“ Women cannot be objectified. A woman’s body is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship and its high time they started exercising that right !” (DAY - 3066)
Sir, it's an undeniable truth that movies which feature a strong, independent female lead (who isn't just used solely as a foil or love interest for the male lead) aren't exactly in abundance. So when we do get treated to movies of the like, we cherish them, we watch them over and over again, and we tend to never forget the indelible characters which no doubt have shaped our own decisions on women. The reason we look up to them as our role models for women is because rather than give up or rely on a man to solve their problems, they choose to pull from their inner strength and in the end they come out on top of the world because they did things their way. Of course, there have been roles where the woman of substance has emerged from the chrysalis, thanks to strong-willed film-makers who have broken fresh ground. Here are some of the greatest films with fearless female leads who portray empowered women:
Duniya Na Mane (V. Shantaram, 1937): A bold feminist film, its central character, reminiscent of Nora in Ibsen's A Doll House, outraged the orthodoxy. Nirmala (Shanta Apte) is trapped into marrying the old widower Kakasaheb (Date). He is a lawyer with a son and a daughter of Nirmala's age. She refuses to consummate the union, claiming that while suffering can be borne, injustice cannot. Shantaram took up the project despite his partners' fear that the film would not only offend traditionalists but would also fail to attract audiences. Shantaram went ahead and was vindicated when the film was both a critical and commercial success. Shanta Apte performance in the leading role established her as a 'rebel star', true to the combative song in English she sings in the film - 'Be not like dumb, driven cattle'.
Aurat (Mehboob Khan, 1940): The original version of Mehboob's classic Mother India (1957), this stark epic was much more realistic and has the earthiness its remake lacks. It is one of the most widely acclaimed films focussing on the voice of women. There are elements in the film which go deep into the Indian psyche and touch a chord which no one has touched before. Radha, the mother (Sardar Akhtar), is a full blooded woman and equal partner in her husband's labors. She upholds the 'dharma' which the good son, Ramu (Surendra), follows. When the other son, Birju (Yaqub), transgresses it, she shoots him. Sardar Akhtar extraordinary performance is one highlight of the film. The other is Birju characterization of the bad son, which has a different but equally important side. He does not suffer patiently the landlord's extortionism. There is a great scene in the film. Birju now grown into an illiterate decoit, raids the moneylender's house and destroys his account books saying, "This is the knowledge that has destroyed us." Birju speaks for those who cannot speak, the deprived millions. In Aurat, Mehboob, the untutored genius, saw India with a clear, even ruthless vision.
Bandini (Bimal Roy, 1963): An apex of creativity, Bandini showcases the story of a girl Kalyani (Nutan) bound by love, through all its destructive and redemptive expressions. Set at a time when women had no choices, Kalyani had the courage to not only make choices in her life but to define her own freedom. Nutan displays an extraordinary ability to illuminate Kalyani's inner conflict. If one person is the life and soul of Bandini, it is Nutan. one just has to see the entire gamut of emotions flitting across her face in the film's key sequence as she murders her lover's wife. It is her best performance ever, and certainly one of the greatest by any actress in Indian cinema. While the events in the story are highly melodramatic, Bumalda takes great care to handle them with sensitivity, simplicity and subtlety. He beautifully uses imagery and sound to convey the various moods of the female prisoner, Kalyani. The music by S. D. Burman represents some of the finest work he has done in his entire career. The film won six Filmfare awards (1964): Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress (Nutan), Best Cinematographer (D. Bilimoria) and Best Story poetry and mujras. Its decadence is not without a touch of class and has sometimes resulted in much creative upsurge. Pakeeza inherits that legacy.
Bhumika (Shyam Benegal, 1977): The success of New Wave cinema in India, enjoyed in the 1970s and 1980s, could be attributed to Shyam Benegal's classic quartet - Ankur (1973), Nishant (1975), Manthan (1976) and the last but not the least, Bhumika, the winner of Filmfare (1978) Award for Best Film.. Bhumika looks at individual's search for identity and self fulfilment. The film is broadly based on the life of the well-known Marathi stage and screen actress of the 1940s, Hansa Wadkar, who led a flamboyant and unconventional life. What Benegal has done is to put a magnificent visual recreation of those extraordinary days and one that is also sensitive to the agonies and predicament of a talented woman whose need for security was only matched by her insistence on freedom. Excellent performance by Smita Patil energizes this story of a girl who is manipulated by almost every man she meets in the film industry. She won the well-deserved National Award - Silver Lotus - for her brilliant portrayal.
Black (Sanjay Leela Bhansali, 2005): It takes a brave man to make a Bollywood movie without color and songs, but that's exactly what Sanjay Leela Bhansali has done with Black. In his boldest movie to date, Bhansali directs living Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan as Debraj Sahai, an alcoholic teacher who transforms the life of an Anglo-Indian deaf-blind girl played by Rani Mukerji. After rescuing her from an asylum, Debraj spends years developing the wild child Michelle into an intelligent and gregarious young woman. Determined to see his student graduate from university, he acts as her eyes and ears, guiding her through the tough world around her. But when Alzheimer's sets in, both Debraj and his student's life are plunged into darkness once again. Now taking on the role of teacher, Michelle fights to remind her mentor of the meaning of everything he once taught her. Boasting of carefully crafted script, beautiful cinematography, a haunting score and moving performances by Amitabh Bachchan, Rani Mukerji and Esha Kapoor as the young Michelle, Black takes you on an uplifting journey of the human spirit.
With regards and best wishes