The Bollywood Heroine is getting a makeover. Not the cosmetic kind though. But the type that entails meaty roles, getting a shot at playing the protagonist rather than the love interest of the macho hero and involves more than just singing songs and shaking their booty. Don’t get me wrong: a majority of Bollywood films still have heroines stuck in the same mould. However, a handful of new films are beginning to give the heroine a chance at doing something interesting, meaningful and geninunely different.
The emergence of the “new” avatar of the Bollywood heroine — mind you, in the past actresses like Nutan, Meena Kumari and Waheeda Rehman had often essayed character-driven roles in iconic films such as Bandini, Pakeezah and Khamoshi among many others — can perhaps be traced to Vidya Balan’s roles in No One Killed Jessica and Kahani. The stupendous success of those films as well as Dirty Picture, another heroine-centric film, put the actress firmly in the category of A-list actors who could set the box-office ablaze with her histrionics. In an industry, where only the Khans — including Aamir, Shah Rukh and Salman — are blessed with the powers of pulling in audiences in the first weekend of a film’s release, Vidya Balan’s success was spectacular. And she was instantly dubbed the new Khan on the block and a hero among actresses.
Thankfully, Vidya’s success has only made her more hungry for roles and stories that are not your run-of-the-mill Bollywood flicks.
In Bobby Jasoos, she plays the role of a Muslim girl, Bilqis aka Bobby, from a conventional joint family who aspires to become a private eye in a working class locality in Hyderabad. While her father thinks she should “behave like a girl” and get married, the owner of the neighbourhood detective firm pooh-poohs her ambition. Bobby, who tries to polish up her investigation skills by doing small odd jobs for friends and neighbours, gets a lucky break when she is hired by an enigmatic client to locate a girl with the very minimum of information: name, a birth mark and age. When Bobby successfully completes the assignment, the client gives her yet another job. But who is the client and why is he interested in finding these girls? The question haunts Bobby…and she decides to carry out some investigation of her own on the client.
Bobby Jasoos is a delightful entertainer set in the city of Hyderabad. The ambience along with the dialogues and the characterizations are authentic and add to the charm of the film. The message of women’s empowerment is also subtly woven into the story adding yet another layer to the feel-good family entertainer.
Vidya Balan’s success, fortunately, has had happy outcomes for other actresses as well. Kangana Ranaut is another actress who has dared to do offbeat roles. Her recent low-budget film Queen turned out to be a surprise box-office winner and also earned plaudits from critics and discerning movie-goers alike. Queen is the coming of age story of a young woman who steps out of her claustrophobic world and does the unthinkable thing of defying social norms by traveling to her honeymoon destination, Paris, all on her own. Kangna excelled in her role as the naive middle class Delhi girl who gets stood up by her fiance at the altar.
Rani Mukerji is one of those actresses who has straddled popular mainstream movies and offbeat cinema with much more elan than many of her counterparts in Bollywood. She shared screen space with Vidya Balan in No One Killed Jessica, that took a leaf out of real life and turned it into a gripping, realistic and entertaining cinema. Rani does that yet again in Mardaani where she plays the role of a tough, no-nonsense Crime Branch detective who is hunting down a human trafficking gang. She brings to her role both toughness and vulnerability that is so much more real than the portrayals of male actors who have essayed similar tough-cop roles (Salman Khan in Dabangg and Aamir Khan in Sarfarosh).
There is an interesting sequence in Mardaani where Rani’s character, Shivani Roy, knocks ‘post-rape candle-light protests’ in the aftermath of violence against women. The dialouge mocked police’s incompetence as well as the media-hyped collective activism that centres around candle light protests which are ultimately nothing but a symbolic act of protest. It also was an interesting updating of Indian cinema — five years ago, No One Killed Jessica, showcased candle-light protests as one of the most potent forms of citizen-activism. In Mardaani, Shivani mocks it as ineffectual and instead incites women to take control of their own destiny.
Can the Bollywood heroine rise above stereotype and knock the “Khans” from theUltimate Heroes of Bollywood pedestal? Do share your thoughts and comments.