Women in Bollywood films: Gaining prominence & stardom

Bollywood Movies breaking the stereotype of the Bhartiya Naari, women gaining stardom with several women-centric films doing good business (they may not be blockbusters yet).

More and more Bollywood Movies are breaking the stereotype of the Indian women and are doing quite well at the box-office as well (although they may not be blockbusters yet matching the scale of a ‘Khan’ movie). However, that is indeed good news, and probably that also explains why women are becoming bigger stars in Hindi cinema.

A decade back, the Indian audience probably was not ready to see progressive women in Bollywood Films. that was also the reason that most filmmakers shied away from such topics. However, things have changed a lot in the last few years. In fact, several women-centric Bollywood films have been successful in the recent past.

Audience Accepting Women in the Lead

There was a time when male actors would shy away from a film if a female actor had a prominent part (remember Dangal, the scenes where the guys would shy away from fighting the girls).

But, not any longer.

And that is because the film industry in India is undergoing a rapid change.

People have started appreciating women-centric films. Lot of films are being produced that are female oriented. Such films are not only making money, but are also being appreciated like other movies (with a male hero).


Women in Indian Films – Going Back in Time

Audience Not Yet Ready for Progressive Women in Bollywood Films? While delivering a lecture at the Melbourne University few years back, Simi Garewal had lamented that even after 100 years, Indian film industry was still not ready to show progressive women in their movies. Bollywood still shows women following norms, values and customs that should have been buried long ago!

A decade back, it was common to see the following in Indian movies.

  • Woman needing the support of her husband and a family to survive
  • Women putting up with all her husband’s/in-law’s nonsense
  • Women worshiping the guy/husband even if he is wicked & cruel
  • If the woman is career-oriented and achieve’s success, it’s because she has low morals and not intelligent & hard-working

Back in 1968, actress Sharmila Tagore (mother of Saif Ali Khan) created a furore by becoming the first woman in India to appear in a bikini on a magazine cover. She played a cabaret dancer in “An Evening In Paris” (1967), a sex worker in “Mausam” (1975) and played a surgeon in “Safar” (1970).

Although she was lucky (and bold) enough to get such meaty roles, those were more of exceptions than the norm, with most other heroines getting those typical roles.

The fact to be acknowledged here is that several parts of India is still backward, orthodox & feudalistic, where women were never respected, and the situation is not much different even today. On the other hand, there are millions who are uneducated, who have never been to school, but love watching movies. For them, whatever is depicted in the movies is true, and they believe that’s the way things should be.

So, movie-makers definitely had an opportunity to make a social change.


Watch: Sajanaji Vari Vari Song from the movie Honeymoon Travels. Although the music by Vishal Shekhar is contemporary, modern & catchy, the lyrics of this song perfectly describes the status of the Indian women in our society.

From the 80s onwards, Bollywood saw the emergence of the “star system”, with Amitabh Bachchan turning out to be the biggest star. A decade later, Big B was joined by Anil Kapoor, and the three Khans – Salman, Aamir and Shah Rukh. Bollywood films started to revolve around these heroes, and the women started to get sidelined.

Filmmakers Played it Safe

However, most filmmakers were not willing to take the risks associated with movie-making! The ones who did, unfortunately their movies didn’t do well, discouraging even other filmmakers.

Then there are some filmmakers who just want to make sure that they recover the cost of the film; most also rely on cheap publicity stunts and gimmicks to ensure their movies get enough eyeballs.

For them, movie-making is just another business and that’s why you don’t see lot of path-breaking movies or films (commercial ones) that try to bring out the much needed social change.

When Sunny Leone started working in the Indian film industry, everybody was excited about it. They all made her (and still make her) dance to item songs with really cheap lyrics (for one item song featuring former porn-star Sunny Leone, censor board had to intervene to get the lyrics changed, from “Laila Teri Le Le Gi” to “Laila Tujhe Lut Le Gi” in the movie “Shootout at Wadala”). If all producers treat films as business, then you just can’t hope for any social change.

Things are Looking Bright Though

Things have definitely changed for Actresses in Bollywood in the last few years. More and more movies are now showing stronger women with attitude, who want to run shoulders with the world, who know what they want and how to achieve their dreams.

One of the reasons for that is the increasing number of women working in the Industry. You now have several women working as assistant directors, cameramen, production managers, scriptwriters, & even producing & directing films.

No One Killed Jessica, Dirty Picture, Heroine, English Vinglish, Mary Kom, Queen, Neerja Jai Gangaajal, Ki & Ka, are some of the movies that had women playing prominent lead roles.

These Bollywood movies have challenged the gender discrimination that has traditionally been depicted in Hindi cinema.

What More is Needed?

The only problem is that these are still few in numbers (India produces close to 1000 movies every year). Besides, most are small budget movies, and made by newcomers.

The audience here in India have started to like heroine films but they are still fewer in numbers. That is why women-centric movies don’t typically make lot of money, when compared with blockbusters starring the biggest male stars.

If heroines were paid what heroes are, films like ‘Queen’ & Jai Gangajal wouldn’t make financial sense. Hopefully, things should change from here on.

Although, women in Bollywood can expect bigger things from here on, they still have a long way to go as far as remuneration is concerned (when compared with their male counterparts). Whereas top A-list actors in Bollywood can get anywhere around Rs.40 to Rs.50 crores ($8 million) per film, the top female actresses typically get around Rs.6-8 crores ($1 million).

women in Bollywood

However, one thing is for sure, Indian women too want to make it larger than life, are willing to raise their voices (be it discrimination or pay disparity) and are ready to compete with men in all things.