Bol­ly­wood women steal movie lime­light from men


Af­ter decades of male dom­i­na­tion, Bol­ly­wood has seen a re­cent wave of hit movies star­ring In­dian women in tough, smart lead roles, sug­gest­ing the gen­der tide may fi­nally be turn­ing.

In­dia’s movie go­ers are used to watch­ing glam­orous and of­ten scant­ily clad women on screen, al­most al­ways play­ing damsels in dis­tress or love in­ter­ests torn be­tween fam­ily duty and fol­low­ing their heart.

But a se­ries of gritty lead­ing roles for women, in­clud­ing a box­ing cham- pion and a de­tec­tive, is mark­ing a cin­e­matic shift from out­dated stereo­types to a more ac­cu­rate re­flec­tion of mod­ern In­dia.

“The good-guy bad-guy for­mula is no longer work­ing and we are ex­plor­ing real sto­ries,” ac­tress Huma Qureshi told AFP.

“We are open­ing up to new ex­pe­ri­ences and that is re­flec­tive of so­ci­ety. The writ­ing is im­prov­ing and ac­tors are will­ing to take more chances,” she added.

Qureshi co-starred with Mad­huri Dixit in “Dedh Ishqiya,” a story about two strong women who refuse to play by the rules.

It was one of more than a dozen women-cen­tric Bol­ly­wood movies re­leased last year that saw ac­tresses — and not their male coun­ter­parts — plas­tered on pro­mo­tional bill­boards across the coun­try.

Hindi movies have long been made and mar­keted on the brand value and star power of the male hero, from ac­tors Ra­jesh Khanna to Amitabh Bachchan, and Shah Rukh Khan to Sal­man Khan.

‘Stronger women’

But film­maker

Su­joy Ghosh be­lieves In­dian theater-go­ers now in­creas­ingly care more about the depth of the plot rather than how many prod­ucts the star’s face adorns, lead­ing to a greater va­ri­ety of roles for ac­tresses.

“The au­di­ence has be­come more ac­cept­ing of good con­tent and as we see stronger women emerg­ing in all fields, we are also will­ing to ac­cept a film with a woman lead,” said Ghosh, who cast Vidya Balan as a preg­nant woman search­ing for her miss­ing hus­band in the 2012 thriller “Ka­haani.”

Fel­low di­rec­tor Vikas Bahl cred­its the suc­cess of his film ‘Queen’, star­ring Ra­naut, which cost 170 mil­lion ru­pees (US$2.6 mil­lion) to make but took around four times that, to the strength of the story.

“With ‘Queen’ I thought, ‘If I want to watch a film about a girl who gets dumped and wants to go on her hon­ey­moon alone, then so will oth­ers’. It is nice to see big ac­tors in in­ter­est­ing roles,” Bahl told AFP.

Film critic Anu­pama Cho­pra be­lieves it’s a golden pe­riod for Bol­ly­wood ac­tresses.

“We are see­ing a gen­er­a­tion of very strong women ac­tors like Priyanka Cho­pra and Anushka Sharma who are look­ing to do some­thing more than just be a clothes horse,” she said.

But it seems there is still some way to go be­fore di­rec­tors start re­ceiv­ing the same size of bud­get for a movie star­ring Padukone or Ra­naut as they would for the likes of Bachchan or Khan.

For a film with a fe­male pro­tag­o­nist to get the go ahead, the bud­get must be kept low to lessen the risks and in­crease the pos­si­bil­ity of prof­its, ac­cord­ing to pro­ducer Dia Mirza.

Mirza, who pro­duced “Bobby Ja­soos,” a 2014 film about a fe­male de­tec­tive, sug­gests back­ers are wary of women-cen­tric films be­cause the In­dian movie-go­ing au­di­ence is largely male.

“They seek a cer­tain mas­culin­ity in cin­ema which is why com­mer­cial pot­boil­ers por­tray male pro­tag­o­nists in a cer­tain way.

“Then a well-known en­tity is needed to gen­er­ate au­di­ence in­ter­est but af­ter that the story and con­tent be­come cru­cial,” she said.

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