From Tumhari Sulu to Naam Shabana, Bollywood ensured feminism is more than just the 'word of the year'

Karishma Upadhyay

Dec,17 2017 10:14:02 IST

Merriam-Webster announced this week that ‘feminism’ is the word of 2017. Editors at the dictionary explained that ‘feminism’ was one of the top searched words in 2017 and saw an increase of 70 per cent over 2016.

This is not surprising. There are multiple reasons why the noun became ubiquitous this year. We started 2017 with the Women’s March that originated in the US but was joined by women across the world. And, are ending the year with the Silence Breakers being named Time’s Person of the Year. Feminism continued to be a topic of conversation with the release of pop culture phenomena like Wonder Woman and The Handmaid’s Tale. The #MeToo movement, in recent months, has had women coming forward with their stories of sexual misconduct and assault.

2017 has been a big year for feminism the world over and its own way, Bollywood has contributed to the conversation — both onscreen and off.  

Let us start with onscreen. This year we had stories that revolved around a sultry late-night Radio Jockey (Tumhari Sulu), an ass-kicking undercover agent (Naam Shabana) and a young school girl spreading her wings while giving her mother strength to walk out of an abusive marriage (Secret Superstar). Whether her characters were faced with the lack of toilets (Toilet – Ek Prem Katha) or erectile dysfunction (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan), Bhumi Padnekar this year played extraordinary ordinary women.

Vidya Balan in Tumhari Sulu

Vidya Balan in Tumhari Sulu

Swara Bhaskar’s Anaarkali of Aarah is unapologetically saucy and razor-sharp. A year after we saw Amitabh Bachchan as Deepak Sehgal snarl out the words, ‘no means no’ in Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink, Anaarkali teaches a powerful male sexual predator the all-important concept of consent. While exploring the lives of four ordinary women in Bhopal, Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha navigates sensitive areas like sexuality of older women, female desire, marital rape and religious subjugation.

Off screen, too, our leading ladies were done with playing nice.

During the promotion for her role in Baywatch in May, Priyanka Chopra made an appearance on The Wendy Williams Show, an American daytime talk show. Not-so-subtly, the host brought up Priyanka’s friendship with Meghan Markle, describing the Suits actress as “Prince Harry’s girlfriend”.  The Quantico actress was quick to point out that Meghan is a lot more than just someone’s girlfriend. “Also, Meghan Markle, actress…Suits…her achievement, mmm-hmm, just saying,” said Priyanka, cocking an eyebrow.  

Closer home, during the promotions of Tumhari Sulu, Vidya Balan schooled a reporter who tried to body-shame her. The actress was asked if ‘she plans to lose weight’ so she could be cast in just women-centric films? A visibly confused Vidya asked him the connection between the two things. So, he explained, “for glamorous roles”. Vidya laughed and said, “I am very happy with the kind of work I am doing but it would be really great if you people could change your mindset”. Ironically, this interaction happened at an event to honour ‘women of worth’.

Kangana Ranaut stood up to her bullies; over and over again. If Merriam-Webster had to pick a ‘word of the year’ only for Bollywood, ‘nepotism’ would have won hands down. And, it all started on the infamous episode of Koffee With Karan where Kangana decided to tell Karan Johar what she thinks about him to his face and on his turf. This has been an eventful year for Kangana. Apart from the spat with Karan, the actress did a bare-all interview with Rajat Sharma on Aap Ki Adalat about her relationship with Hrithik Roshan and there was the falling-out over credit with screen-writer Apurva Asrani. Regardless of who she took on, the Simran actress refused to cow down.  

Deepika Padukone and Kangana Ranaut. Image from Twitter/@FlimGyan

Deepika Padukone and Kangana Ranaut. Image from Twitter/@FlimGyan

Sonam Kapoor continued to fight patriarchy in her own corner. Recently at the We The Women event hosted by Barkha Dutt, Sonam spoke about the glaring gender wage gap in Bollywood and revealed how she rejected a film because ‘the money being paid was shit’. “I made a call and said, ‘this is very disrespectful.’ There was shock on the other side. I told them, ‘you put me in a position after being 10 years in the industry; after giving the most profitable film Neerja a year ago; so, please tell me why is it that this is what you have decided to give me’.“

Without naming the film, Sonam revealed that the producers said they did not have ‘enough’ money as their last film with a star had failed. “I told them to move on and get someone else as frankly it was very disheartening,” she told Barkha.

Deepika Padukone might have had a tough year with the Padmavati controversy but the actress set a record of sorts with her remuneration for the film. It’ has been reported that she has taken home a whopping Rs 13 crores while her co-stars Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor earned somewhere in the vicinity of Rs 10 crores respectively. This is probably for the first time in Indian cinema that a leading lady has been paid more than her male counterparts.

Since people tend to be curious (and very often confused) about the definition of feminism, according to Merriam-Webster, feminism means “the theory of the political economic and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activities on the behalf of women’s rights and interests”. In India, our movies and movie stars are a huge part of discussions about feminism and we continue to take small strides towards equality year on year.  

And now, onto 2018.

Updated Date: Dec 17, 2017 10:14 AM