In Rajkumar Santoshi's 2001 film Lajja, a woman leaves her emotionally abusive husband to return to India, but her family turns her away. What follows is a journey through India where she meets women who are facing gender bias in their daily lives. The journey is transformational for both she and her husband, who follows in her footsteps to try to reunite with her.
A standard theme running through this film is that women are strong and resilient and speak their mind; however, the man continues to dominate, control - or save the day.
In the following five films, it is the woman who stands up for herself. If you are new to Bollywood, these films will empower, inspire and remind you of the strength of women.
English Translation: "Story"
Release Date: 9 March 2012
Directed by: Sujoy Ghosh
Music by: Vishal-Shekhar | Background Score: Clinton Cerejo
Producers: Sujoy Ghosh, Kushal Kantilal Gada
Description: Mystery thriller. As Kolkata prepares for the annual Durga Puja festival, seven months pregnant software engineer Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) steps off the airplane from London. Her first stop is the local police station to file a missing person report about her husband, Arnab Bagchi. She soon finds that there is no trace of him ever having been in India. Police officer, Satyoki "Rana" Sinha (Parambrata Chatterjee), offers to help and soon intelligence deputy A. Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) enters the picture to dissuade Vidya from her search. Vidya will not give up her search and she soon discovers the dangerous truth.
Why I Love This Film: As mystery stories go, this is one of the best out there. As the clues unfold, you are just as confused as Vidya seems to be. But she is smart and persistent and won't let anyone dissuade her from her goal to follow any and all clues that will tell her what happened to Arnab Bagchi.
- Find out more: 5 Vidya Balan Films to Watch If You Are New to Bollywood
2. English Vinglish
Release Date: 5 October 2012
Directed by: Gauri Shinde
Music by: Amit Trivedi
Producer: Sunil Lulla, R. Balki, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, R. K. Damani
Description: Comedy drama. Indian housewife Shashi Godbole (Sridevi) is taken for granted and ridiculed for her poor English by her husband Satish (Adil Hussain) and teenage daughter. She travels alone to New York to help prepare for her niece's wedding. With only very basic knowledge of the English language, she feels lost, alone, and frightened in this very different world. She secretly enrolls in an English-speaking course where she gains new friendships and self-respect in the process.
Why I Love This Film: For any adult learning a second language, this film is a delight - and a reminder that friendship and love knows no language barriers. As the education of Shashi continues, she gains confidence about herself and her place in the world. The directorial debut of Gauri Shinde, this film also marks the return to the silver screen of superstar Sridevi after a 15-year hiatus.
- Find out more: Love Dialogues About Marriage and Family (English Vinglish)
Release Date: 7 March 2014
Directed by: Vikas Bahl
Music by: Amit Trivedi, Rupesh Kumar Ram
Producer: Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane
Description: Comedy drama. Under-confident Delhi girl Rani Mehra (Kangana Ranaut) comes from a traditional family. When her fiancé Vijay (Rajkummar Rao) cancels their wedding two days before the big event, she sets out alone on their pre-booked honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam. As she meets new people and takes part in new experiences, she slowly begins to gain confidence that she carries with her back to India.
Why I Love This Film: This is an interesting journey of self-discovery. Rani explores a whole new world that is just waiting to be explored. While there are situations that are unusual and uncomfortable for her, she manages to appreciate and learn from them. As she learns, she begins to understand that she is stronger, more resilient, and more capable than anyone knows.
English Translation: "Fighter"
Release Date: 22 August 2014
Directed by: Pradeep Sarkar
Music by: Salim-Sulaiman | Background Score: Julius Packiam
Producer: Aditya Chopra
Description: Crime thriller. The search for a missing teenage girl takes Mumbai crime branch senior inspector Shivani Shivaji Roy (Rani Mukherjee) leads her to the depraved world of child trafficking. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game between the fearless cop and a ruthless mafia kingpin "Walt" (Tahir Raj Bhasin).
Why I Love This Film: Besides being an interesting story, the film takes on an important issue - human trafficking and sex slaves. With a woman successfully leading the efforts to track down the criminals, the story is empowering. Closing line: "The Mardaani that's hidden within has to be discovered by every woman, every girl herself. The war is still on."
- Find out more: Rani Mukherjee's Mardaani: Fighting for Human Rights
5. Mary Kom
Release Date: 5 September 2014
Directed by: Omung Kumar
Music by: Shashi-Shivam (Pathak) | Background Score: Rohit Kulkarni
Producer: Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Description: Biographical sports drama. A chronicle of the life of Indian boxer Mary Kom (Priyanka Chopra), a simple girl from Manipur who harbors the dream of being a successful boxer and represent her country in the world championship. Her dreams come at a price, as she is faced with social prejudice and financial woes. Despite the hardships, she manages to raise a family and audaciously transforming her dreams into reality, ultimately winning several medals and putting India on the global map.
Why I Love This Film: While so many sports films focus on men, this woman-centric, based-on-a-true-story film offers a powerful and inspirational take on achieving your dream. Priyanka Chopra's physical training for the film enhances her presence even further, bringing power and authenticity to her performance.
Don't know which film to watch first? The following playlist features trailers for each of these five films.
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