When India was speaking up for women’s rights, Bollywood’s portrayal of female characters received a lot of flak. And it wasn’t without reason. There were – are – so many films where the woman is just a prop, to facilitate the development of the male protagonist. Or a ‘free-spirited’ soul who abandons her individuality to fit into the submissive role of a woman in love.
The Bollywood heroine needed to be rescued from so many different things over the years – from the villain, from her family, from her sorrowful life, and sometimes, from herself. And all along, there was the hero who would come and save her. Not anymore. She still needs to be rescued, but now, there’s no man in the picture.
In the movie Queen, Rani (Kangana Ranaut) is alone and defeated and wants to return from the solo honeymoon that she bravely embarked upon after being dumped. But what convinces her to continue with her adventure is not a knight in shining armour, but another woman – Vijaylakshmi (Lisa Haydon). Rani accepts Vijaylakshmi’s alternative lifestyle and she in return is accommodating towards Rani’s lack of experience and exposure. If there is anything more refreshing than the lack of patriarchy, it’s this female camaraderie which is rare on screen.
In Highway, after losing life as she knew it and then losing her lover, Veera (Alia Bhatt) sets out on an adventure all by herself. Even though there are only a few minutes dedicated to this development, she truly comes off as the hero of the film. Mahabeer (Randeep Hooda) is simply the muse who inspires her to find herself.
Bollywood may be responsible for reinforcing stereotypes and encouraging harassment, but on occasion it surprises you with these fresh and real characters. These films may not be as loud as the hundred crore club, but they’re being heard. It’s a beginning to the new-age ‘heroine’, who is ready to go into the world and find herself. She does not build her personality as a daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife or mother, but as an individual.