On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we revisit 5 most powerful female character depictions in Bollywood movies since 2000:
1) Reshma/Silk (The Dirty Picture): A girl from a small village cocks a snook at society and the film industry to live her life on her own terms. Fiery, rebellious and quick-witted, she does everything that it takes to succeed but, strangely, has a subterranean righteousness. The character was apparently inspired by the life of ‘Silk Smitha’ who appeared in a plethora of Tamil movies in the 1980s. Mostly known for her tingling dance numbers, she committed suicide in 1996.
It is to the credit of the director Milan Luthria and Vidya Balan, who essayed the role of Silk, that despite colourful language and in-your-face audacity, the movie and the character never wander into the realm of vulgarity. The movie traverses the dark alleys of Tamil film industry and how dancers were exploited by the system but it is far from being a ponderous or doleful.
Yes, there is an undercurrent of poignancy, but the character and the movie don’t wallow in self-pity. Instead, Silk evokes a lot of whistles, cheers and claps. The character is a celebration of a woman who defied conventional norms, raised hackles and ultimately succumbed to the vagaries but not without tripping and enthralling many by her spitfire spunk. Silk’s maxim about films — “Movies run only because of three factors — entertainment, entertainment and entertainment. And I am the entertainment.” — has stood the test of time.
2) Nimmi (Maqbool): Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Maqbool’, an adaptation of Shakespeare play ‘Macbeth’ revolves around the dynamics and simmering tensions between ‘Abbaji’ (Pankaj Kapur), an ageing underworld don, and his disciple Maqbool (Irrfan Khan), but the movie would have fallen flat had it not been for Tabu who plays Pankaj Kapur’s mistress.
Such is the subtlety of her acting in this movie that even if one has devoured Macbeth and knows the eventual denouement, it is hard to mistrust her innocence. Her devotion to Kapur and innocence look so effortlessly natural that they belie her wicked machinations.
To get what she desires, she surreptitiously and subtly fuels tensions between ‘Abbaji’ and her paramour to have her way. The manner in which she lures Irrfan into conniving with her, one sympathises with Irrfan for it is hard to resist such poetic seduction. In her case, power emanates from charm, seduction and steely resolve, not brawns or mobs of hoodlums. A masterful movie, a superlative performance.
3) Rani Mehra (Queen): No actress in the last few years has portrayed the transformation of a woman like Kangana brilliantly did in ‘Queen’. After being rejected by a guy, a simple girl from Delhi’s Chandni Chowk breaks the shackles and embarks on a journey to discover life, world and herself. Kangana sank her teeth into the role and depicted various emotions with consummate ease.
She goes through a gamut of emotions, as the character starts to discover herself, without missing a beat. The transformation comes across as organic and doesn’t seem contrived or haphazard. More importantly, the entire process is sprightly, fun yet has depth. A good script, no doubt, is propelled to greater heights by Kangana’s seamless, bravura act.
4) Mastani (Bajirao Mastani): Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Bajirao Mastani’ is packed with whirlwind, explosive dialogues from Bajirao (played by Ranveer Singh), but Mastani displays her strength by the sheer weight of her actions. She can fight against an army of soldiers, can match her lover in swordsmanship and can also forsake an empire and live as a second wife of her husband. The operative word here is “choice”. She does everything on her volition for people and things she cares about.
Deepika carries off the role with aplomb without resorting to contorted histrionics or frivolous palaver. Her strength lies in her grace, persuasion and ability to follow her heart to the hilt. Truly, an admirably restrained and accomplished performance.
5) Sehmat Khan (Raazi): A wide-eyed young girl is asked by her dying father to become a spy for the Indian intelligence agency and go to Pakistan. During the moments of moral ambiguity, she always puts the nation first.
It seems incredible that an innocuous, harmless girl can carry off covert operations, but Alia taps into her repertoire and comes up with a supremely credible and skilled performance. It is an eloquent testimony to her range as an actor that she pulled off such a complex and multi-layered role with finesse.
The character breaks many stereotypes, hence needed a nuanced act by the protagonist to deliver the right message. Both the movie and Alia come out with flying colours.