They aren’t the gun-totting women out to seek revenge or the slogan-shouting torch bearers of feminism. hitlist looks for those everyday women characters, who, with their quiet determination, changed the course of their fate on reel, and earned our admiration.
We ask two young women writers to list the best female characters to have been etched out in Hindi films so far...
What touches me the most are characters who deal with disappointments of life in admirable ways. These are my picks:
Played by: Ayesha Takia
Film: 'Dor' (2006)
Why: It is one thing to portray the character of a woman who has many problems but it is another to show her spirit despite the issues in her life. Meera is more than just a mourning widow; she has her exuberant character peeping out of the veil, showing us how a character can be more than prototype, how one cannot confine a woman’s character to a box. Even though she knows what is expected of her, she is alive and willing to subvert things. And that is fantastic.
Played by: Waheeda Rehman
Film: 'Guide' (1965)
Why: I have always liked women who don’t do things just because that’s the acceptable thing, but because they proactively do what their heart wants. They are not talking about women’s liberation, but quietly doing what comes naturally to them. Rosy stays true to herself and her art, even though there is this big love in her life. She is not taking up the onus of holding together the man she loves. She sees him as she should and leaves it all behind when she feels the need.
Pooja and Kavita
Played by: Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil, respectively
Film: 'Arth' (1982)
Why: Both women coped with the cards that fate dealt them — with dignity. They fail sometimes, get melodramatic and are vengeful at times. They are human, but take disappointments in their stride without wallowing in self pity.
Played by: Smita Patil
Film: 'Bhumika' (1977)
Why: I loved this character even in the book (Sangtye Aika, autobiography of the doyenne of Marathi theatre and cinema Hansa Wadkar). Wadkar is refreshingly candid and unapologetic about the way she is. Shyam Benegal translated it all in the film with a lot of honesty and in a matter-of-fact manner. Usha is a regular woman who does crazy things; she drifts and is just what a regular woman would be like. She doesn’t gloss over the mistakes that she has made in her life and presents them as they are. There is this scene where she breaks into a spontaneous dance step right in the middle of the road, which shows the spirit that she holds on to, in spite of her life not being in great shape.
Played by: Meena Kumari
Film: 'Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam' (1962)
Why: She is a bit of a drama queen, but the quiet acceptance that she has towards her life is admirable. It is the stark portrayal of a woman who pines for love all her life and in spite of the disappointments, keeps her spirit alive and keeps herself decked up and ready if things change in her favour.
You don’t need to be a woman writer to understand the sensitivity of a female character. If you notice, the best of women characters in Bollywood are written by men. These are my favourite ones:
Played by: Shabana Azmi
Film: 'Masoom' (1983)
Why: Because it is such a real character. She’s torn between feeling betrayed by her husband fathering a child with another woman and her empathy towards the child. She goes through this turbulence and that is such a real emotion. She is a strong woman, because she could have easily walked out of that marriage, but she doesn’t because it is the mother in her that wins at the end. The character has such beautiful layers.
Played by: Smita Patil
Film: 'Mirch Masala' (1987)
Why: Sonbai bravely fights the village chief’s sexual advances, in spite of knowing that nobody might support her in her lone battle. In fact, each woman in that film is unforgettable as they rise to the occasion and decide to help Sonbai in her fight.
Played by: Madhabi Mukherjee
Film: 'Mahanagar' (1963)
Why: This film made in 1950s by Satyajit Ray is still so contemporary. It traces this woman’s journey from being a homemaker to a financially independent person, how her equation with her husband and own life changes. It is that confidence and pride that she gets from earning for herself is what Ray brought out in the most beautiful manner.
Played by: Nutan
Film: 'Bandini' (1963)
Why: The woman displays huge strength of character in spite of the helpless situation that she’s stuck in. I haven’t seen this movie in seven-eight years, but it has stayed with me and continues to do so.
Played by: Deepika Padukone
Film: 'Piku' (2015)
Why: She’s the contemporary woman who knows where exactly she wants to be in given circumstances. Her integrity as a daughter and at the same time, her individuality is what is totally relatable. Also, her strong sexual independence, where she’s okay with indulging in a need-based relationship. She is not apologetic, does not feel guilty and there is nothing covert about what she does to fulfil her sexual needs.