October 8 was Dussehra—the Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over the demon king Ravana. It is seen as a victory of good over evil.
Dussehra falls a day after the culmination of Navratri [Nav: Nine, Ratri: Nights], one of the greatest Hindu festivals where Goddess Durga—the ultimate manifestation of female force—and her nine avatars are worshipped.
While both Dussehra and Navratri celebrate the victory of good over evil, Navratri is celebration of Goddess Durga, the feminine deity who slayed the demon Mahishasura when the Gods (the masculine deities) failed.
Durga is also known as Shakti, the female principle of divine energy. Any woman who displays grit against evils like male domination or societal pulls and pushes—mental, emotional or physical—is akin to Durga or Shakti. While the idol of Durga is revered by both women and men, Durga in the woman next door creates quite a stir.
Talking of ‘Shakti’ in a patriarchal society, here is a list of Bollywood movies in which female characters have exemplified Durga and have shaken up the conscience of their society.
10 films that depict divine energy
Rani. Queen. A docile, homely girl, played by Kangana Ranaut, is left in the lurch when her longtime lover and fiancé calls off the wedding. “You are not my type,” was his excuse. After some days of crying, and with tickets already booked, Rani goes on honeymoon to her dream destination, London [England]. ALONE.
When people in London can’t get her name right, she mumbles, “My name is Rani. Queen.” By the end of her journey, she undergoes a transformation from submissive woman to the queen of her world, as she realizes how the likes of her lover have conditioned women to live in a cage (Read: no dancing at parties, no drinking, no going out alone, no dresses that show skin, etc.)
When her lover chooses to return, the Queen turns him away with a polite “thank you.”
“NO means NO.”
The take-home message from the movie Pink must be upsetting for many men in a patriarchal society. The film revolves around three working, independent women. After a night of partying and drinking, their male friends try to get them into bed. When they say no, the male ego is hurt. After all, how can women say no—women who drink with men and wear short skirts?
When these men do not get what they want, they attempt rape, and one of the three women attacks in self-defense and files a complaint. The matter reaches court. Their counsel (played by megastar Amitabh Bachchan) goes to great lengths to convince the judge that “No means No.”
“No is not just a word. It is a complete sentence. Whenever a woman, be it your friend, your girlfriend or a sex worker, says No, it means No and you stop” is an example of the hard-hitting dialogue in the film.
This 1982 drama revolves around a movie director who has an extramarital affair with a successful actress. He deserts his wife Puja (played by Shabana Azmi).
Heartbroken, Puja moves out of their house. To get a job, she is helped by another man named Raj. The two become good friends. Around the same time, Puja’s maid murders her alcoholic husband. Raj proposes to Puja at the same time her estranged husband expresses his desire to reunite.
Puja decides to be independent, saying she has found the meaning of her life, and raises her maid’s daughter. This film shows that women do not always need men as a crutch.
This film is about a married woman, Aditi, who receives an inheritance from her music teacher, years after the music lessons have ended. The husband discovers that the music teacher and his wife had a brief affair, and that the teacher is the father of the child the husband has raised as his own.
Played by Tabu, Aditi speaks about how she also has desires, and questions why similar acts by her husband are ‘minor mistakes’ while hers are being tagged ‘a sin.’
A 1957 epic, and the first Indian film to be nominated for an Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film, Mother India shows how a poverty-stricken woman single-handedly raises her two sons. Despite being a loving mother, she lives by high morals and kills her own son, when he takes the road to crime in order to avenge the ill treatment meted out by a money-lender.
MIRCH MASALA (chili and spice)
The 1987 film is set in colonial India, where a tax collector is trying to coax a woman, Sonbai (played by the beautiful Smita Patil), from a village to sleep with him. When Sonbai shames him in public, the village panchayat condemns her and directs her to submit herself to the will of the collector. The collector chases Sonbai, who takes shelter in a spice factory with many female workers.
When the collector enters the factory and tries to grab her, she and the other women attack him with bagfuls of red chili powder. The collector cries out in pain.
Released in the year 2012, this Bollywood drama shows the transformation of a meek, please-all housewife into a confident, English-speaking woman. Shashi is always belittled by her husband and daughter for not knowing anything beyond household chores. They constantly mock her for her lack of English skills. Shashi’s spirit is broken, but she continues like a normal housewife.
It is when she visits her sister in the U.S. that she enrolls in an English class, and in the course, finds her self-respect and confidence. When her husband hears her make a speech in English at a family wedding, he can only ask, “Do you love me still?”
This 1993 film is by far the best film about how a woman goes against her own family, as she fights for justice for her maidservant, who has been brutally raped by her brothers-in-law.
Damini is married to a kind-hearted businessman named Shekhar, who fell in love with her at first sight. On Holi, a Hindu festival of colours, Damini witnesses her brother-in-law and his friends brutally raping their maidservant. She rushes to Shekhar to stop the crime but it is too late. The entire family conspires to cover-up the crime, but Damini decides to fight. Despite all the torture and the threats to her life, Damini ensures that the rapists are behind bars.
This film is a must-watch for its wonderful treatment of the sensitive subject of rape and its realistic performances.
The 2011 thriller is based on the real-life murder of model Jessica Lal and the long legal battle for justice.
Lal was shot dead in 1999, at a posh south-Delhi restaurant, by the son of a powerful politician. Seven years later, the accused was acquitted by a trial court, as evidence was tampered with and witnesses were forced to turn hostile. This led to a huge public outcry.
The film revolves around two protagonists—Lal’s sister Sabrina (played by Vidya Balan) and television journalist Meera (played by Rani Mukerji), who together ensure that justice, though delayed, is not denied.
MANTHAN (churn or agitate)
The 1976 film is set against India’s White Revolution. Smita Patil plays the role of Bindu, who leads a local women’s movement towards empowerment by rearing cattle and selling the milk at fair prices. This film shows how Bindu leads women towards financial empowerment, despite being in a troubled marriage.
Pick one, or watch ’em all
These are only a few movies that show women as more than mothers, sisters, housewives or second-class citizens. Pick one or all of these to watch, and enjoy how Indian cinema celebrates the spirit of womanhood!
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