Bollywood shies away from strong leading ladies

March 8th, 2008 - 2:46 pm ICT by admin  

(Special, For Women’s Day March 8)
By Subhash K. Jha
Mumbai, March 8 (IANS) In Balu Mahendra’s “Sadma” and Shashilal Nair’s “Grahan”, Sridevi and Manisha Koirala played women who surrendered to men, almost regressing to being children. In this era of women-in-charge it’s difficult to find real life women immersing themselves in such surrender but not in films from Bollywood, which still shy away from strong women protagonists. Oh, how we love to watch women weep on the floor and dance on the rooftop. But what about women of substance - do we ever embrace them without fear? And do filmmakers ever take to them without a backward glance at how the male members of the audience react to their assertive women?

In Madhur Bhandarkar’s “Corporate”, for instance, Bipasha Basu got into an executive suit and played the male game in the corporate world. Finally, though she ended up taking the rap for her man and goes to jail to save his cowardly skin.

An instant and immediate hark-back to Nutan in “Bandini” 45 years earlier when the actress goes to jail for love. Of course, Nutan wore a crumpled sari, not a chic suit and “Bandini” was no chic flick. But under the apparel has the leading lady really changed?

The woman of substance seems to have drowned in acres of skin show. What would Nutan think of her niece Tanisha romping around with nothing much on besides the I-pod in “Neal n Nikki”? Who was the last truly dignified woman we saw on screen and what was she thinking?

Nostalgia isn’t the only reason why we find women from the past so appealing. Nargis in “Mother India” and Meena Kumari in “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam” were removed from one another by almost a generation. And yet they were equally enchanting portrayals of the Indian woman in all her splendour.

In the 1980s Shabana Azmi did a series of films about contemporary women. Among them was Mahesh Bhatt’s “Arth”. The modern but maudlin saga of a deserted wife had major impact - but not on men. It was women who repeatedly saw “Arth” and made it a hit.

Shabana’s other, more bravura, effort at portraying a deserted wife in Pravin Bhatt’s “Bhavna” went unnoticed. She becomes a call girl to bring up her son - the archetypal fallen woman rising to become Mother India. Cut to Pradeep Sarkar’s “Laga Chunari Main Daag” where Rani Mukherjee becomes a prostitute to support her family. The audience rejected both the films.

Gradually in the 1990s female-oriented cinema lost its sheen. Outstanding films about the Indian woman’s sexuality like Aruna Raje’s “Rihaee”, Ketan Mehta’s “Mirch Masala”, Shyam Benegal’s “Zubeida” and Madhur Bhandarkar’s “Satta” bombed.

Only Yash Chopra’s “Chandni” and Bhandarkar’s “Chandni Bar” clicked.

When was the last time you saw a female oriented film doing well?

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