From Tumhari Sulu to Lipstick Under My Burkha, women-led films were Bollywood's heroes of 2017

Gautam Chintamani

Dec 28, 2017 08:43:38 IST

This article is part of our 2017: A Year In Review series

For the last few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of 'women-centric' films and this year, too, had it a healthy number of movies pushing the sub-genre forth. Yet there was a slight difference when it came to the women-led films of 2017. It was perhaps for the first time that films like Phillauri, Anaarkali of Aarah, Naam ShabanaBegum JaanMom, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Indu Sarkar, Simran, Haseena, and Tumhari Sulu were viewed in a different manner by the trade as well as the audiences. Barring the odd exception, almost all of these films were treated as a standard business proposition and as a result, the publicity or the number of screens they played on was different than the typical way the industry approached these projects in the past.

From Tumhari Sulu to Lipstick Under My Burkha, women-led films were Bollywoods heroes of 2017

2017 was a good year for women-led films, as Phillauri, Anaarkali of Aarah, Naam Shabana, Mom, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Simran, Haseena, and Tumhari Sulu showed

The marked difference in both the attitude as well as the way the films reached the audiences was also reflective of the particular universe that most of the women-centric narratives in 2017 operated within. In the past, the trappings of the genre would force the filmmakers to highlight certain elements whether it was the ‘female’ lead or the manner in which this detail made the screenplay ‘different.’ To the old guard, this was what made the film different and putting the spotlight on this aspect would attract the crowds. Even at a cursory glance at this year’s films that featured a woman as the lead makes it clear that these were not films that the trade could have labeled as high on a specific agenda; the universe they operated within was a marked departure from what was traditionally seen as the setting for women-centric films.

The ones that stand out in this aspect are Naam Shabana and Begum Jaan. In addition, films such as Mom, Tumhari Sulu, and Naam Shabana would have needed a brand (read a male lead) in some degree or the other to make the project viable for the producer. It could have been argued that this would get more eyeballs, and even a wider release in terms of the number of screens, but here the ‘names’ formed the secondary cast.

In Mom, the presence of Akshaye Kumar or a Nawazuddin Siddique does little to the overall impact of the film. To a great level the film works solely on Sridevi’s aura and could have included anyone else in place of Siddique or Khanna and not much would have changed. Similarly, Naam Shabana was not only a female action flick, it also (being a prequel to the highly successful Baby) also featured Akshay Kumar, one of the biggest stars today, in what could be described as a supporting role. When it came to Tumhari Sulu, the film functioned solely on Vidya Balan and did not even pretend to need a brand. Interestingly enough, Tumahri Sulu’s box office haul (approximately Rs 47 crore in under a month on a supposed budget of Rs 17 crore) is yet another testimony that the conventional manner of treating women-lead films as special is a thing of the past.

Although the achievements notwithstanding, this year also witnessed the genre show signs of what could go wrong in the times to come. Ironically, two of the year’s most noteworthy performances — Kangana Ranaut in Simran and Sridevi in Mom — unexpectedly revealed the biggest threat to the women-led narrative. Both the films somewhere were closer to the typical male vanity projects of yore and appeared to be more of an ode to the lead actor than any film headlined by a woman in recent memory.

From a broad perspective, there might be little difference in the characters that Ranaut plays in both Queen and Simran but while the former saw the actor outshine everyone, the latter’s abject lack of well-etched supporting characters and half-baked screenplay made her stand all alone. Ranaut’s interpretation of the character that she portrays is wonderful but Simran’s overall failure to launch is a big let down.

In the same way, Sridevi rarely misses a beat in Mom but the screenplay’s over-dependency of her character comes at the high cost of the narrative. This is a regular feature in many male-oriented projects where the hero is the end-all. One of the greatest screen icons ever to grace the silver screen, Sridevi is also one of the very actors who can easily chew not only the co-stars but also the screenplay. But unlike a Kamal Haasan or a Dustin Hoffman she usually does not set out to do this. Perhaps this is why Sridevi needs an airtight execution of the screenplay to match her talent and unfortunately, Mom depends too heavily on the persona and not the character she plays; Mom in a way was a reversal of the English Vinglish.

Despite the slight letdown of Mom or Simran concentrating more on their leads than other details, 2017 showed that mainstream Hindi cinema finally seemed to get its act right with women-lead films and the going is set to get better.

Updated Date: Dec 28, 2017 08:43:38 IST

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