Indian cinema is often accused of being sexist, what with women in item numbers or objectified as arm-candy. However, there are some prominent characters out there who stand out as superb portrayals of the strength of a woman. On the occasion of international women’s day let’s celebrate the female characters from bollywood who made us believe that our desires, ambitions, mistakes, and experiences as a woman are not only natural but also acceptable.
- Naina Talwar (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani)
Deepika as Naina taught us that you don’t have to change yourself to have the world look at you differently. You just have to believe in yourself and break out of whatever’s holding you back. The movie was a beautiful example of how every trip leaves you a little changed. Naina’s compartmentalized world was thrown out of focus by embarking on an unexpected journey. But while a trip may have helped her evolve, her ideals remained the same because she always believed in them. It’s not a dramatic journey of transformation; and perhaps that’s what makes her character so relatable.
- Geet (Jab We Met)
Kareena’s Geet was the poster child of positivity. And that’s probably why even when sh*t hit the fan, she got back on her feet soon enough (with a little help from Shahid, of course).
- Rani (Queen)
Kangana as Rani showed us that you don’t need a man in your life to live it to the fullest. Breaking away from the stereotype, Rani did what every girl should do–take a solo trip–and that helped her emerge stronger (and cooler). Rani’s journey of self-discovery was a path that many of us have also traversed. Not only did we enjoy her transformation from a shy, reserved girl to a woman who owns up to her life, but also related to how her fledgling confidence grew over the course of the movie. Because, for many of us too, certain harsh experiences and surprisingly memorable adventures helped us become the person we are today.
- Vijaylaxmi (Queen)
Lisa Haydon as Vijaylaxmi easily set BFF goals with the support she showed Rani. But, the way she lead her life was also a strong statement that it’s unfair to box women in fixed roles. She was a single mother, who encouraged other women, wasn’t shy of expressing her sexual desires and stood as a pillar of strength for Rani.
- Veera (Highway)
Alia’s portrayal of Veera gave us a strong woman who stands up to the abuse she is subjected to and escapes the shackles of the society that oppresses her. Possibly, Alia Bhatt’s best performance till date, Highway changed the very perception of the actor. Alia, as the young, soon-to-be married Veera who finds independence after being abducted, gave a moving performance in this splendid Imtiaz Ali movie. That a young girl had the courage to blurt out her exploitation as a child was both a powerful and empowering scene.
- Sulu (Tumhari Sulu)
(Vidya Balan) as Sulu made us question why we, as a society, expect housewives to have no other aspiration than looking after the household. Sulu’s struggle to find her passion, the daily battle to manage work with household chores, and the constant fight against her family’s orthodoxical expectations was a tale that holds true for women across various sections of society.
- Devi (Masaan)
Richa Chadha as Devi questioned the roles her father and society forced her into. Despite the guilt she harbored for the death of her boyfriend, she refused to let illogical constraints hold her back from succeeding in her life. She was a great example of how society often uses transgressions to hold back women.
- Laila (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara)
Katrina’s free spirited Laila was a breath of fresh air. Laila lives life on her terms with no regret and radiates happiness everywhere.
- Meghna (Fashion)
Priyanka’s character, Meghna, was a dark one, and she takes us on her journey of becoming a supermodel with all the good, bad and horrible. The moral of this story is that you should never forget where you came from.
- Kalindi (Lust Stories)
Radhika Apte as Kalindi teaches us that we are not always ready for the experience we feel the need to live through. Like Kalindi, who encouraged by her more experienced husband, practices infidelity only to struggle with a kaleidoscope of emotions – guilt, jealousy, and unexpected affection. Her confused inner ramblings and emotional turmoil spoke to all of us who’ve at times, struggled to come to terms with our actions.
- Shashi (English Vinglish)
When it comes to Bollywood’s relatable onscreen mothers, Sridevi’s character Shashi has to earn a spot right at the top. She perfectly represented Indian housewives – the section of society we tend to ignore, not realising how important their role is in our lives. And though she is the one who learns a new skill, yet she successfully schools her family on how every member deserves equal love and respect. She showed us that hard work and dedication can accomplish anything. In this family drama, Shashi struggles but succeeds in learning English to earn the well-deserved respect of her family.
- Neerja (Neerja)
Sonam’s portrayal of this brave young woman who gave up her life to save others’ is a heartfelt inspiration and example of the humanity that we sometimes think has gone missing.
- Farah (Dil Dhadakne Do)
She is rightly called ‘Fearless Farah’ in the movie and that is exactly what Anushka’s character is. She is a woman who lives life on her own terms and has a simple ‘no bullshit’ policy which we love!
- Kalindi (Veere Di Wedding)
Society-at-large may have reserved the phobia of commitment for men alone, but such phobias are definitely not gender-specific. With Kareena Kapoor’s character of Kalindi we had a woman challenging the notion that women desire marriage above anything else, or are in love with elaborate functions. Marriage is a personal choice, not defined by gender because not all women are the same.
- Piku (Piku)
Deepika Padukone as Piku was the representation of every millennial working woman. She’s independent. She’s flamboyant. She’s unapologetic. Her unconditional love for her father coincided with her annoyance at his eccentricities. She was confident of her professional and personal choices and still struggling under the societal pressure of marriage, like so many of us. Simply put, she was a woman we all saw ourselves in.
- Kaira (Dear Zindagi)
Career-driven, slightly messed up, at times illogical, and battling familial issues -Alia Bhatt as Kaira was the embodiment of the millennial generation and not just millennial women. Her struggles to be taken seriously at work despite being good at what she does were as real as her deep-rooted issues with her family and personal choices. And of course, the movie was an intelligent and much-needed take on why mental health is so important.
- Bitti (Bareilly Ki Barfi)
The issues Kriti Sanon’s character Bitti faced because of her personality and approach to life were extremely realistic, and not unique to small towns alone, though the movie may have been set in one. She never desired to compete with the boys, but her habits were considered to be inherently masculine. And her desire to not marry someone who expected her to change was considered revolutionary but was actually what we all expect of our future partners.
- Rumi (Manmarziyaan)
Whether it was her confusion about love, the way she looked after her ancestral shop or her attitude to societal norms, Taapsee Pannu as Rumi was most definitely not your typical Bollywood heroine. She owned up to both, her desires and mistakes and lived her life on her own terms. She spoke to a large section of the society who has experienced criticism simply for not bending to familial obligations.
- Veronica (Cocktail)
Deepika Padukone as the smoking hot, sassy Veronica, who’s the life of every party, was also the life of the film. Veronica also had a golden heart and could go to any length for the people she loved. She couldn’t be labelled in a box and that was the best part about her.
- Jhilmil Chatterjee (Barfi!)
Priyanka Chopra as the adorable Jhilmil Chatterjee, an autistic girl whose head was in the right place, was simply adorable. Despite her physical and mental handicaps, this girl showed exemplary courage as she loved Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor) with conviction. When she guards her husband from Ileana D’Cruz’s character right at the end, all you can do is root for this spirited woman.
- Shivani Shivaji Roy (Mardaani)
For anyone who thinks women should be demure and coy, meet Shivani Shivaji Roy. Rani Mukerji as the top cop shows both physical and mental strength of a woman in Mardaani. She not only single-handedly beat up some nasty goons but also solved a high profile child trafficking case. Respect, respect and some more respect!
- Vidya Bagchi ( Kahaani)
A pregnant woman in search of her husband fighting against all odds… that too with a serial killer on the loose swept the audiences off their feet. Symbolically compared with Maa Durga who destroys the evil, Vidya carried the entire film on her able shoulders and left everyone gasping for breath.
- Minal Arora (Pink)
The best thing about this role was the fact that it was so relatable. Any urban, working woman in a metro city could feel Taapsee’s pain and frustration in the movie. Fighting against a bunch of hoodlums with influential family background, Taapsee emerged victorious in the end, thus giving many women like her in India the much needed hope.
- Kangana Ranaut (Tanu Weds Manu Returns)
This film had not just one, but two strong female characters, and both played to perfection by Kangana Ranaut in a double role. The first being Tanu, who finally changes her wild ways and becomes more compassionate for the man she loves, without giving away her identity. And the second, Kusum, a champion athlete who doesn’t let go of her pride when she realises that the man she loves is still in love with his wife. It was double the awesomeness.
- Alia Bhatt – Udta Punjab
Alia Bhatt as a nameless, impoverished young migrant from Bihar, who turns into a drug addicted sex slave, gave one of the best performances of her career in Udta Punjab. Even after being abused on a daily basis, she doesn’t give up, as she stares out of her small window every day and yearns to be free and happy one day. It was a true survivor’s tale.
All these characters all have different stories with totally different lives yet all of them stand out because of the way they look at life, and the impact they leave on an audience.