The Hindi film industry has come a long way from portraying women as damsels in distress (abala naari) to portraying them as strong and empowered individuals who stand up for their rights, raise their voices against injustice, fight for their dignity and self-respect, and rebel when necessary to achieve justice. In celebration of International Women's Day 2023, we have curated a list of inspiring films where women played the lead role and set new benchmarks in a male-dominated industry.
Mother India (1957)
Mother India is a classic from the early days of Indian cinema and a ground-breaking film at the time. Nargis Dutt's memorable and iconic performance as Radha, a poor villager who struggles against all odds to raise her two sons, won her acclaim. The villagers regard her as the epitome of justice and a god-like figure. In the end, she adheres to her principles and kills her immoral son for the sake of righteousness.
Mirch Masala (1987)
Ketan Mehta's Mirch Masala features a cast of ordinary women. Smitha Patil plays Sonbai, who chooses to decline the advances of powerful authority figures, including the subedar played by Naseeruddin Shah and the village head played by Suresh Oberoi, to protect herself from their evil gaze. Deepti Naval plays the wife of the Village Mukhiya and revolts against her husband for his atrocities against her desire to educate their daughter. The film is an inspiring story of women's empowerment during regressive times.
Mahesh Manjrekar's Astitva exposes the male chauvinist culture prevalent in Indian society. The film revolves around Aditi Shrikant Pandit, played by Tabu, trying to find her own identity outside of her marriage and eventually moving away from her husband and son. Her future daughter-in-law Namrata Shirodkar also leaves her chauvinist boyfriend, aiding Tabu's character in her journey of self-discovery.
No One Killed Jessica (2011)
The film is based on the true story of the murder of Jessica Lal, and it follows the journey of Sabrina Lal, played by Vidya Balan, as she fights against the wealthy and powerful man who shot her sister. Rani Mukerji plays a journalist who assists Sabrina in her battle for justice. The film showcases how an ordinary woman can overcome adversity and fight for what is right. Rajkumar Gupta directed the film.
English Vinglish (2012)
After all the years, it was the comeback for Sridevi; English Vinglish was a blockbuster. English Vinglish tells the story of Shashi Godbole, an ordinary housewife played by Sridevi. It depicts beautifully how the housewife, who is brilliant as a homemaker, wife, and mother, is looked down on and mocked by her daughter and husband simply because she does not speak fluent English. Shashi Godbole, who is hurting, turns things around by learning the language while visiting her niece's wedding in the United States. Gauri Shinde's simple story is impressive, as she overcomes her flaws.
Kangana Ranaut's performance as Rani, a young girl, is stunning in Queen. It's heart-breaking when Vijay, played by Rajkumar Rao, tells Rani just a day before the wedding that he no longer wants to marry her. The simple, small-town girl is broken, but she soon decides to stand up for herself and go on a honeymoon by herself. During her journey, she meets new friends, learns about the world and herself, and returns to a changed person, ready to take charge of her life.
Mardaani is the tale of a female cop, Shivani Roy. It's played by Rani Mukerji, who fights the kingpin of organized crimes involving child trafficking and drugs. It shows how the lady officer opposes female trafficking in the city. This movie also had a second part where she after a psychopath killer and rapist who had destroyed the lives of innocent girls.
The film, directed by Neerja Bhanot, is based on the true story of a flight purser who was shot and killed while ensuring the safety of hundreds of passengers aboard the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73. Sonam Kapoor plays Neerja with grit and panache.
It was another movie where she played the role of a mother who would go to any extent to protect her child. Mom is the story of a mother who seeks vengeance for her daughter's rape and death after the law denies her justice. Sridevi portrays a simple mother who transforms into a cunning woman to avenge her daughter's death. As a result of injustices provided by the authorities, she took the path where she made sure the culprits pay the price.
We are often told that a little aggression in love is an expression of love. Yet, why, what is the cost of one slap and where do the boundaries between love and taking your partner for granted dissolve? This Anubhav Sinha gem answers it all. Tappasee Pannu is extraordinary as Amrita.