Making a listicle has become a time-tested ruse in journalism for any given occasion. Our excuse for that is that such stories or reports get more reading eyeballs. Basically, you, the dear reader, tend to prefer items that are headlined on the lines: 23 reasons why Michael Jordan is the best basketball player ever; 4 best songs of the Beatles ever; 7 James Bond movies that will leave you shaken & stirred.
So for this International Women’s Day — it is celebrated on March 8 every year — we have taken the obvious and easy way out. We have picked 7 Indian movies that kind of celebrate womanhood or strikes a blow for feminism in interesting ways.
The list, we must confess, is a personal choice. Also, we have, for the sake of convenience, picked films and series released in the last two years. Of course, they also needed to be available on an OTT platform. Further, we decided to cut across language barriers — the films just had to speak the spirit of womanhood.
We also confess that we went for movies that readily came to mind — we felt this instant recall idea is important as it implicitly conveys the impact it has had on us.
Our list includes three Hindi movies — Sherni, Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, Rashmi Rocket, three Malayalam films — June, Bro Daddy, Sara’s, and the Telugu flick — Love Story.
We have not picked movies like The Great Indian Kitchen, Mission Mangal and Shakuntala Devi because they are such obvious choices and would be in most people’s lists on women’s movies.
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Sara’s – Amazon Prime (Malayalam)
It is a movie that handles the sensitive and touchy subject of women’s reproductive rights. In Indian movies’ context, motherhood has been exalted to such levels that any woman who says that she does not want to bear babies, will be seen as evil incarnate.
But that is what the eponymous female lead of Sara’s says. Played to precision by Anna Ben, Sara says right at the start, “It’s not that I don’t like kids. I just don’t have the knack of handling them, and it hasn’t seemed essential to me. For me, a person’s ultimate aim should be to contribute something by which the world can remember you after you die, not just to have kids and be remembered by them.” Bravura words.
The film also does not take the easy way out towards the end, and does not show her as having a change of heart.
Bro Daddy – Malayalam (Disney+ Hotstar)
A film titled Bro Daddy, two male-centric words, in a women’s day list may be out of left field, Also, in a sense, it is the other end of the spectrum from Sara’s. In that, Bro Daddy is conservative against terminated pregnancies. But it sees pregnancies with a refreshing lens. Late pregnancies and pre-marital pregnancies are looked down upon in Indian setting. But this film is not judgmental about them. In fact, within its universe, the film suggests that late pregnancies or getting pregnant out of wedlock is not a crime or something to be ashamed of. It makes plenty of agreeable jokes around them and makes them seem normal.
Bro Daddy, even though it is no feminist film — it is an unabashed commercial entertainer and dominated by malae characters — makes some important noises that is not lost on the audience.
Rashmi Rocket – Hindi (Zee5)
As a film, Rashmi Rocket did not work too much for us. But its importance in the current scheme of things cannot be overstated. The film takes the issue of: What makes a woman, in a biological sense. A woman runner, capable of getting pregnant, is declared ‘not a woman’ because of her hormonal levels. She is an award-winning athlete, and the issue becomes a cause celebre.
Though the film keeps harping about ‘gender tests’ — in reality, the tests at athletic events are merely to check the testosterone levels — Rashmi Rocket handles a taboo subject from the realms of sport and public acceptance. The issue has some moral greys, and the film does not address the fundamental question fully. But to be fair to it, there are no easy questions to grapple with on this issue. Not answering fully is still better than not attempting at all.
Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui – Hindi (Netflix)
For a film that unabashedly celebrates the muscled and toned bodies of its protagonists — Ayushmann Khurrana and Vaani Kapoor (both looked million bucks) — Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui has that one important body part in its right place — heart. The film does not stop with striking a blow for womanhood, it goes further and puts its lot behind transwomanhood. It takes a few missteps, but in the overall scheme of things that does not matter.
Even though the film may seem to set much store by the physical looks of people, the larger idea that a person, who had been assigned the male gender at the time of birth can transition to a woman, fall in love like everybody else and can be accepted into family life is an important info that needed to go out. And it got the most brawny and machismo-filled person — a Punjabi male — to say that. Messages can’t come louder than that.
June – Malayalam (Disney+ Hotstar)
This is another of those of rites of passage movie, which chronicles the lives of a bunch of school students to their (say) late or mid 20s. It is a decidedly feel-good tale. But the women in the film are not the messagey types or win at the end. They are every-day people carrying out every-day existence. There is nothing out of ordinary about them. But that is the beauty of them. Real and believable. If anything, the eponymous June tells her class and its teacher “miss, I have no special talent. I am unremarkable.”
But what is remarkable is that the film does not sermonise or nor does it judge a woman as she falls in love, has a breakup, move on and has a stab at another relationship, stumbles again, and again gathers herself for a another new start. It is all organic and cute, without being loud or in-your-face. Also, it is probably the first film that we have watched that ends with a full-fledged song which is not just a filler or the film’s anthem shoved in. It a song that is organically pieced together to be the curtain call on the story.
Sherni – Hindi (Amazon Prime Video)
Any film that features Vidya Balan these days is inevitably woman-focused. Kahani, Mission Mangal, Shakuntala Devi, Tumhari Sulu, or even Dirty Picture which shot her to new heights or her upcoming Jalsa, drip with feminism in its myriad hues.
Sherni is both about a lioness and a tigress, in a manner of speaking. The lioness is the Vidya Balan who plays a feisty forest officer who is up against feral animals that her office is filled with in the form of male subordinates and bosses. The tigress is the animal nomenclatured T-12 that the village and its people are up against. In the end, the tigress is killed, but the lioness survives, but barely.
Tigers and women, both are endangered thanks to trigger-happy men. It is all beautifully conveyed without being preachy.
Love story – Aha (Telugu)
The heroine is from an upper caste. The hero is a Dalit. The heroine’s family does not accept him. This is a trope that we have seen in countless Indian movies before. The two either fight them physically or die eventually. Here they elope, but manage to hoodwink their oppressors with both cunning and cuteness.
Though the film is about caste, the way the leading woman’s character is written and presented on screen is what makes it work. In mainline Telugu cinema, they hardly write woman character who possess such agency and are willing to take a stand for themselves. Here the woman dances to heart’s content, but her steps are measured in more ways than one. Her body may be flexible like a runner band, but her resolve is ramrod hard.
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