‘Bobby Jasoos’, ‘Mardaani’ And ‘Mary Kom’ Point At A Startling Shift From Bollywood’s Fixed Conception Of A Heroine As A Young Woman With Only Romance, Marriage And Motherhood In Her Pretty Head Munmun Ghosh Explores.
The signals from Bollywood seem to be largely, indeed incredibly, positive. For decades, since the start of the Hindi film story, the heroine was largely scripted as a nubile, mostly jaw-droppingly beautiful woman, an upholder of traditional values (serving, sacrificing, caring, self-effacing) who was either sashaying through college or just out of it and waiting for her bridegroom to show up. Fulfillment for her was possible only through marriage and motherhood, i.e., as a homemaker.
This template was rigorously followed down the years oblivious of the sea changes rocking Indian society and the substantial participation of women in India’s paid work force, particularly in the metros post the opening up of the economy in the 1990s. Even as Indian women stormed into erstwhile male bastions like defence, the corporate world, finance, banking, and more, often working their way to the top and reveling in their self-written careers, our filmmakers mulishly continued to focus on the heroine as the love-is-all-I-need young damsel crystallised by such blockbusters as ‘Hum Aap Ke Hai Kaun’, ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ and ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’.
The idea that a woman could want something more from life than marriage with a suitable man and into a good family and subsequently children, was inconceivable, blasphemous and not even allowed one-dialogue space in a mainstream Hindi film.
Compare this to the careers that heroines have been shown as hefting on-screen in the last decade in our mainstream films — Katrina Kaif training people in scuba-diving in ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ with dollops of philosophy to boot, Anushka Sharma cranking up an event (wedding) management company in ‘Band Baaja Baraat’ along with Ranveer Singh, and Priyanka Chopra battling to rule the modeling world in ‘Fashion’. The conventional is no longer alone desirable. Women want to experiment and describe new, challenging work trajectories for themselves even onscreen.
However, the most significant change that has occurred is in the projected attitude of the female protagonists to their work. The passion with which heroines are depicted as pursuing myriad careers on-screen – call to mind the fierce struggles with family and competitors that Vidya wages to establish herself as a private detective in Bobby Jasoos, Anushkha’s uphill journey to make it as an ace wedding planner, Mary Kom’s seething altercations with the boxing federation.
So different from the typical portrayal of the heroine as a jobber in Hindi films (be it Vidya Sinha in ‘Rajnigandha’ or Tina Munim in ‘Baaton Baton Mein’) as one who sails through her work days matter-of-factly, clear that to her, the work is a time-filler or at best a trope to plug in the gaps in family finance, no more. But today we witness even a woman from a conventional background like Bilkis putting marriage on the backburner to realise her dream to be a successful private detective and make her father proud of her.
The woman is finally expressing her desire to straddle both the worlds of career and home.
Perhaps equally creditable is the new, liberal attitude of the script towards the career-focused heroine. While earlier a heroine with any ambition other than homemaking was treated with a good deal of disapproval and tacit condemnation (remember Rekha in ‘Do Anjaane’, Waheeda as Rosy in ‘Guide’, Suchitra Sen in ‘Aandhi’) and brought to repent ultimately, today the heroine is accepted in her new chosen avatar as a career woman by the script, which mainly means the man in her life and his family.
From thwarting her overtly or covertly in the past, the hero is now shown in many a film as actively assisting the woman he loves, to go full throttle with her career. If Rani Mukerji in ‘Mardaani’ can chase the baddies involved in human trafficking hammer and tongs, it’s because she has her husband’s wholehearted support for her chosen vacation. And it is Mary Kom’s husband who spurs her on to don her boxing gloves again and think world championship competitions abroad, assuring her that he would tend to their twin babies in her absence.
So the question is – Is Bollywood Ready To Give The Career Woman Her Due On Screen?