Woman power still far cry in Indian filmdom (March 8 is International Women’s Day)

Vidya Balan
MUMBAI: Has Vidya Balan’s success story enhanced the status of Bollywood women from a hero’s sidekick to centrepiece? Very few filmmakers are spinning woman-centric scripts even now, though Kareena Kapoor’s whopping Rs.8 crore ($1.6 million) fee for "Heroine" seems to raise hope.

"Kahaani", "Heroine" and the evergreen Sridevi’s comeback film "English Vinglish" are perhaps the only three projects right now with woman as a central character.

"Women in Bollywood have always been secondary. It’s predominantly men who have taken centrestage in our films. Even earlier, barring some films like ‘Mother India’ and ‘Umrao Jaan’, women in Indian cinema had marginal roles. In recent times, ‘The Dirty Picture’ has been an exception," film historian S.M.M. Ausaja told IANS.

Sujoy Ghosh’s "Kahaani" releasing Friday – a day after International Women’s Day – zooms the lens on a helpless, seven-month pregnant woman in search of her missing husband.

Vidya, who turned the tables for female actors in Bollywood by carrying "The Dirty Picture" strongly and boldly on her shoulders in 2011, plays the lead in "Kahaani".

Composer Shekhar Ravijani recently put it this way: "I think with all the Khans and the Kapoors, we have Vidya Balan now."

The 33-year-old broke the stereotype that a commercial project about a woman doesn’t work.

Just like Vidya has become the face of change for women in tinsel town, Kareena seems to have set a new benchmark when it comes to the pay cheque in Bollywood. She reportedly signed on the dotted line for Rs.8 crore.

Between the 1980s and 1990s, Bollywood produced a mixed bag of female-oriented movies – some like "Umraao Jaan", "Prem Rog", "Ram Teri Ganga Maili", "Khoon Bhari Maang", "Nache Mayuri" and "Damini" were hits, while art films like "Mirch Masala", "Arth", "Mandi", "Rudaali", "Lekin", "Sardari Begum", "Mammo", "Mrityudand", "Maya Memsaab" and "Fire" earned critical acclaim.

However, the actresses’ take-home was not so impressive.

Close to five years ago, actresses were reportedly paid between Rs.75 lakh and Rs.1 crore, but today Bollywood’s ‘crore club’ also features names like Aishwarya Rai, Bipasha Basu, Katrina Kaif and Priyanka Chopra.

In "Heroine", Kareena will give audiences a behind-the-scenes look at the life and times, the ups and downs of a Bollywood superstar.

According to its director Madhur Bhandarkar, "It will be a landmark film in Kareena’s career."

Hopefully, like his earlier experiments — "Page 3", "Chandni Bar" and "Fashion", which focussed on women – "Heroine" too turns out to be successful, paving the way for many other woman-centric projects in the Hindi film industry.

Indian women are also calling the shots in the corporate world, sports and politics and now it seems the film industry is trying to change as well.

"India is changing; women are on top in every other realm and yet our heroines are the hero’s sidekick. I hope more writers see that potential in women-oriented scripts, or scripts where the woman is treated in a strong, powerful, real way," actress Kalki Koechlin told IANS.

Actor-filmmaker Anil Kapoor believes "leading men should support and encourage women-oriented films."

Many, like producer Ekta Kapoor, are furthering the cause with strong projects and bold themes. Her brother, actor Tusshar, is pleased with her efforts.

"I am really very proud that my sister helped change the perception of people towards women and helped them create a better status in society. She has made people believe that women have a lot of potential and is an inspiration for many," Tusshar told IANS.