The Best Female Friendships In Indian Cinema

Jai-Veeru. Munna-Circuit. Akash-Sameer-Sid. It’s easy enough to think of the Bollywood movies that are odes to male friendship. Female friendship, on the other hand, is underrepresented. More often than not, women are pitted against each other, in pursuit of the same career or man. This Friendship Day, we tried to think our favourite onscreen female friendships and came up with 8 we love:

Minal, Falak and Andrea in Pink

A flatmate is a very specific kind of friend at a specific stage of life. Big cities require strangers from different backgrounds to share a space together in order to survive. It’s personal on an economic level, but impersonal on an emotional level. But Pink subverts the flatmate template – three young women share a space to survive, but they also share a traumatic experience to survive. The loneliness of being female in the scrutinizing gaze of a city infamous for lewd male bonding is what unites them even further – in both living rooms and courtrooms.

Kavitha and Chandra in Aval Oru Thodarkathai / Arati and Edith in Mahanagar

The Best Female Friendships In Indian Cinema

The friendship between Kavitha (Sujatha) and Chandra (‘Fatafat’ Jayalakshmi) in the K Balachander drama reminds me of the one between Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) and her Anglo-Indian colleague Edith (Vicky Redwood) in Satyajit Ray’s classic. Like Ararti, Kavitha is a working woman from a conservative middle-class family, forced to work because of familial circumstances. If the “transgression” in Mahanagar is when Edith asks Arati to try on some lipstick, it’s the scene in Aval Oru Thodarkathai where, in a public bus surrounded by “society”, Chandra casually tells Kavitha that she’s had an abortion. The great tradition in our sahitya is that of the “sakhi“, the confidante: like Priyamvada and Anasuya to Shakuntala. But in these films, the friend is more than just someone who listens and comforts. When the sheltered protagonist steps out of the four walls of home, a new world opens up. The friend represents this brave new world.

Ila and Mrs. Deshpande in The Lunchbox

The Best Female Friendships In Indian Cinema

We hear but never see Mrs. Deshpande. And yet, Ila’s neighbour is her advisor, mentor and friend.  The two exchange recipes, gossip, they listen to 90s Hindi film music through grilled windows.  Ila calls her Aunty.  It’s Aunty who encourages Ila to write to a stranger after the lunchbox meant for Ila’s husband gets delivered to someone else. Aunty says: Thank you toh banta hai.  She has no way of anticipating where this exchange of notes will go – and Ila doesn’t tell her – but Aunty, voice by Bharati Achrekar, changes Ila’s life.  Which is what most good friends do.

Zeenat and Meera in Dor

The Best Female Friendships In Indian Cinema

Nagesh Kukkunoor’s Dor is that rare remake that’s better than the original. Based on the same source material as Kamal’s Malayalam hit Perumazhakalam, this 2006 film was inspired by a real-life incident where a Muslim woman needed a letter from a Hindu widow to free her husband from death row. But if the original used this plotline to make a gloomy tragedy (majority of the film is set in rain) about a woman’s ultimate sacrifice for another woman, Dor looked at these women differently. It traded the original’s fatalism with friendship, showing Zeenat and Meera as regular women who are perfectly capable of laughter, even in the face of adversity. So when Meera gives Zeenat the letter of pardon, it is for a friend who helped her turn her life around. Apart from Meera’s loss, it was kind enough to show us that she’s gained a friend too.

Upasana, Chanbi and Minam in Axone

The Best Female Friendships In Indian Cinema

Upasana (Sayani Gupta) and Chanbi (Lin Laishram), two women from North-east India, spend the whole film scrambling in a Delhi locality while trying to organize a kitchen to cook a local dish for their third friend, Minam (Asenla Jamir) on her wedding day. They are from different North-eastern states, but you can sense that regionalism is buried under the burden of being clubbed as “others”. Each of them shares a different equation with the other – Upasana is dating an ex-boyfriend of Minam, while Chanbi is close to both and annoyed with Upasana’s fondness of Minam, who is only revealed as the “popular one” towards the end of the film. It’s all very organic and relatable, especially in an age where prejudice and racism can unite the most unlikeliest of personalities.

Gomantha, Rani and Subbulakshmi in Magalir Mattum

The Best Female Friendships In Indian Cinema

School days, reunions, canteen food, hostel rooms, bunking classes, movie nights…these are all goldmines of nostalgia that have so far been mined only from the male perspective. But Bramma’s underrated Magalir Mattum, starring Jyotika, reunites four middle-aged women from different backgrounds who take us along with them as they go back to their good old school days…a meeting facilitated by one of their daughter-in-laws. From pranks to first love, marriage to children, the film takes us through life’s small and big phases and how differently it has affected each of the them. Yet there’s a special kind of beauty is seeing all of them go back to behaving like who they were as teenagers when they’re with each other. And in the climax, when you realise what one of them has held on to as her life’s biggest treasure, you learn how their friendship celebrates a certain something bromances take for granted…the freedom to just have fun.

Paro and Chandramukhi in Devdas

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Paro and Chandramukhi are in love with the same man, both unable to pursue this love – one is married, and one is a tawaif. When they first meet, it’s animosity, but they soon realize that they are on the same boat – they love, and unable to pursue it, fixate and worry. The song “Dola Re Dola” captions this with Saroj Khan’s choreography, where they sing paeans to Devdas, and decide to revel in this lovesick condition.

Chellamma and Kokila in Kalki

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Chellama (Geetha) is a wounded woman, a singer hurt by her former husband, a woman who pines for a child. Her companion of sorts is cook Kokila (Fathima Banu), who smiles and spouts philosophy despite the fact that life has dealt her a raw deal: her husband is in prison. In Kalki, directed by K Balachander, The two share a quiet companionship of equals, and their economic disparity never comes in the way of their shared bond. When it comes to protecting Chellamma, Kokila is a tigress. And, Chellamma is all caring when it comes to Kokila, or Malgova Maami, as she’s referred to. When Kokila’s rushing to prison to greet her husband on the day of his release, Chellamma offers her the use of her car. Kokila initially refuses, but then bashfully tells her that she promised her husband she would pick him up in a car. Through life’s ups and downs, two women handhold each other, with no expectation, and complete understanding of the other. Perfect on paper and on screen.

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