Significant Women Roles
in Indian CinemaInnovative women roles in Indian films, especially mainstream cinema, are few and far between. Some creative directors, working within the mainstream format, however have given us some meaty characters. Several women-significant films were made in the early days of Indian cinema like "Achchyut Kanya," which touched the theme of untouchability. Bimal Roy made a few films inspired by the novels of Sarat Chatterjee like "Biraj Bou", "Devdas" and "Parineeta." "Biraj Bou" was a film based on a selfless Indian woman, who endured hardship and pain for the sake of her husband. Films like "Ramer Sumoti," based on a Sarat Chaterjee work, were remarkable and depicted the love and warmth which existed within the extended Indian joint family.
In later days, filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee gave us memorable heroine-oriented films in "Guddi," "Abhimaan", "Mili", "Khubsuroot", and "Majhli Didi". "Guddi" and "Khubsuroot" were simple films in which the heroine matures from a chirpy girl into womanhood. "Abhiman," inspired by "A star is born," dealt with ego clashes when a woman's musical talent and fame surpasses that of her husband. "Majhli Didi" was again based on a Sarat Chandra novel, about a woman's compassion towards an orphaned child. Basu Bhattacharyya's "Griha Pravesh" was a realistic depiction of the obsession of a married man for a much younger office colleague. Raj Kapoor's "Prem Rog" was a convincing portrait of the agony of a young widow. A few years back, Basu Chaterji's "Triyacharittar" was a powerful film on exploitation of women.
Bengali filmmaker Tapan Sinha has created strong female characters in several of his films viz "Jatugriho", "Adalat O Ekti Mey", "Apanjan", "Nirjan Saikate" and others. "Jatugriho" dealt with marital discord, the bone of contention being the infertility of the woman. "Apanjan" was remade in Hindi as "Mere Apne" by Gulzar, and had an elderly woman as the protagonist who finds, in some unemployed street boys, a reason to live when her own relatives forsake her. "Nirjan Saikatey" dealt with the plight of five elderly widows, while "Adalat O ekti Mey" was on a rape victim shunned by everyone. Asit Sen's "Deep Jele Jai," remade in Hindi as "Khamoshi" was on a nurse who eventually becomes insane play-acting with a patient.
Strong female roles have also been witnessed in parallel cinema. Here, Mrinal Sen appears to have an edge over others. His "Neel Akaser Neechey" (1959) was a beautiful film about a brother-sister relationship between a Chinese hawker and a Bengali housewife. "Punoscho"(1961) dealt with the question of economic need of the heroine, a theme later tackled by Satyajit Ray in "Mahanagar." The roles of the female protagonist in Sen's "Bhuvan Shome", "Khandahaar," "Ek Din Pratidin", "Antareen" and others have been an interesting mix of innovation and fresh characterization. Satyajit Ray's films have female characters of substance. In "Pather Panchali" the relationship between Durga, an innocent but mischievous girl and her grandmother Chunnibala was beautifully depicted. "Charulata" based on a Tagore's novel dealt with marital discord with much finesse. "Devi" was on religious bigotry when an elderly man starts thinking of his daughter-in-law as a Goddess after a dream.
Ritwik Ghatak's "Meghe Dhaka Tara" and "Subarnarekha" are considered path-breaking films about the agony of the Bangladeshi refugees, shown through the eyes of the woman protagonist. Aparna Sen's "36 Chowringhee Lane" is an unforgettable film exploring the loneliness of an elderly Anglo-Indian lady. Sen's other efforts "Paroma" and "Sati" questioned the traditional roles of women in Indian society. Her latest award-winning work "Paromitar Ek Din" is also a women-centric film. Nabyendu Chaterji's "Atmaja" had a power-packed role of a mother caught between the divergent ideologies of her two sons, enacted with conviction by Gauri Ghosh. Nabyendu Chaterji's...