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Box-office success

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Women-centric films  are finally getting the recognition they deserve, says Tanmaya Vyas

On May 27, when Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi entered the Rs 100-crore club, it was a sign that women-centric films are finally making their mark.

There is no denying that there have been many movies in the past which have had women as protagonists—consider the iconic Nargis Dutt-starrer Mother India or Rekha’s revenge saga Khoon Bhari Mang. However, not all women-centric films have been progressive ones; for instance, though Jai Santoshi Maa was a raucous hit, the story was as regressive as it could get.

It was the 90’s era that reduced the main actress to just a romantic interest of the main lead. Despite having superstars like Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi, women-centric films were few and sparing. The titular roles always belonged to male superstars, though the stellar performances of the female leads prompted some people to label them as Beti, Miss India and Rani Hindustani. There was also the inane trend of item numbers, mostly in crass set-ups, which raked in the money.

It has taken years for women-centric films to gain mass acceptance and garner revenues. Chandni Bar in 2001 was well accepted and did above average business, but a breakthrough eluded. This was also the time when the multiplex era was beginning. What changed the course in its true sense was the Vidya Balan starrer, The Dirty Picture, in 2012. The biopic about sex siren Silk Smitha was not just well received but broke and busted many myths.

Kahaani, another movie that revolved around a woman, followed and then came Queen, a runaway hit, with an absolutely original story and screenplay showing a small-town girl who gets rejected at the altar, going on her honeymoon alone and discovering herself. The movie was adored by the masses and critics alike. These movies, released in consecutive years, boosted the confidence of producers. However, it has taken more than three decades for mainstream cinema to tell the story of Sehmat, an Indian spy living in Pakistan at the brink of the 1971 Indo-Pak war in Raazi.

Raazi’s success at the box office has also been an eye-opener for trade analysts, who have pointed out that while movies with titular roles for women may have received critical acclaim and accolades too, revenue was still a concern. Mrityudand, Fiza and Zubeida are a few such examples.

Meghna Gulzar, director of Raazi says: “I did not face a problem getting a producer on board. In fact I had two very enthusiastic producers with Junglee Pictures and Dharma Productions, who were completely unflinching in their support.  This shows that winds are changing and not just for women-centric films but for the movie business on the whole. For the industry that is putting out amazing, varied content, to the audience who is whole-heartedly appreciating it. I think we should go beyond the lens of gender and look at this beautiful time in cinema holistically.”

Speaking of the huge business the film has generated—something that she did not anticipate—she adds: “These things cannot be predicted and should not be either. As a filmmaker, all I would want to do is be true to my craft and tell the story to the best of my ability. Tailoring a film to an anticipated response would be unfair to the film. Plus, when the appreciation does come, and so massively, it makes the surprise sweeter.”

One reason why women-centric movies have traditionally done meagre business is that they have been perceived as being heavy on the emotional quotient, thus reducing the audience base. This barrier is now waiting to be broken with Veere di Wedding, which, though not directed by a woman but by Shashanka Ghosh, is a story of four women leading their lives and dealing with first-world problems. Sonam Kapoor, one of the stars, has spoken about the struggle her sister and producer of the film Rhea Kapoor, went through to get a financer and producer on board for this film.

It was when the czarina of television Ekta Kapoor got on-board that the dynamics of the project changed. This is not the first time Ekta Kapoor backed an all-woman story. Both The Dirty Picture and Lipstick Under my Burkha, which created quite some noise, were Balaji Telefilms productions. Veere di Wedding is being promoted, not as a woman-centric film, but as a mainstream one; in fact the publicity campaign centres on it being #notachickflick.

While excitement over this movie is building up, a gem less spoken about is Angry Indian Goddesses, a film about female bonding, where the chemistry among the lead star cast sparkled. It was released in theatres and appreciated by a niche audience. However, the movie soon appeared on digital platforms, which says a lot about the revenue it made. What makes both these films special is the fact that they are unapologetic and anything but “girly”. Both the movies (in case of Veere..., the promos) show women smoking, drinking alcohol, swearing, being sexually active and commitment phobic. While these are not the standards for women empowerment, it actually reflects the current urban scenario and society. They speak about feminism in a subtle way instead of crying out hoarse.

There are so many stories to be told about women, which transcend saas-bahu sagas, romance, and heartbreaks. One such movie is Neerja, which spoke about the courage that a woman showed in a life-threatening situation. For such stories to be told we need producers to back this vision and audiences to buy tickets. The change is slow but steady and hopefully, it is here to stay.

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