24 Times Bollywood’s Women Were Loved by Feminists

Since it came into being, Bollywood has been infamous for its questionable portrayal of women with its fair share of arm candy, vamps, and damsels in distress. Post the 2000's, however, Bollywood made earnest attempts to keep up with the times, and has, albeit sporadically, been successful at it.

Time and again, the industry's subtle spurts of feminism restore our faith in the future of Bollywood. From the countless lot of films that Bollywood tirelessly churns out, here is our run-down of 24 of its strongest female characters, that were the relentless and unapologetic BAMFs that the feminist in us absolutely adored and rooted for.

Laila (Katrina Kaif) - Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011)

Laila is the feisty diving instructor with a heart of gold. Not only does she know how to take control of her life, she also knows exactly when is the right time to drive off on impulse to win your love back. She was the perfect example of strong-willed and innocently playful.

Zeenat (Gul Panag) - Dor (2006)

The assertive Zeenat is a force to reckon with. Dor proved that Bollywood had grown enough to be able to portray friendship between women, as well as it does between men. Her maturity and sheer determination definitely made her a woman of substance.

Meera (Ayesha Takia) - Dor (2006)

Meera--the timid widow who knew nothing beyond her married life--evolves into the innocent cynic who learns how to take ‘no’ for an answer and live life on her own terms. Her coming of age was the beginning and the end of a beautiful journey she would start, once out of the patriarchal rutt of forgetting one’s own identity after losing one’s husband.

Preeti Sabarwal (Sagarika Ghatge) - Chak De! India (2007)

Starting from Komal Chautala to Vidya Sharma, every woman in the National Women's Hockey team could've been on this list. We picked Preeti, because she was someone we could identify with. Urbane, smart, confident, but still living in a world where her wedding is decided at the whim of her father and boyfriend--who see no need for her inclusion--and still having to ask, “Aur mera career?”

There wasn't a single person who didn't cheer when Komal and Preeti teamed up not just to win the World cup, but to show everyone how female friendships work—not by backstabbing each other, but by supporting each other.

Rani (Kangna Ranaut) - Queen (2014)

In 2014, simple-minded Rani from Rajouri became the ultimate symbol of feminism, and how! From the timid and shy girl, her journey of self discovery transformed her into a woman of strength, and made her realise that letting go of what society thinks of you and living for yourself is totally worth it. Read more about why Queen ranks as one of our favourite feminist bollywood movies of recent years, right here .

Shivani (Rani Mukherjee) - Mardaani (2014)

From singlehandedly tackling bad guys to strategically planning her final showdown, this role model of a cop does it all. She bleeds and sweats like a real person, and this time Bollywood did not shy away from making Shivani the poster-girl for a well-budgeted action thriller.

Susanna (Priyanka Chopra) - Saat Khoon Maaf (2011)

Her life was surrounded by 'mysterious' murders and a generous amount of drama, but that never stopped Susanna from wholeheartedly falling in love without thinking twice about the consequences, even if it may have meant death for an unfortunate few. Susanna is the unapologetically strong-willed woman and the emotional fool wrapped in one, and is also our role model when it comes to not taking bullshit from anyone.

Mithili (Mahima Chaudhary) - Lajja (2001)

In this film's cathartic feminist journey, Maithili embodies the woman who is burdened by the shackles of archaic social norms. Her demureness is overcome by her love for her family, which was being harassed by the age-old evil of dowry. There is strength in her resilience when she asks her to-be in-laws to leave. And for the first time, we couldn't help but applaud the woman who kicked tradition in the rear.

Mary Kom (Priyanka Chopra) - Mary Kom (2014)

Fighting against almost insurmountable odds, Mary Kom shows us how dedication, sacrifice, and hard work is the only way to earn respect. Her life offers us a look into the life of a woman who will compromise neither on her personal nor her professional life, and that the only way to achieve your goals is to stay true to your beliefs.

Janki (Madhuri Dixit) - Lajja (2001)

Unlike Maithili, Janki was the born rebel. She had everything going on for her--a lover who reciprocated her feelings (for as long as it lasted), a job that she loved, a pregnancy out of wedlock she had no apprehensions about and most of all, she was feisty and had strength like no other to overcome every evil that society had in store for her.

Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) - Kahaani (2012)

Carrying the entire film on her shoulders, Vidya Bagchi plays men at their own game. Knowing she wouldn't be taken seriously, for the simple fact that she is a woman, she uses it to her advantage. While her face shows helplessness, her actions depict the grit and determination she employs to find her husband and his killer, and serves as a testimony to the fact that appearances are most often deceptive.

Mumtaz (Tabu) - Chandni Bar (2001)

A victim of circumstances, Mumtaz's journey begins as the epitome of Bollywood's portrayal of a damsel in distress. But her strength was her ability to get up and shake it all off, and get right on track.

Riana Braganza (Kareena Kapoor) - Ek Main Aur Ek Tu (2012)

One of the most underrated films we have ever seen; Riana’s character is also one of the most realistic depictions of a 20-something, and of the famed ‘friendzone.’ A boy and girl meet, get drunk, get married, but DON’T fall in love. Well, at least Riana doesn’t. She makes a new friend, who happens to develop a crush on her, one that she doesn’t reciprocate. What happens next is not what usually takes place in every other film--Riana continues to not reciprocate, and the central relationship ends on her terms.

Nimmi (Tabu) - Maqbool (2003)

While the men in Maqbool have all the physical power, it is Nimmi who owns the sexual agency, as she taunts Maqbool, a vision in white brocade, “Darpok ho tum. Humaare ishq mein gal jaoge, lekin chhoone ki himmat nahi.” She is an examination in sexual power, showing how Mumbai’s most powerful and feared man is her captive, and doesn’t bat an eyelid when he is killed right next to her, in their bed. She fuels the plot forward, as Maqbool would have stayed Abbaji’s right hand man forever, and done nothing if it hadn’t been for Nimmi.

Paro (Mahie Gill)- Dev D (2009)

Kashyap rebooted Saratchandra’s characters, and how. This Paro is not the meek lovelorn girl who waits with a diya for Dev to come and tell her he wants her. Gill nailed the depiction of the brazen Paro of this generation, who takes matters into her own hands, literally, as she touches herself while over the phone with Dev, and plans a secret tryst with him in the fields, and comes prepared with a mattress (one she carries herself). She doesn’t wait for Dev to come back to her, but continues with her life, albeit getting married to an older man, because “unke upar chhadne ki naubat hi nahi aati.”

Chanda AKA Leni (Kalki Koechlin) - Dev D (2009)

Just like Paro, Kashyap completely reinvents Leni. Leni is no distressed female who goes into prostitution because she cannot face the world after an MMS scandal. When she receives no support from her father, she stops looking for support from any male in her life. She lives her life on her own standards, and chooses to become the multi-lingual Chanda, a self-professed randi , who wears that tag on her sleeve.

Meera (Anushka Sharma) - NH10 (2015)

Anushka Sharma has received rave reviews for her performance as Meera - a woman, just like any of us, making her place in a patriarchal setup where an all-men committee decides how to sell a feminine hygiene product. Unapologetic and career-driven, Meera cemented her position as one of the strongest characters we’ve seen when she quietly wipes out the word ' randi' from a bathroom door--a symbol of quiet rebellion.

Sonia (Priyanka Chopra) - Aitraaz (2004)

Although, Sonia was essentially the film's vamp (read: classified bitch), she was one of the most powerful and progressive female characters that Bollywood gave birth to in the early 2000's. Not only is she driven by her thirst to achieve success, but she is also empowered enough to take control of her body and her choices.

Krishna (Vidya Balan) - Ishqiya (2010)

For those who haven’t seen Ishqiya yet, take it from us, watch it now. A brilliantly made film, Vishal Bhardwaj’s writing left us pondering over who this film is about. The con-men, or the mysterious woman whose house they are seeking refuge at? The film is played out from the point of view of the male protagonists, but they only serve to play the point of reference, one which tries to solve the object of desire--Krishna. Without giving much away, Krishna upstages her male counterparts by conning the two con-men, and in the process, the audience as well.

Meera (Rani Mukherjee) - No One Killed Jessica

Decisive and strong-willed, Rani Mukherjee’s Meera, is only incidentally female. What we love about this entire film, and Meera’s character, is that it drives home the feminist point that stories about women need not be a ‘feminine’ reaction to an incident. Meera could have been a man and had exactly the same reaction, the same mannerisms, the same drive, the same strength, and that’s what puts her on this list.

Vijaylakshmi (Lisa Haydon) - Queen (2014)

Spunky and full of life, Vijay is the epitome of the unapologetic single mom. In this delight of a film, the hot, attractive woman was finally seen as a multilayered personality with a golden heart, and not just fuel for male-gaze. We loved how this time the girl who drinks, smokes, and 'sleeps around' was also a great person at heart. Way to go Bollywood. You've finally grown up!

Urmila Matondkar - Ek Haseena Thi (2004)

Wrongfully convicted of working for a crime syndicate, naive Sarika changes into a ruthless woman out to exact revenge on the man who used her to take the fall for his crime. She uses her initial naiveté, even after escaping from jail, to fool Karan and throw suspicion off herself. No victim of circumstance, Sarika calculatively takes her revenge, and ends the film with exactly what she wants, no more and no less.

Jenny (Perizaad Zorabian) - Jogger’s Park (2003)

She is the unconventional Bollywood heroine, in this unconventional Bollywood film. Jenny is a free-spirited young woman who dabbles in her passions, rather than just careers, and chooses her relationships based on pure instinct. We love how Bollywood finally showed a human side to the otherwise traditionally evil 'other woman.' On an unrelated note, this movie was also made memorable by the presence of this beautiful song .

Tamanna (Shilpa Shetty) - Phir Milenge (2010)

Being a woman suffering from a fatal illness in a time when no one understood it, was only one of the many obstacles that a career-driven Tamanna had to face once diagnosed with HIV. But her triumph against all odds, be it legal, psychological or romantic, is what made her the strong woman that she was.

Here's to Bollywood's progressive portrayal of women, and many more to come.





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