Empowerment Through Cinema: Highlighting Bollywood Films that Celebrate Women  
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Empowerment Through Cinema: Highlighting Bollywood Films that Celebrate Women  


“There shouldn’t be a world where women survive, there should be a world where  women thrive.’’

Priyanka Chopra 

Many of us grew up in surroundings deeply connected to music, films, and sports like most Indian families. For our parents, the idea of unwinding after work was to watch a  Bollywood film while having dinner, and we would accompany them as a kid. Watching movies like Dhoom together became the highlight of our day. Looking back, we remember those days when some of us used to associate the word “female-centric” with “flop film”. We know it’s harsh but back then cinema was like that despite a few rebellious movies like Mother India. Back in the old days, there was a mindset that if there’s no hero in the film, it isn’t worth watching, and somehow this affected the media that we are consuming.

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Over the years, Hindi cinema has mirrored the changing times and scenarios of the nation. Women have shifted from being decorative objects or victims to strong figures. The status of women in Hindi films has evolved from the tag of “Abala Naari” to “Naari Shakti”, a woman of substance and strength who stands for her rights. 

Films Celebrating Women in Heroic Roles

We could not decide which movies should come above in the hierarchy. This is because all the movies had a universal message for womankind, and were beautiful in their storytelling. So, get set go!

a still from movie queen
1. Queen (2014)  

“Queen” is the story of Rani, a Punjabi girl, who is dumped by her fiancé a day before the wedding, but decides to take her honeymoon trip alone. The movie portrays her journey from a frightened girl in a foreign land to a strong girl who fights back when someone tries to stop her from living her life. The film precisely shows all of her journey. The movie speaks about challenging stereotypes about women’s strength and softness in day-to-day life. One of the highlights of the movie is its positive portrayal of Vijaylakshmi, whom Rani meets in Paris.

As an independent young single mother, Vijaylakshmi defies stereotypes. Despite enjoying multiple relationships and being carefree with her drinking, her character shines with boldness and strength throughout the film. The movie highlights the gender disparity prevalent in Indian society and celebrates Rani’s transformation into a confident, independent woman as she travels the world. 

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2. Pink (2016)  

“Pink” tells the story of three different women, Minal, Falak, and Andrea who meet Rajvir and his friends while attending a rock show. When Rajvir attempts to rape Minal, she has to fight him off by attempting to hit him on the head with a bottle. After the incident, many threats and stalking follow the girls. After some days, they gathered some courage to report the matter to the police and filed a case against Rajvir. However, Rajvir who belongs to a political family, tries to prove himself innocent throughout the movie. Falak and Andrea both become helpless and end up looking for legal assistance from Deepak Sehgal, a retired lawyer. “Pink” made it clear: Whenever a woman is saying no it means NO, she should not be forced. 

3. Mardaani (2014) 

In the 2014 action thriller ‘Mardaani’ The Actress Rani Mukerji is in the leading role of a police officer Shivani Shivaji Roy. The thrilling plot shows Roy in an investigation of the Indian mob’s human trafficking operation while searching for a kidnapped teenage girl, Pyaari. Mardaani showcased the bold and inspirational profession of police officers. It received both critics for the absence of ‘lady-oriented’ content and for giving the movie a rather bold theme with a powerful female protagonist. As well as appreciation from the audiences for Mukerji’s role as a strict and tough police officer and also a wife and a mother.  

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4. Mary Kom (2014) 

Mary Kom is an inspirational biopic of an Indian boxing player and Olympic medalist. The movie depicts the journey of Mary’s life to become a boxing champion from a remote village in Manipur to defeat men in ring battles and become the icon of female boxing all across the seas. Priyanka Chopra portrayed the role as a strong and rebellious teenager role at the first half and then showed the incredible wife and mother dealing with her dual duties while preparing herself for the competition. Mary Kom is one of the inspiring biopics for all women and went on to break many stereotypes. 

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5. Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (2020)  

The 2020 biographical drama features Janhvi Kapoor in the lead role as the protagonist, an Indian Air Force (IAF) officer working as a Helicopter pilot. The Netflix-released film was a strong and motivating biography of the first-ever female fighter jet pilot to participate in real armed conflict. It was praised for inspiring girls that their doors are open to follow their dreams and to choose what they want to become when they grow up. 

6. English Vinglish (2012) 

English Vinglish is a film directed by Gauri Shinde. It tells the story of an Indian mother named Shashi who embarks on a journey to find herself: it warms the heart and empowers at the same time. The late legendary actress Sridevi plays this role as an Indian housewife struggling with the challenges brought about by her inability to speak English— these limitations go beyond her personal life into societal connections. While overcoming them means gaining freedom through education and independence. The movie is based on Gauri Shinde’s own experiences with her mother, breaking away from the typical portrayal of Indian women and homemakers, and shattering conformity instead; it was well received for its uniqueness as both a production and performance.  

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7. Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022)  

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus is not merely a tale but a saga. Narrating the extraordinary journey of Gangubai, who rose to be one of the most powerful, respected and loved individual in Kamathipura during the 1960s— Mumbai’s red-light area. She was sold into prostitution at a tender age; she saw an opportunity where others would see only despair and grabbed it with all her might. An influential social worker and mother figure to many: that is who Gangubai came to be.

We witness Gangubai Kathiawadi’s story unfold from when she was a teenager. She grows into a strong leader, fighting for sex workers’ rights and standing against crime and politics. This transformation occurs as she reaches maturity amidst an environment plagued by such issues. Alia Bhatt once again breathes life into her character, portraying the unstoppable willpower of Gangubai. Set against the backdrop of Bombay’s metamorphosing due to drastic social and economic changes, this movie surely holds significance. By being released at this point, we’ll remember this one.

8. Mimi (2021)  

“Mimi” presents the extraordinary journey of a young woman with the hope of fulfilling her ambition of becoming an actress in Mumbai. To Fulfill her dream, she agrees to become a surrogate for an American couple. But things don’t turn out so well as the real parents of the fetus, run away at the last moment. Motherhood turns into eventual sacrifice, but the movie becomes the narrative of Mimi’s resilience afterwards the incident.  

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9. Thappad (2020)  

Starring Tapsee Pannu as Amrita Sandhu, “Thappad” addresses the sensitive issue of domestic violence in Indian society with great austerity and straightforwardness. Hailed as an ‘important social drama’ that questions the unspoken rules of marriage, the film serves as both a social commentary on the socio-emotional impact of domestic violence.

It also provides a broader examination of the treatment of women within the legal framework of marriage. It also highlights the overwhelming social conditioning imposed on women by a patriarchal society. Tapsee Pannu’s performance was especially praised for her transformation from a submissive wife to a no-nonsense woman standing up for her rights.

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Women and Mental Health  

Despite claims of being progressive, mental health is a big taboo in our culture and we rarely speak about it openly. Women’s mental health can be due to multiple factors, including biological and social reasons. One in five women (19%) will experience a Common Mental  Disorder (such as anxiety or depression). Mental health during pregnancy and postpartum is important as untreated maternal depression has profound effects on both the mother and the child.

In a recent podcast, Rubina Dilaik shared her experience during her postpartum time. She had sought help as she was headed towards postpartum depression. During the promotion of her film Padmavati, Deepika revealed how she confronted a man who tried to sexually harass her and divulged that she had established a mental health foundation- Live Love Laugh Foundation to help others who have experienced something similar. Shraddha admitted to having anxiety in 2018 while celebrating the success of her film Stree, she said in an interview with the media that she had had anxiety issues for the previous three to four years and was coping with it positively every day.  

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Take Away

To conclude, The call, for empowering women emphasises the importance of treating every individual with respect and ensuring their rights and dignity are upheld. Throughout history, women have endured oppression being viewed merely as objects. With the progress of society, women now can advocate for their rights. However, there are still marginalised groups of women who have not yet seen progress. It is essential in a society for us, as humans to support and educate individuals to move from harmful dogmatic beliefs that hinder societal progress. Empowering women and children through education enables them to transmit knowledge across generations and contribute to nation-building efforts.

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