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Salaam Bollywood : Heroines who mattered

Salaam Bollywood :  Heroines who mattered
Highlights

Rakesh Omprakash Mehra's 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag' proves yet again that behind every successful man is a woman, in the case of Milkha, it's his sister...

Rakesh Omprakash Mehra's 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag' proves yet again that behind every successful man is a woman, in the case of Milkha, it's his sister Isri. To reverse the theory we look at directors who gave us memorable women characters in films

salam1salam2On top of my list is legendary filmmaker Bimal Roy. Whether it was the rickshaw puller's wife in 'Do Bigha Zameen' or the orphan girl in 'Parineeta', the oppressed wife in 'Biraj Bahu', Roy viewed all his characters with compassion. In 'Madhumati,' the heroine seeks her own revenge rather than be the hero's appendage. However his most heroic portrayal came in 'Sujata', the touching story of a Harijan girl reared by an upper caste family and her quiet battle for acceptance and 'Bandini', based on central jail superintendent's experiences about convicts imprisoned for murder! Melancholy was a recurrent motif in all Guru Dutt films and women the root cause of the hero's despair! Often a spectator, his films were pathos-ridden and seldom ended on a happy note. 'Pyaasa' told the story of a heart-broken poet loved by two women while 'Kaagaz Ke Phool' was about a married director in love with a young actress and 'Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam' about a village boy Bhoothnath's fascination for the feudal family's young and beautiful daughter-in- law, chhoti bahu.

Satyajit Ray's 'Charulata' was the story of a bored, lonely housewife looking for self-expression! Self-denial and guilt were recurrent emotions in all Hrishikesh Mukherjee films. In 'Anuradha' a renowned singer gives up her career to marry a doctor and regrets it when she reviews her life. 'Anupama' focussed on a father who despises his daughter because his wife died in childbirth. Mukherjee made you participate in the dreams of his characters be it the star-struck teenager in 'Guddi', conservative Rama in 'Jurmana', the carefree Rekha in 'Khoobsurat', the supremely gifted Uma of 'Abhimaan' or the courageous Raakhee in 'Bemisaal', Mukherjee portrayed different perspective for his protagonist in every film.

Gulzar's women invariably proved the decision-makers. In 'Parichay' it is Jaya who initiates truce with the grandfather. In 'Khushboo' it is the illiterate Kusum who enlightens her doctor husband and finds peace after a journey of heartbreaks. In 'Mausam' again it is the daughter who confronts truth while Sanjeev Kumar is still waiting for the right moment to reveal his identity. In 'Aandhi' the wife makes choices and negotiates space in relationship, in 'Ijaazat' the wife walks away from the shadows of the past!

salam3salam4Shyam Benegal's protagonists were rural women battling society, system and spouse be it Lakshmi sleeping with the zamindar's son in 'Ankur' or the school master's wife Sushila kidnapped in 'Nishant', it is Smita Patil who motivates the village in 'Manthan' and Urvashi in 'Bhumika' is insecure even though she is the bread winner. The director is full of admiration for the courageous Rukminibai in 'Mandi' when the prostitutes manage to build a township in the outskirts of the city.

Over the years, many meaningful woman portrayals have been captured on the small and the big screen, some haunt us even today. Vijay Anand's Rosy in 'Guide' follows her dream and when she is challenged, she screams 'Marco main jeena chahti hoon�' Govind Saraiya's Kumud Sundari in 'Saraswatichandra' is a spirited girl deceived by destiny. Asit Sen's Radha in 'Khamoshi' is a romantic who breaks down when she realizes she was chasing a mirage. Basu Bhattacharya's women, mostly wives changed with times so if 'Anuvhav' and 'Aavishkar' were about saving marriages 'Aastha' was about sexual gratification. Basu Chatterjee's Soudamini in 'Swami' is stubborn but traditional. Mahesh Bhatt's Pooja chooses respect over security in 'Arth'. Similarly Govind Nihalani's adaptation of Mahashweta Devi's novel 'Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa' and Rajkumar Santoshi's quest for truth 'Damini' were tributes to women.

In recent times Vidya balan is a standing example of making sure her directors pen special roles for her be it 'Parineeta', 'Ishqiyaan', 'Paa', 'The Dirty Picture', 'No One Killed Jessica', 'Kahaani'. She was a new woman raising a new issue in every film and the men behind the script and the camera played an integral part in promoting the female gaze.

- Bhawana Somaaya / @bhawanasomaaya

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