost, gone without a trace…” These are the words of Brian Lackey, a troubled 18-year-old plagued by nightmares and under the belief that he was the victim of alien abduction. On the other end is Neil McCormick, a young man that moves to New York in an attempt to forget the childhood memories that haunt him. Now, 10 years later, Neil’s pursuit of love leads him to New York City, while Brian’s voyage of self-discovery leads him to Neil — who helps him to unlock the dark secrets of their past.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

35. Ma Vie En Rose

[Image Description: A young boy wearing a white dress wears a veil.] via Ma Vie En Rose
[Image Description: A young boy wearing a white dress wears a veil.] via Ma Vie En Rose

What it’s about: In this Belgian movie, six-year-old Ludovic believes that he was meant to be a little girl, and waits for the mistake to be fixed. Where he waits for the miraculous, Ludo finds only rejection, isolation, and guilt from those in his family and community. It’s a truly powerful movie, and one that comes with its own difficult backstory.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

36. A Single Man

[Image Description: Colin Firth looks despondently at a bookshelf.] via A Single Man
[Image Description: Colin Firth looks despondently at a bookshelf.] via A Single Man

What it’s about: Colin Firth plays an English professor unable to cope with his day to day life after the death of his boyfriend. He decides to commit suicide, but the story changes as his day unfolds. As he tries to survive, he encounters a Spanish immigrant, then his best friend, who just so happens to be in love with him. As a result, he begins to rethink life.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

37. High Maintenance

[Image Description: A man on the phone looks to the distance.] via High Maintenance
[Image Description: A man on the phone looks to the distance.] via High Maintenance

What it’s about: This TV show provides a glimpse into various New Yorkers who are all linked by a common thread: their weed deliveryman. Each episode focuses on clients from every class and borough as they call on The Guy for deliveries.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

38. Margarita With a Straw 

[Image Description: A woman sucking on a curly straw.] via Margarita with a Straw
[Image Description: A woman sucking on a curly straw.] via Margarita with a Straw

What it’s about: A young woman with cerebral palsy moves from India to New York City to attend NYU on a semester abroad. There, she meets a blind girl of Pakistani-Bangladeshi descent and falls in love.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

39. Life Partners

[Image Description: Two friends sit on a bed laughing and having fun.] via Life Partners
[Image Description: Two friends sit on a bed laughing and having fun.] via Life Partners

What it’s about: Leighton Meester and Gillian Jacobs play codependent friends whose friendship is tested when one of them starts to get serious with a guy. Sasha, played by Meester begins to feel neglected after her best friend’s love life seems to be doing better than her own.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

40. 120 BPM

[Image Description: A young man looks away while another man tries to kiss him.] via BPM
[Image Description: A young man looks away while another man tries to kiss him.] via 120 BPM

What it’s about:  It’s the early 1990s in Paris, and anti-AIDS pressure group ACT UP is fed up with the government’s lack of interest and active censorship of the AIDS epidemic across France. We closely observe the group and their radical acts of protest, whilst also following the brief but beautiful relationship between HIV-negative newcomer, Nathan, and HIV-positive veteran, Sean.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

41. Fire

[Image Description: Two Indian women hold each other warmly, while smiling.] via Fire
[Image Description: Two Indian women hold each other warmly while smiling.] via Fire

What it’s about: Two women abandoned by their husbands find love in each other. This movie caused much controversy when it first came out in India, and theatres were attacked by Hindu fundamentalists because of the lesbian storyline.

42. Faking It

[Image Description: A blond and brunette girl embrace and kiss each other.] via Faking It
[Image Description: A blond and brunette girl embrace and kiss each other.] via Faking It

What it’s about: A romantic comedy TV show about two best friends who love each other — in slightly different ways. After numerous failed attempts to become popular, the girls are mistakenly outed as lesbians, which launches them to instant celebrity status. Seduced by their newfound fame, Karma and Amy decide to keep up their romantic ruse.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

43. This Is Not Berlin

[Image Description: A man with gay written in red multiple times on his body.] via This is not Berlin
[Image Description: A man with gay written in red multiple times on his body.] via This is not Berlin

What it’s about: It’s 1986 in Mexico City, and we meet seventeen-year-old Carlos. He doesn’t fit in anywhere: not in his family nor with the friends he has chosen in school. But everything changes when he is invited to a mythical nightclub where he discovers the underground nightlife scene: post-punk, sexual liberty, and drugs that challenges the relationship with his best friend Gera and lets him find his passion for art.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

44. The Bold Type

[Image Description: Three women wearing luxury dresses.] via The Bold Type
[Image Description: Three women wearing luxury dresses.] via The Bold Type

What it’s about: This amazing show is inspired and produced by Cosmopolitan editor in chief Joanna Coles. Revealing a glimpse into the outrageous lives and loves of those behind the global women’s magazine, “Scarlet”, this incredible show centers around the rising generation of women finding their own voices in a sea of intimidating leaders. Inspired by the life of former Cosmopolitan magazine editor-in-chief (Joanna Coles), the series weaves together the stories and struggles of some truly badass women.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

45. The Color Purple

[Image Description: Whoopi Goldberg sits on a chair with her hands on her face.] via The Color Purple
[Image Description: Whoopi Goldberg sits on a chair with her hands on her face.] via The Color Purple

What it’s aboutAn epic tale spanning forty years in the life of Celie, an African-American woman living in the South who survives incredible abuse and bigotry. After Celie’s abusive father marries her off to the equally debasing “Mister” Albert Johnson, things go from bad to worse, leaving Celie to find companionship anywhere she can. She perseveres, holding on to her dream of one day being reunited with her sister and finding her identity in the meantime.

Where you can watch it: Amazon

Book Club Books Pop Culture

Navigating queerness & tradition in YA fiction with Adiba Jaigirdar, author of “The Henna Wars”

Adiba Jaigirdar is an Irish-Bangladeshi writer, poet, and teacher with an MA in Postcolonial Studies. Her latest book, The Henna Wars, is a poignant story about two Muslim girls falling in love.

Be sure to check out our live Instagram event featuring Adiba and our own editor, Shaima. We’re also doing a giveaway of her book, enter now!


Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel The Henna Wars stems from a genuine desire to inspire joy. She was drawn to “write a story that made [her] happy and that was funny to read and fun to write.” She settled on the idea of a romantic comedy with two teen girls with rival henna businesses while “attempting (and failing) to teach [herself] henna”.

Looking to up the stakes of the girls’ rivalry, Adiba imagined what it would be like “if the two girls were also romantically attracted to each other, and grappling with what that might mean.” From there, everything else came together to make this wonderful tale of love, longing, and growing up. 

The Henna Wars revolves around themes of queerness, first love, culture, and family. Adiba interjects stories with themes that are relevant to herself and her life, and exploring them in the medium of storytelling.

Her influences range from The Princess Diaries, Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe to Bollywood film like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which she cites as part of her introduction to romance.

She recalls the first time she encountered a person of color writing about people of color in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (which we love!). Reading her stories made Adiba realize that it was possible to write about people like herself.

As a queer woman of color, she acknowledges that she has a responsibility to represent her culture, gender, and sexuality in her work. “There’s a lot of pressure, especially because there aren’t a lot of novels out there about Bangladeshi teens, and even fewer about queer Bangladeshi Muslim teens,” Adiba said. “Even though realistically I know that it’s impossible to represent everything as you write a single story, I still felt the pressure of that.” 

To her, storytelling cannot be separated from politics. “Especially as a queer Muslim South Asian, there’s no way that what I write is not going to be political. My very existence is political.” 

As she writes in the contemporary era, I was curious to see what she finds unique to the time that we are currently living in. To her, this time is a time of “rising up against oppression and attempting to enact change.” Yet, she believes this has been the case for a while, as “marginalized people have been fighting for our rights for a long time. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” 

If this story were set in the future, she would love to say that the “characters like Nishat and Flávia wouldn’t have to worry about their sexuality, race, and culture making it more difficult for them to fit in.” However, she has her doubts. “I’m not particularly hopeful of that happening anytime in the near future.” 

For the writers out there or those interested in what happens behind the scenes, Adiba admits that her writing process is “honestly a little chaotic.” When she first begins writing, she “usually have a very basic idea of the story I want to tell. I figure out the important bits that I need to be able to write the story—the beginning, the end, and bits and pieces in the middle. Then, I begin to write and it’s a process of stringing everything together. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle. Once it’s out there on the page, it’s time for me to begin revisions and shape it into something that really works.”

[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
The scenes that she enjoyed writing the most were the Bengali wedding scenes at the beginning of the book. “Bangladeshi people are obsessed with weddings, and our weddings are a whole event. So it was nice to explore that aspect of my life through the lens of a character like Nishat, who is surrounded by the familiarity of a Bangladeshi wedding, while also stumbling across her childhood crush.” 

As for how it feels to see her work being shared around the world, Adiba admits that “it still feels a little surreal.” Her dreams of being a writer when she was younger seemed to rely on her writing about straight white characters with whom she shared few experiences. Those were some of the only stories that she saw published or have mainstream success. “It was hard for me to imagine a world where someone like me could be writing stories about people like me.” 

In the future, she hopes that The Henna Wars can allow queer brown girls to see a reflection of themselves in its pages, and that it can open doors for more queer brown people to write and publish more of their own stories. 

For those that have enjoyed the latest book-to-movie adaptations like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asians, Adiba shares that she would love to see The Henna Wars adapted for the big screen in the future. Especially if the potential adaptation stays true to the ethnicities of the characters.

As of now, Adiba is revising her second novel, which will be out from Page Street in spring 2021. It’s another YA romantic comedy which follows two girls—one Bangladeshi Bengali and one Indian Bengali—who have to start a fake relationship in order to achieve what they want. 

Have you entered our Instagram giveaway yet? And if you absolutely cannot wait, get The Henna Wars on Amazon or on The Tempest’s own virtual bookshop supporting local bookstores.
Editor's Picks Race Inequality

South Asians have been guilty of anti-Blackness for so long – it’s time we question our own selves

In late May, the nation erupted in protest as every state in the country and countries around the world opposed the brutal murder of George Floyd and the system that enabled it to happen.

While many celebrities have been beacons of hope, others have exposed themselves as performative allies, jumping on the racial justice bandwagon only when it became trendy and convenient for them. As an Indian immigrant, I am particularly disturbed by the hypocrisy in the responses to Floyd’s death from my South Asian friends and Indian celebrities.

Priyanka Chopra Jonas, for instance, a Bollywood and Hollywood actor, posted on her Instagram in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Later her husband, Nick Jonas, tweeted out that they both were distressed by the events and had donated significantly to the ACLU. On the surface, the actor’s post was nothing more than a generous post from a prominent figure.

However, if we delve into Chopra Jonas’s history, an unmistakable pattern of ignorance and discrimination emerges: Chopra Jonas has always supported the far-right Modi government, which is directly tied to racist, casteist, and Islamophobic violence. In addition to being complicit in this oppressive regime, Chopra Jonas openly praised the Indian Army in a tweet that came right after the Indian government ordered a retaliatory airstrike against Pakistan.

In 2019, a Pakistani-American beauty influencer, Ayesha Malik, confronted Chopra Jonas about the ignorance of her tweet at Beautycon. Chopra Jonas belittled Malik, implying she was “venting” (and thus playing into the trope of the hysterical woman) and saying “Girl, don’t yell at me.” All this happened as guards seized the microphone from Malik and dragged her away. It’s also worth noting that Chopra Jonas is no ordinary celebrity. She’s a UNICEF ambassador. Someone who is supposedly supposed to advocate for justice everywhere, not just when it benefits them.

Colorism has long been ingrained in South Asian society, leading to overt discrimination against darker-skinned individuals

Chopra Jonas’s statements do not exist in a vacuum. Rather they are indicative of a much larger issue of systemic discrimination in South Asian communities. For example, fairness creams are an incredibly lucrative business that exploits and weaponizes India’s obsession with fairness. Chopra-Jonas is just one of several South Asian celebrities who have endorsed fairness creams and in doing so, perpetuated racist and colorist standards. Others include Sonam Kapoor, Disha Patani, and Deepika Padukone.

As a child, family members would tell me not to play in the sun, to take exceptionally good care of my skin. All these messages reinforced to me that, ultimately, fair was lovely; dark was ugly. My experience is not isolated.

Colorism has long been ingrained in South Asian society, leading to overt discrimination against darker-skinned individuals. Tarun Vijay, a politician of the Bharatiya Janata Party, once claimed that Indians can’t be racist because they’ve lived with South Indians for so long. South Indians are often darker-skinned than many North Indians. All this to say, South Asians are obsessed with color, infatuated with light skin, set upon pedestalizing and aspiring to whiteness.

South Asians in the US largely subscribe to the model minority myth, a uniquely manipulative tool of white supremacy.

This aspiration towards whiteness goes further than just skin-deep fairness creams. South Asians in the US largely subscribe to the model minority myth, a uniquely manipulative tool of white supremacy. The model minority myth depicts Asian Americans as hard-working, intelligent, and highly productive members of society — and, most sinisterly, pits them against Black people, who the myth portrays as the opposite. Neither of these images is true, and falsely present both Asian and Black Americans as monolithic groups. The truth about the model minority myth is that it is solely a tool of white capitalism intended to blame the oppression of Black people on their own ostensible shortcomings (the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” fallacy that ignores systemic racism and institutional oppression) while ignoring the root of their disadvantages.

Of course, this all happens as the South Asian community continues to exploit Black culture for our own entertainment. Young South Asians are avid consumers of Black music and culture. South Asian figures such as Lilly Singh routinely exploit Blackness for their own profit.

Clearly, I’m not saying don’t listen to or support Black artists (far from it!). But I am saying that the pattern of appropriating Blackness while simultaneously endorsing explicitly anti-Black ideologies is a prime example of both racism and hypocrisy. We can’t love Black culture and oppress Black people at the same time.

We can’t love Black culture and oppress Black people at the same time.

While discussing the issue of anti-Blackness in South Asian communities with others, dangerous rhetoric about the merits of the model minority myth and disturbing colorist remarks have shown up, which raises an important question. How can one be pro-Black and pro-Black Lives Matter while also maintaining these inherently anti-Black ideas? Oftentimes South Asians are unaware of their own internal biases. We’ve been raised in a community that values colonial standards of whiteness so greatly that they’ve become normalized to us. We may say, do, or think things that explicitly go against our supposed beliefs.

Anti-racist advocacy starts with you. It starts with actively decolonizing your mind so that you can truly believe what you endorse. It’s impossible to be a true ally to the Black Lives Matter movement while also maintaining problematic standards.

When I say that we must examine our own internal biases, I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t openly voice solidarity. I wholly believe that right now we should be doing everything to amplify Black voices. But you cannot truly support Black communities while endorsing colorist, casteist views. You cannot endorse change without condemning systems that have explicitly oppressed Black communities.

Before we can decolonize our systems and institutions, we must decolonize our minds.

To all South Asians who have yet to acknowledge and address their own anti-Black biases yet continue to post on social media in support of Black people: before preaching to others, focus on yourself. You cannot support casteism, colorism, Islamophobia, or perpetuate the exploitation of Black culture and be anti-racist. Education and understanding how your own biases have shaped your view of the and your treatment of others.

Advocacy starts at home. With you, your loved ones, and your community at large. And before we can decolonize our systems and institutions, we must decolonize our minds.

Mind Bollywood Real World Word Celebrities Mental Health Movies Pop Culture

Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput took his life — but do we even care?

Editor’s Note: Mentions of suicide attempts and depression.

Sushant Singh Rajput, a famous Indian actor, was found dead in his apartment in Mumbai.

The police reported that the 34-year-old actor took his own life by hanging himself.

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.

Let’s begin by talking about the narrative that surrounds suicide and mental health generally.

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.

Buxom Cosmetics

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.

Movie Reviews Bollywood Movies Pop Culture

45 Bollywood movies everyone needs to watch at least once in their life

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:

1. Udaan (Flight) (2010)

A young man wearing a red sweater is laughing as he runs in Bollywood's 'Udaan'.
[Image description: A young man in a red sweater is laughing as he runs.] Via

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.

2. Dhobi Ghat (The Washerman’s Ghat) (2010)

A dark-haired man, stares into the oblivion in deep thought.
[Image description: A dark-haired man, stares into the oblivion in deep thought.] Via Hamara Photos

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.

3. Karthik Calling Karthik (2010)

A woman sitting on the lap of a man. The couple looks lovingly into each other's eyes.
[Image description: A woman sitting on the lap of a man. The couple looks lovingly into each other’s eyes.] Via Baradwaj Rangan

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.

4. Love Sex Aur Dhoka (Love, Sex, and Betrayal) (2010)

A man resting his upper body on a table and looking down and a young woman looking over at him in the background.
[Image description: A man resting his upper body on a table and looking down and a young woman looking over at him in the background.] Via FilmiBeat

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.

5. Band Baaja Baaraat (Band, Music, and Revelry) (2010)

Bollywood Actress Anushka Sharma and Actor Ranveer Singh holding each other sideways during their dance number.
[Image description: A man and woman hold each other sideways during their dance number.] Via YashRaj Films

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.

6. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (You Won’t Get A Second Chance At Life) (2011)

Three men standing in the sun and looking ahead.
[Image description: Three men standing in the sun and looking ahead.] Via Hindustan Times

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.

7. Desi Boyz (Local Boys) (2011)

Two men standing together with one having his hand up in thumbs up and the other looking mischievously.
[Image description: Two men standing together with one having his hand up in a thumbs up and the other looking mischievously.] Via Hindustan Times

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.

8. Rockstar (2011)

Ranbir Kapoor and Actress Nargis in the still from movie Rockstar.
[Image description: A man and a woman sit against each other in an embrace.] Via Hamara Photos
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.

9. English Vinglish (2012)

Bollywood Actress Sridevi wearing a traditionale Sari and looking serious in film 'English Vinglish'.
[Image description: A stoic woman in a saree in the kitchen.] Via ScoopWhoop

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.

10. Kahaani (Story) (2012)

A pregnant Indian woman looking down as a man in white uniform approaches her in Bollywood film 'Kahaani'.
[Image description: A pregnant woman looks away as a man in a white uniform approaches her.] Via Satyamshot

A mystery thriller film starring Vidya Balan as the protagonist who is heavily pregnant and in search of her missing husband. She is assisted by a kind police officer who sympathizes with her cause.

11. Barfi! (2012)

A dark-haired man wearing a yellow and green shirt and looking confused.
[Image description: A dark-haired man wearing a yellow and green shirt and looking confused.] Via Youtube

Shot against the backdrop of the 1970s, this comedy-drama stars a deaf-mute character and an autistic one, exploring the delicacy with which those retaining special needs balance their relationships.

12. Gangs of Wasseypur (2012)

A bunch of men sitting around and having an intense discussion.
[Image description: A bunch of men sitting around and having an intense discussion.] Via Dailymotion

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.

13. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (This Youth Is Crazy) (2013)

A dark-haired woman buttoning the shirt of a dark-haired man
[Image description: A dark-haired woman buttoning the shirt of a dark-haired man.] Via Urban Asian

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.

14. The Lunchbox, 2013

A couple sitting side by side with lunchboxes laid out in front of them as they read a written note.
[Image description: A couple sitting side by side with lunchboxes laid out in front of them as they read a written note.] Via Cinecelluloid

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.

15. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (Run Milkha Run) (2013)

A Sikh athlete is running on the tracks
[Image description: A male athlete is running on the tracks in a white running ensemble.] Via Variety

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.

16. 2 States (2014)

A couple wearing wedding clothes and smiling at each other.
[Image description: A couple in wedding attire smiles at each other.] Via

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.

17. PK (2014)

A dark haired man wearing a patterned shirt is sitting on a sofa and looking intently ahead.
[Image description: A dark-haired man in a patterned shirt is sitting on a sofa and looking intently ahead.] Via FilmiBeat

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.

18. Children of War (2014)

A couple smiling at each other as the woman has her hand on the wall.
[Image description: A couple smiling at each other as the woman has her hand on the wall.] Via Bollywoodmantra

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.

19. Highway (2014)

A couple sharing a blanket with the woman's head in the man's lap as he pats her on her head protectively.
[Image description: A couple sharing a blanket with the woman’s head in the man’s lap as he pats her on her head protectively.] Via Hollywood Reporter

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.

20. Ishqiya (Passionate) (2014)

A brown woman is holding a classical instrument with anguish on her face.
[Image description: A brown woman is holding a classical instrument with anguish on her face.] Via JustWatch

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.

21. Haider (2014)

Bollywood Actor Shahid Kapoor has a manic expression on his face as he gestures to his head in the shape of a gun in film 'Haider'.
[Image description: A man with a manic expression on his face gestures to his head with a finger gun.] Via Pakistan Today

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.

22. Tamasha (Spectacle) (2015)

A man and a woman high fiving as they sit cross-legged in the fields.
[Image description: A man and a woman high fiving as they sit cross-legged in the fields.] Via Sacnilk

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.

23. Parched (2015)

Four female friends wearing ethnic attire are happily riding a tractor in the fields in Bollywood film 'Parched'.
[Image description: Four female friends in ethnic attire are happily riding a tractor in a field.] Via the New York Times

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.

24. Talvar (Sword) (2015)

An Indian man and woman inspecting evidence in Bollywood's 'Talvar'.
[Image description: A man and woman inspecting a sword.] Via Livemint

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.

25. Masaan (Crematorium) (2015)

A young girl and guy relaxing on a boat and smiling at each other in Bollywood film 'Masaan'.
[Image description: A young girl and guy relaxing on a boat and smiling at each other.] Via Variety

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.

26. Aligarh (2015)

A brown man with graying hair and beard is looking out the window of a bus in Bollywood film 'Aligarh'.
[Image description: A man with graying hair and beard is looking out the window of a bus.] Via The Indian Express

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. 

27. Piku (2015)

A girl is leaning against the open trunk of a parked car with an old man and a young boy sitting in the background.
[Image description: A girl is leaning against the open trunk of a parked car with an old man and a young boy sitting in the background.] Via FilmiBeat

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.

28. Dear Zindagi (Dear Life) (2016)

A man and a young woman cycling together in Bollywood Film 'Dear Zindagi'.
[Image description: A man and a young woman cycling together.] Via Bollywood Hungama

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.

29. Kapoor & Sons (2016)

A man sitting on a chair and woman sitting on the floor and stroking his face affectionately.
[Image description: A man sitting on a chair and woman sitting on the floor and stroking his face affectionately.] Via IMDb

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.

30. Pink (2016)

An old white-haired man wearing a lawyers suit.
[Image description: An old white-haired man wearing a lawyer’s suit.] Via FilmiBeat

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.

31. Neerja (2016)

A mother kissing her daughter on the forehead with Indian flag in the background.
[Image description: A mother kissing her daughter on the forehead with the Indian flag in the background.] Via India Today

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.

32. Udta Punjab (Punjab is High) (2016)

A dark-haired man wearing sleeveless black shirt and sunglasses is sitting around dancing women in a night club.
[Image description: A dark-haired man wearing sleeveless black shirt and sunglasses is sitting around dancing women in a night club.] Via FilmiBeat

The story throws light on the plight of Punjab that is plagued by drugs. This black comedy crime drama revolves around four characters – a rockstar, a migrant laborer, a policeman, and a doctor.

33. Dangal (Wrestling) (2016)

Three young children are walking in the street with a father figure whose head is almost shaved.
[Image description: Three young children are walking purposefully in the street with an older man behind them.] Via The Times of India

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.

34. Saala Khadoos (The Snob) (2016)

A ruggedly built Indian man is leaning against his motorbike out in the fields and gazing thoughtfully.
[Image description: A man is leaning against his motorbike out in the fields and gazing thoughtfully.] Via IMDb

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.

35. Newton (2017)

A brown man is wearing an army vest and helmet and looking solemn in Bollywood Film Newton.
[Image description: A brown man is wearing an army vest and helmet and looking solemn.] Via

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.

36. A Death in The Gunj (2016)

A little girl and a young man sitting in an empty tub outside in the woods.
[Image description: A little girl and a young man sitting in an empty tub outside in the woods. ] Via Mediaindia

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.

37. Padman (2018)

A still from Bollywood film Padman where the married couple are enjoying food and company.
[Image description: A married couple consisting of a man and woman are enjoying food and company.] Via

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.

38. Andhadhun (The Blind Melody) (2018)

A woman looking at the blind man sitting next to her in the car in shock.
[Image description: A woman looking at the blind man sitting next to her in the car in shock.] Via Youtube

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.

39. Tumbbad (2018)

A man with a mustache had his arms hanging out of a train's window as it pours rain in Bollywood film 'Tumbadd'.
[Image description: A man with a mustache stares out of a train’s window as it pours rain. ] Via Fantastic Fest

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.

40. Badhaai Ho (Congratulations) (2018)

A happy couple in traditional wedding attire with the man's arm around the woman.
[Image description: A happy couple in traditional Indian wedding attire.] Via Charmboard

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.

41. Raazi (Willing) (2018)

A young Indian couple looking sideways and smiling lovingly at each other in Bollywood Film Raazi.
[Image description: A young couple looking sideways and smiling lovingly at each other.] Via Indiatvnews

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.

42. Gully Boy (2019)

Two men wearing blue jackets and looking sideways.
[Image description: Two men wearing blue jackets and looking sideways.] Via Liveenhanced

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.

43. The Sky is Pink (2019)

Bollywood Actress Priyanka Chopra and Actor Farhan Akhtar locked in a loving embrace.
[Image description: A man stares lovingly into the eyes of the woman he is carrying.] Via Santa Banta

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.

44. Article 15 (2019)

A dark-haired man with a mustache is sitting behind a desk which bears tiny Indian flags
[Image description: A dark-haired man with a mustache is sitting behind a desk which bears tiny Indian flags.] Via Koimoi

In reference to Article 15 in the Indian constitution, this movie focuses on Ayan Ranjan, an IPS officer who’s recent case brings to light the issues with caste division and discrimination.

45. Uri (2019)

Three Indian army officers standing straight in Bollywood fil 'Uri.
[Image description: Three Indian army officers.] Via

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.

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Editor's Picks Movie Reviews Bollywood Movies Pop Culture

13 of the most iconic female characters in Indian movies

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.

While one has to agree that Bollywood movies need to do a lot more on this front, we can’t forget the amazing characters we have seen from these movies so far.


1. Aruvi from Aruvi (Stream)

A brown woman with straight black hair is laughing as she plays in a stream of water. She's dressed in black top.
[Image description: A brown woman with straight black hair is laughing as she plays in a stream of water. She’s dressed in a black top.] Via Deccan Chronicle
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)

A woman stands in the rain with an umbrella over her head. Her expression is solemn, her black hair pulled back in a bun, and she's dressed in a pink-gray ensemble.
[Image description: A woman stands in the rain with an umbrella over her head. Her expression is solemn, her black hair pulled back in a bun, and she’s dressed in a pink-gray ensemble.] Via Urban Asian
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?

A woman in a pink-teal sari has a large paper unfolded in her hands. She looks ahead as she navigates through a crowd.
[Image description: A woman in a pink-teal sari has a large paper unfolded in her hands. She looks ahead as she navigates through a crowd.] Via Global Film Studies
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)

A brown woman in a yellow sari has her eyes closed as she rests her head atop that of a young, brown girl.
[Image description: A brown woman in a yellow sari has her eyes closed as she rests her head atop that of a young, brown girl.] Via IMDB
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

A young woman with wavy black hair is laughing as lowers her head toward a teal straw placed in a yellow glass.
[Image description: A young woman with wavy black hair is laughing as lowers her head toward a teal straw placed in a yellow glass.] Via Huffingtonpost
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

A black-haired woman in glasses is staring out the window, her hands pressed against each other under her chin. She's in a gray ensemble.
[Image description: A black-haired woman in glasses is staring out the window, her hands pressed against each other under her chin. She’s in a gray ensemble.] Via The Hindu
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)

A brown-haired brown woman in a brown-black sari is walking through the alley of an old neighborhood.
[Image description: A brown-haired brown woman in a brown-black sari is walking through the alley of an old neighborhood.] Via Constant Scribbles
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)

A brown-haired woman in a white top is smiling widely as she speaks animatedly.
[Image description: A brown-haired woman in a white top is smiling widely as she speaks animatedly.] Via Filtercopy
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)

A brown woman with heavy eye makeup stares challengingly ahead. She wears a red sari and heavy gold jewelry.
[Image description: A brown woman with heavy eye makeup stares challengingly ahead. She wears a red sari and heavy gold jewelry.] Via India TV
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)

A brown-haired woman is staring up in curiosity at something.
[Image description: A brown-haired woman is staring up in curiosity at something.] Via Hindustan Times
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)

A black-haired woman in a white-red sari looks coyly to the side.
[Image description: A black-haired woman in a white-red sari looks coyly to the side.] Via India Today
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)

A brown, brown-haired woman in a brown top looks sideways with a hard glare.
[Image description: A brown, brown-haired woman in a brown top looks sideways with a hard glare.] Via Bollywood Life
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

A black-haired trans woman in a blue saree sits and gazes out into the distance.
[Image description: A black-haired trans woman in a blue sari sits and gazes out into the distance.] Via The News Minute
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.

Editor's Picks World News The Internet The World

Let’s not pretend Priyanka Chopra was ever a humanitarian

Let’s take this back to the beginning. The relationship between India and Pakistan has always been rocky.

Following a recent attack in Kashmir, India accused the attackers of being from Pakistan and being backed by Pakistan’s government and army. The situation quickly worsened, and suddenly the talk of war was thick in the air. Priyanka Chopra, being the amazing UNICEF Ambassador she is, decided to take the time to comment on political affairs.

In February, Chopra wrote a tweet supporting the Indian armed forces saying, “Jai Hind #IndianArmedForces.”

This tweet came along following an announcement from India that it had launched airstrikes in Pakistan. These airstrikes prompted a retaliatory response from Pakistan, and as a result, the hostilities between the two countries surged.

[Image description: Priyanka Chopra and husband Nick Jonas greeting India's PM Narendra Modi] via Instagram
[Image description: Priyanka Chopra and husband Nick Jonas greeting India’s PM Narendra Modi at their wedding reception] via Instagram
The tweet isn’t the beginning of the issue.

Priyanka Chopra famously wed Nick Jonas and invited the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to her wedding. Modi is known for his right-wing policies and inciting racism towards the Muslims of India. Recently, Modi scrapped Kashmir’s autonomy and blighted the lives of those living in the Valley. The place is sucked into bloodshed, conflict, and disorder. Innocent people are dying every day. Fear engulfs Kashmir as local people fight for their lives.

It’s not surprising then, that a woman who seeks a wedding blessing from this monster…. well, is a monster herself.

If you’re in the public eye and have problematic views, you must expect to be called out on them. And this is exactly what happened.

A video of Priyanka Chopra being called a hypocrite by a brave Pakistani woman has taken the social media by a storm. At a beauty event in Los Angeles, Ayesha Malik confronted her about her outrageous and irresponsible tweet, Chopra’s mantle of composure fell away at once.

“So, it was kind of hard hearing you talk about humanity, because as your neighbor, a Pakistani, I know you’re a bit of a hypocrite,” said Malik. She went on to point out that despite being a UNICEF Ambassador for peace, she encouraged nuclear war between the two countries.

As someone who has lived through the dangerous times when this country has been at the brink of being torn down by war,  I can understand where Malik’s coming from.

Everyone has been waiting for the talk of war to dry up. Everyone is scared.

Through her privilege, Chopra probably hasn’t experienced this terrifying feeling, and her frosty response to Malik made her lack of compassion evident.

“Whenever you’re done venting … got it, done? Okay, cool,” Chopra said, with a taste of condescension. “So, I have many, many friends from Pakistan and I am from India, and war is not something that I am really fond of, but I am patriotic,” she added. She ignored the point Malik was making and disrespectfully continued to be condescending and just plain uncaring.

It was evident that Chopra was taken unawares by Malik’s sudden question. She sputtered out a response that a) completely missed answering Malik’s question and b) was unfairly attacking the woman asking a simple (quite necessary) question.

Malik was still speaking when two men snatched the microphone from her hands, yet she still held her ground and continued.

Since when have asking logical, relevant, and blunt questions become venting?

Next, she accused Malik of yelling at her. If you ask me, yelling is far less outrageous than cheering for a nuclear war that can potentially wipe out all life from the earth. But then again, Malik wasn’t yelling, only asking a question. And if she hadn’t had her mic taken away, she wouldn’t have had to raise her voice. Chopra tried to turn the tables on Malik, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

She didn’t really answer her question. and more importantly, she has made it evident to anyone who didn’t already know that she is not worth supporting.

Being patriotic and walking the middle ground are vague explanations and do not defend her stance of supporting war. The responsibility of promoting peace falls more heavily on her shoulders because she is not only a famous international actress but also a UN’s Goodwill Ambassador.

Malik has since come out on Twitter and accused the Indian actress of gaslighting her and making her look like the “bad guy”, and rightly so.

Chopra’s insulting and disrespectful attitude toward Malik sparked feelings of anger and disappointment among audiences across both sides of the border. Many took to social media to express their anger.

Nothing can ever justify war. And nothing can ever justify insulting someone asking the right questions.

Let’s hope that Priyanka Chopra Jonas does better the next time.

But then again, I’m not holding my breath.

Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

Is getting married always a race against the clock? Find out in “The Marriage Clock”

In a world that errs on the side of caution and circumspection when it comes to finding one’s perfect match, 26-year-old Indian-American Leila Abid is literally racing against the clock to find a husband who will both meet her high standards and appease her Indian parents. With a three-month deadline looming in front of her and the failure to stick to it resulting in her parents choosing a man for her, Leila goes on a series of dates that are in turn cringe-worthy, hilarious, and heartwarming in her quest to find The One.

As far as first impressions go, we found Zara Raheem‘s debut novel, The Marriage Clock entertaining and incredibly visual, although the ending did leave us wanting more. We loved how Zara tackled the subject of arranged marriages in the Indian community, which are often seen as backwards. But modern arranged marriages are so different than what people think and we loved how the author was able to communicate that. It’s more like being introduced to someone or getting set up on a blind date and then taking some time to get to know them. 

We saw a lot of the realities of our cultural upbringings in the novel – not the usual stereotypes, but one that reminds us of the young women we know who have found a comfortable balance between their inherited traditions and their chosen trajectory.

When we spoke with the author about this balance of cultures, Zara said, “I think that balance will look different to each person depending on their experiences. For me, I grew up in a fairly small town in the Midwest. And even though my parents made it a priority to expose me to my Indian culture, I was very aware that part of my identity was what made me different from my peers. Over the years, I’ve definitely gained a greater sense of pride in my South Asian-American identity and have found a comfortable balance between the two cultures without worrying too much about trying to fit perfectly into just one.”

As for Leila’s parents, we were able to relate to them in certain situations but their actions were also a little stereotypical. However, as Zara explains, “Leila’s mother fits that stereotype to a certain extent, but she also pushes against it in other ways. For instance, she’s proud of Leila for pursuing an untraditional career path. She gives Leila the freedom to live on her own and date outside of her culture. She may not always agree with the choices that Leila makes, but her actions also reinforce the idea that she, like many mothers, ultimately just want what is best for their children. And while her methods might be questionable at times, the author thinks readers (and even Leila) can agree that she is coming from a place of love.”

Zara continued, “Both Leila and her parents belong to different generations and their ideas of love and marriage reflect that difference. I think a huge part of their journey as a family is realizing they may not have all the answers and there is a lot to learn from each other as well.”

On her journey to find love, Leila goes on some painful but hilarious dates, and we couldn’t help wondering whether they were based on personal experience. Zara explained, “I would say that quite a few of Leila’s dates reflect the mindsets and behaviours commonly encountered during the process of a South Asian/Muslim courtship – for example, the man who wants a wife who is a doctor but expects her to stay at home and take care of the kids, or the one who claims he’s very open-minded because he’ll give his wife ‘permission’ to dress however she likes.” While the dates are entertaining, Zara said that they “also bring attention to the frustrating double-standards and problematic expectations placed on South Asian women, and the ways in which these behaviours are often accepted by our communities.”

We could easily visualise the colorful characters and entertaining twists and turns in the novel being adapted into film. Naming her dream cast for a movie adaptation, Zara said she would ideally have Jameela Jamil play Leila, Farida Jalal or Kirron Kher as Laila’s mother and Zain and Hisham played by Hasan Minhaj or Riz Ahmed.

At the beginning of the novel, Leila has a list of requirements for the future husband that seemed a little unrealistic to us. Zara did point out, however, that a lot of us start off dating with an extensive list of wants and requirements in terms of what we look for in a life partner. She continued, “But as you go through the process, and begin learning more about yourself, you gradually make modifications to that list as you start to realize that certain qualities may not necessarily be as important as others.”

Our favourite character in The Marriage Clock ended up being Leila’s best friend Tania, who we felt was the most relatable and had a good head on her shoulders. Having been divorced, she was able to offer her genuine and practical advice to Leila. We also felt it was important that Zara realistically depicted the stigma around divorce in South Asian and Muslim communities, especially because when criticizing cultures that are under-represented in mainstream media, you run the risk of certain criticisms reinforcing negative stereotypes. 

When we brought this up with Zara, she said, “I knew it would be both impossible to write about the arranged marriage process without also touching upon other issues … issues like ageism, colorism, gender biases and negative attitudes towards women who were previously married/divorced.”

The book ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, and when we probed Zara for clues as to what was next for Leila, she said, “only good things!”.

As for Zara’s future, she mentioned that she’s currently working on a short story collection centered around Muslim-American characters, the South Asian diaspora, and first-and-second-generation immigrants. We’ll be here waiting to read it when she’s done!

Rating: 4 out of 5. 

We’re giving away one copy of the book! Follow our Instagram for a chance to win.

If you cannot wait, get “The Marriage Clock” here for $8.95.

TV Shows Bollywood Pop Culture

How Amazon Prime’s “Made in Heaven” is redefining the portrayal of morally ambivalent women

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.
[Image Description: Tara smokes in her bathtub, decked in jewelry] Via Cutty Snark
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.

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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.
[Image Description: A still from the show Made in Heaven which features Kabir shooting a wedding while Jazz stands behind him] Via MenXP
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.

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