Despite being one of the biggest film industries in the world, Hindi cinema has been stereotyped as melodramatic, largely implausible and, when it comes to social issues, rather conservative. However, due to a less than perfect past, Hindi cinema is taking strides towards being more progressive and handling sensitive topics that have been publicly debated, particularly after the shocking Delhi gang rape of Jyoti Singh in 2012.
Bollywood has been a key voice in aiding the ever growing spread of feminist ideologies in India, and has produced some empowering films in recent years. Romantic tropes are getting sidelined for comments on rape culture in Indian society, female infanticide and domestic abuse. These films each convey their own message but continue to captivate audiences with traditional Bollywood values: melodrama and, of course, dancing.
ANGRY INDIAN GODDESSES (2015)
This gritty drama is pretty much a conglomeration of everything you’d want from a feminist film. Rather than a tale of love at first sight, female solidarity and friendship take centre stage as a group of women venture to Goa for a bachelorette party. The group of women consists of a work-orientated businesswoman, a trophy wife, a Bollywood singer, an aspiring actress, a fashion photographer and an activist. What starts off as a lighthearted, cheeky film spans into a commentary on the treatment of sexual assault by the judicial and law enforcement systems in India. The film touches upon numerous subjects, from the objectification of women to colourism and the caste system. If that’s not enough, it features a homosexual couple, despite it being widely stigmatised and pretty illegal in India, all in all making it a dramatically bold film.
Amitabh Bachchan, a household name in India, stars in this hilarious road trip film with none other than the radiant Deepika Padukone, who recently made her Hollywood debut with xXx The Return of Xander Cage. In a society where marriage is the be-all-end-all for a woman, Piku is a breath of desperately needed air as Bachchan’s character discourages his daughter from the idea of getting married; pretty much the antithesis of the typical Indian parent attitude. And Padukone’s portrayal of a professional, independent and sometimes irritable woman shows yet another dimension of the actress’ versatility. Ultimately, it’s a somewhat quaint film with some insightful comments on Indian and Western culture alike.
ENGLISH VINGLISH (2013)
Perhaps an idea ripe for the picking for The Real Housewives franchise, English Vinglish follows Shashi’s self-exploration as she slowly gains confidence in this incredibly empowering insight into an Indian housewife’s reality (albeit somewhat dramatised much like the aforementioned show). She runs a home-owned business selling Indian sweets working tirelessly for her family and yet is taken for granted, disrespected and mocked for her lack of English skills by her husband and daughter. In the guise of a heartwarming comedy drama, the film drops some serious truth bombs about the way Indian women are treated not only by the Western world but in their own traditionalist homes.
GOLIYON KI RAASLEELA RAM-LEELA (2013)
The name translates in English to A Play of Bullets Ram-Leela (slightly less poetic) with Ram and Leela as the protagonists of this Hindi adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Ram and Leela’s families are rival mafia-esque groups making for an action-packed and colourful (in every sense of the word) story. Deepika Padukone’s character is a refreshing take on the traditionally weepy heroine – but that’s not to say the film isn’t tragic in its own right. Bollywood’s Juliet brandishes a gun and heads up a criminal corporation and still meets her own ultimate end alongside her lover. This Hindi take on a Shakespearean classic is aesthetically gorgeous and displays incredible beauty and culture in the set and costume but the general plotline remains the same: riddled with misunderstandings and family politics. A heads up to some though, the village in this film is fictional and isn’t a true representation of an Indian village – no-one actually barters in marketplaces with guns and bullets, rest assured.
MARGARITA WITH A STRAW (2014)
It’s rare to see in cinema anywhere across the world a film that’s so unapologetic about disability and so courageous in its approach of difficult topics. Not only does it feature Laila the ever optimistic protagonist, who is a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, there’s no pitying lens to cast a shadow over her journey through university. With an easy, naturalist vibe, the story is centred around the delicate exploration of Laila’s bisexuality and her relationship with her authoritative mother who runs a matriarchal household. With some poignant scenes and a romantic subplot between Laila and a visually impaired activist from New York, this film is nothing short of revolutionary.